Review: Maydan

January 21, 2018
By

Hey ya’ll.  I’ve been taking a little break from eating out.  Since my husband and I indulged a little (a lot) over the holidays, we were persuaded by my brother and sister-in-law to try Whole30 for a month.

What.Was.I.Thinking.

No alcohol, no sugar, no grains, no dairy, no fun.  I mean I do feel like I’m eating cleaner, but mama needs a glass of wine once in a while.  In addition, I think some of the excluded food groups may be the source of my sarcasm and wit (perhaps humility as well).

In any event, I’m all about “flexible eating.”  When faced with a strict diet, I decide modifications are needed, which is what led me to develop “the Whole30-flex plan.”  On this flexible plan, I follow the Whole30 parameters except that during weekends, I may have two alcoholic beverages total the entire weekend and only when dining out.  In addition, I follow a don’t-ask-and-please-don’t-tell-me-too-much-about-how-my-food-is-prepared approach with waitstaff on the few occasions we’ve dined out.

So when I saw the menu at Maydan, I thought this might be a good option as long as I avoid ordering any spreads, which 9 out of 10 experts agree can only be eaten properly with pita bread (a no-no on Whole30).  Maydan, which has only been open since late November, is tucked away in an alley near 13th and U Streets and features Middle Eastern and North African cuisine.  The restaurant, whose name is derived from the Arabic word for “square” or “gathering place,”  immediately captivated me the minute I opened the huge wooden door and walked into the main dining area. I first see a beautiful copper hood and feel an intense heat before I spy the huge fire pit at the center of the dining room.  This is where seafood, meat, and vegetables are grilled to smoky perfection.  The decor is warm and inviting and makes me yearn for a cold day so I can snuggle up at the bar and drink a glass of wine by the fire.

The menu is mostly small plates divided into several categories: salads and other starters, spreads, grilled vegetables, seafood, and kebabs.  There are also a few larger plates to choose from such as a whole roasted chicken, a ribeye, or lamb shoulder which could feed four people and is priced at around $100. The menu also offers a number of condiments that diners can order a la carte ($1 a piece) such as tahina, zhough (parsley, cilantro, cumin, and serrano), ezme (tomato, onion, peppers, and pomegranate molasses) and toum (garlic, oil, and lemon).  Our waiter encourages us to order several and experiment with different flavor combinations.

We ordered the dandelion greens and cauliflower, grilled eggplant, shrimp, and beef tenderloin and lamb kebabs. We paired those with the chermoula (lemon, garlic, and parsley), the tomato jam (sesame and cinnamon), and the harissa (cumin and fresh and dried peppers).   The clear winner was the eggplant.  The eggplant skin was nicely charred, the flesh inside was creamy and smoky, and it was topped with a delectable walnut sauce.  We loved it so much we had two orders. The lamb kebab made of ground lamb and topped with pistachios was flavorful as was the grilled shrimp topped with chermoula.  The dandelion greens were served chilled and dressed in lemon juice and topped with fried shallots.  They offered a bright note to the richness of the other dishes.

The cauliflower was my least favorite. It was bland despite being tossed in parsley, cilantro, cumin and serrano. I didn’t get any heat from the serrano or warmth from the cumin.

As far as the condiments, I am not a big fan.  They were one note and suffered from a lack of balance in their flavors.  The harissa was fine, but nothing special. The chermoula needed more lemon juice to balance out the overwhelming flavor of the oil and garlic and the tomato jam needed salt to balance out the excessive sweetness.

I’m also not impressed with the cocktails.  It seems like someone is trying too hard to make cocktails with ingredients few people have heard of and that skew towards the sweeter side.  When I asked the waiter to recommend a cocktail that was balanced and not too sweet, she seemed to have trouble coming up with an option.  Finally, with some prompting from me, she selected a mezcal-based concoction as my “best bet”.  It turned out to be nice but too sweet for my taste.  I’ll stick to wine next time or order a classic cocktail.

When I’m back on the bread wagon, I’ll be returning to Maydan for the full experience and will update this post.  In the meantime, if you see me standing outside a bakery or a bar looking at it longingly, I ask that you just keep walking.  No need to make this more awkward than it already is.

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