Fettoosh in Arlington
By Becky Krystal
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Situated on a low-rise stretch of Wilson Boulevard, Fettoosh might as well be in Lebanon, it feels so far removed from the bustling Rosslyn-Ballston corridor nearby. That is fitting, as the food is good enough to transport you to the Mediterranean.
On a hot summer day when a light meal is in order, you can't do better than the year-old eatery's vegetarian combo ($8.95). Our favorite parts of the generous sampler were the silky, garlicky baba ghanouj; airy hummus finished with a smoky hit of paprika; and a golf-ball-size falafel that is delightfully crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside. Stuffed grape leaves and a spinach fatayer, or marinated greens baked in dough, are tangy foils to the sweet baba ghanouj. The restaurant's eponymous fettoosh salad, with cucumber and tomato (minus the traditional bits of pita), stays crisp even after a trip in the takeout container. Travel time does no favors for an overcooked cheese pastry that's also part of the combo, though.
The charcoal-grilled lamb kebab and ground-meat kafta mishwi (platters, $9.50 each) can be a little tough. The shish tawook was the most successful of the kebabs we tried ($9.50), its moist chicken chunks brightened by a garlic-lemon juice marinade. A good reason to order it is the perfectly cooked accompanying side of basmati rice with vermicelli; platters also come with a small salad and unremarkable, but utilitarian, pita. Manager Simon Sbaii says, per the chef, that the rice recipe is a closely guarded secret.
For truly succulent meat, order the chicken shawarma ($5.95). Sweet, saucy from its marinade and rolled up with diced tomatoes and onions, the sandwich is almost guaranteed to fall apart as you eat it. But it's so good, you won't care.
If the menu and name seem familiar, there's a reason. Owner Abdelmalik Amarir, Sbaii's brother-in-law, used to work at the late restaurant of the same name in Georgetown. With permission, Amarir opened the Arlington location with many of the same recipes.
Sbaii said it was his idea to add Moroccan cuisine to Fettoosh's offerings. We wish we'd known to ask about the unadvertised daily special, an off-menu option that he says has proven popular with diners, so be sure to inquire before ordering. One tempting example: a tagine-like platter with lamb and prunes ($12).
If you call ahead, the employee on the other end of the line might joke that the food will be ready in 2 1/2 hours. It will take about a tenth that time. If you've got nowhere to be, show up early. Watch soccer on the big flat-screen TV and bask in the glow of the restaurant's peachy walls and Mediterranean mural.
Ballston or Beirut, this is a neighborhood joint that's going places.