Tom Sietsema wrote about Kababji Grill for a February 2010 First Bite column.
Want to feel welcomed? Head for Kababji Grill in Dupont Circle.
As we approach the sleek newcomer, an import from Beirut, a hostess rushes to open the door for us. Inside, we spot a softly lighted bar to our right and a tidy exhibition kitchen to our left. The latter highlights a display case of chicken, lamb and other meaty swords, ready for a rendezvous with the restaurant's signature charcoal grill. The surrounding walls practically glow, thanks to their pumpkin-colored brick veneer.
The warm vibe continues in the back dining room. Its table tops are free of linens, but they're also handsome in custom-made black tile. On the wall: cream- and gold-colored Jerusalem stone. The ceiling is vaulted and attractive. A basket of baked pita chips zipped up with dried thyme, sesame seeds and other enhancers entertains us as we check out the menu.
Kababji Grill is part of a Lebanese chain, with about 30 eateries abroad (and two more planned for the District), but it doesn't act the part. The labor-intensive nature of its food is revealed in the size of its kitchen crew of more than 30 people.
As of now, however, their work lacks the sizzle of much of the competition in the area. Kababji Grill's saucer-shaped pita bread is piping hot but not all that tasty. The chickpea dip is flat and the monk salad, roasted eggplant lashed with olive oil and dotted with tomato bits, gets tedious after a few bites. Meanwhile, the petite skewers of meat -- "spicy" beef zipped up with onion powder and chili pepper, chicken tinted red from sweet bell peppers in its marinade -- prompted a friend to ask if we had ordered from a kids' menu. Nice touches: fluffy, almond-strewn rice and grilled vegetables served with the main events.
As we make our way to the door, the staff wonders why we passed on dessert and insists we take home something sweet, gratis. We decline the kind gesture and leave with crossed fingers, hoping that future Kababji Grills in the city will devote as much time to what's on the plate as what's on the wall.
Dinner entrees, $12-$26.50.
(Feb. 17, 2010)