Lebnan Zaman

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Simple Lebanese, Some Cards and a Smoke

By Moira McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Jan. 30, 2008)

At a glance: Well, it's smoky.

A reader tipped me off to Lebnan Zaman. He failed to mention that it's a hookah bar as well as a restaurant, and dining here means sitting among tables of (mostly) men puffing one of 22 flavors of tobacco as they eat, talk, work, or play cards or chess. (Check out the guys who can blow smoke rings.) Most of the handful of women there wore hijabs, and even on a Monday night, the place was packed.

If you can't stand the smoke, do takeout. Fresh air is in small order here, but the place is cool -- not because it is nicely decorated (yellow walls, tiled floor, low ceilings) or located in an interesting neighborhood (the not-so-exotic Tysons Corner), or even because the daily baked bread is that delicious. (It was dry.)

Lebnan Zaman is cool because it affords a different dining experience. This is why you live in a metropolitan area, because a Lebanese place sits around the corner from a Korean place. You have museums, diversity and restaurants where you can get an idea about other cultures.

On the menu: The menu is bare-bones and made up of simple Lebanese food. It's everything you would expect: kabobs, shawarma (marinated and slow-roasted meat), hummus and falafel. The beef kabob was a little tough, yet cooked the way I like it: crispy on the outside. It was delicious topped with a little of the yogurt-based sauce that comes on the side.

My favorite entree was the kafta kabob, which is made with beef and lamb. I am not a huge lamb fan, but I really enjoyed this. The meat was not as tough as the beef kabob's, and I liked the lighter, sesame-seed-based tahini sauce. (If you like a lot of sauce, ask for extra because the containers are tiny.)

The kabobs and the shawarma come with rice, salad and bread, so there is plenty to fill you up.

The most interesting dish was the fattet chicken: stewed chicken, rice, yogurt and nuts. It's thick, with a consistency like rice pudding, and so sweet it almost tastes like a dessert. You can also order it with lamb.

Make sure you order the grape leaves as an appetizer. They are moist, but not swimming in oil. The leaves are pliable, not stiff like the ones you can get at the grocery store. They were my favorite thing on the menu as I am often disappointed by grape leaves elsewhere. The "Very Traditional" platter, which includes hummus, baba ghannouge (a delicious mixture of eggplant, tahini, oil, lemon juice and garlic), tabbouleh (chopped tomatoes, onions, parsley and mint in oil and lemon juice) and kibbeh (beef, onion and pine nuts in a dough pastry), sadly comes with only one grape leaf. Tragic! This platter and the others are good to share with friends.

At your service: Just as the menu is bare-bones, so is the service. Whether dining in or taking out, order at the cashier in the back and then pick up your meal at the window in the middle of the restaurant.

What to avoid: "Avoid" is a strong word, but I was unimpressed by the hummus. I love the chickpeas and lemon juice combination, and yet I seem to find more bland hummus than not-bland. I like a lot of garlic, and this hummus did not cause the offensive breath I was hoping for.

Wet your whistle: Coffee, tea, soda, juices; but no alcohol here.

Bottom line: "Lebnan Zaman: The Lebanese Good Old Days," it reads on the menu. Well, then "the good old days" must have been about gathering with friends around a pipe and food and chatting after work. It was about simple Lebanese food in a simple Lebanese establishment. Nothing fancy, but a good place to unwind over shawarma and shisha.