Medi Mediterranean Grill & Pitaria

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Medi Mediterranean Grill and Pitaria in Arlington
By Becky Krystal
Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When restaurateur Christian Falatko talks about the Mediterranean, it’s not all Greek to him. At least it wasn’t going to be at Medi, his eight-week-old fast- casual spot in Arlington’s Shirlington development.

“To put Mediterranean on your place, most of the time you walk in and it’s just Lebanese. Or it’s just Greek,” says Falatko, who opened Medi with his best friend and business partner, George Theodorou. Medi draws wider inspiration from the European region, including Italy, France, southern Spain and Morocco.

Falatko and Theodorou’s portfolio already includes Delia’s Mediterranean Grill & Brick Oven Pizza in Alexandria, itself a spinoff of the Springfield Delia’s restaurant owned by Theodorou’s parents.

“George and I always really wanted to get something started where we’re putting out a higher-end product but doing it in a casual environment,” says Falatko. “Just because you’re not wearing a suit doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate great food.”

Diners choose from several meats or a vegetable medley that can be placed in a pita, on rice or atop a salad.

We marveled at the fall-apart tenderness of the lamb ($7.50), which the restaurant cooks for more than 24 hours, according to Falatko. We had the meat with the salad, a hot-cold combination complemented by dollops of creamy tzatziki and a Spicy 17 Spread reminiscent of harissa. Both free toppings are better than the smooth but bland side order of hummus ($2.50).

Falatko spent months developing the spicy spread to master the way it migrates from sweet to smoky to hot. He counts tomato, honey, cilantro, roasted coriander seed, scallions and six types of peppers among the, yes, 17 ingredients.

We could see why the souv­laki-style chicken ($6.95) is the most popular item on the menu (followed closely by the lamb). The meat we requested in a pita was moist, even after a turn on the open-fire grill. It gets marinated for at least 24 hours. On the opposite end of the spectrum were the grilled vegetables ($6.75) on our bed of minty rice. The eggplant, mixed with onions and bell peppers, was undercooked and tough.

We didn’t have the same complaint about the gyritos ($6.95 for three), Falatko’s brilliant fusion of a gyro and taquito. The gyro meat fried inside white corn tortillas had lost none of its juiciness. A lunchgoer could easily make an office-appropriate meal out of the greaseless, feta-filled rollups, served with a side of tzatziki and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Like everything else we sampled, the gyritos were ready for takeout in a matter of minutes. Packaged in compostable bamboo-pulp containers, the food held up well after a car ride and rest on the dining room table.

Falatko expects to open three to five more Medi locations, mostly in Northern Virginia, although a District outpost is a possibility. The clean, simple design shouldn’t be hard to replicate except for perhaps one detail: block pulleys that adorned the Black Pearl on the set of the 2007 movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.” Ahoy.