A late-night spot for shawarma memories
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Possibly the most scenic wall on H Street NE exhibits cedars against mountains at the tiny Shawafel. Only the lack of a breeze reminds me I’m gazing at a photograph.
“Every time I look at it,” says owner Alberto Sissi, a native of Lebanon, “it reminds me of home.”
The novice restaurateur’s short menu of dips, salads and sandwiches brings his country a little closer to Washington, too. Smoky baba ghanouj is eggplant seemingly mashed with a campfire. Garlicky hummus tastes bright with lemon juice and rich with lashings of olive oil. Lamb carved from a spit is bundled with tomato, parsley, pickles and more -- a sandwich that would be improved with more-flavorful pita bread. I’m just as happy to go meatless here, and ask for flash-fried cauliflower and tahini as a filling for a rolled-up sandwich.
Sissi, who opened his 24-seater a year ago in August, says that while many of his American customers figure the french fry-stuffed pita is a nod to their affection for spuds, the sandwich is a fast-food staple in Lebanon. (This customer prefers the hand-cut fries by themselves; a dusting of dried thyme, sesame seeds and sumac negates any thought of using ketchup.)
Falafel with pickled turnips are good. Fattoush drenched in pomegranate dressing makes a sorry salad.
Trees and mountains are just part of Shawafel’s design charm. Brushed-aluminum stools tucked into a trim counter and a palette of soft blue and silver encourage you to eat your order in rather than carry it out.
Like the nearby H &Pizza and Dangerously Delicious Pies, the counter-service Shawafel stays open till the wee hours on weekends: 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. As a manager of the Lebanese shop told me, “We have the basic drink foods covered.”