New Silver Spring Gets a Good Taste of Old Jerusalem
Although national chain restaurants dominate downtown Silver Spring's redevelopment, the revitalization continues to attract locally owned eateries. One of the newest to open is Taste of Jerusalem, a quietly elegant restaurant on the southern edge of downtown.
It occupies a long-empty space on Georgia Avenue that once housed a popular seafood eatery and has been transformed by members of the Hawa family into a Middle Eastern fantasy, with long banquettes layered with silk pillows, ornate metal and stained glass light fixtures that look like something out of Scheherazade, lovely pottery, striking mirrors and handsome wood trim that makes the ceiling appear coffered.
Kamal Hawa, chef and owner, named the restaurant after his native city, where he first became a chef more than three decades ago. Before arriving in the United States in 1985, Hawa worked at the American Colony Hotel, a favorite of American and British expatriates, journalists and diplomats in East Jerusalem, and at several Red Sea resorts.
Hawa decided to set out on his own after working as a chef for the Adventist Healthcare System and Guest Quarters in the Washington area. Members of his family -- including his wife, Sabah, his son, his daughter and various others -- have worked for six months creating Taste of Jerusalem, doing most of the renovations themselves. Walk through the intricately tiled entry and suddenly you feel far away from the hustle and bustle of Georgia Avenue and the new fire station directly across the street.
The thing to remember is that this is a family-run restaurant. Although it might not have quite the polish of those chain places, the food is tasty and cooked with passion.
The menu is mostly standard Middle Eastern fare, with quail and salmon added to the mix. There are about a dozen mezze (or appetizers), a few sandwiches and a dozen entrees at dinner, with fewer at lunch.
You'll start with pita or flatbread served with an interesting dip of olive oil, lemon juice, sesame seeds and dried mint that is brought to the table as soon as you are seated. Hummus is always a good choice, and here the earthy flavor of chickpeas predominates. The flavor of chickpeas also sings through in the falafel -- a paste of chickpeas, parsley, onion, garlic and other seasonings that is shaped into a patty and fried to a golden crisp.
Kibbeh -- which look like little footballs and are cracked wheat stuffed with ground lamb and pine nuts and then fried -- are pleasantly spiced, crispy on the outside but not overcooked on the inside. All of the appetizers that involve pastry -- whether the spinach or meat fatayer or the so-called Jerusalem pizza -- are a little doughy, though the fillings are savory.
My favorite appetizer is the Jerusalem salad, a cooling bowl of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley with garlic and tahini (sesame seed paste).
Many of the sandwiches and entrees involve either shawarma or kabobs. Here, the shawarma -- slices of rotisserie-cooked meats -- is chicken or beef, not the usual lamb, and both are good. The kabobs, especially the kifta (ground lamb), are as good as any in Jerusalem, including at the American Colony. The chicken, marinated to a golden hue, is especially flavorful.
The star of the evening menu is the Taste of Jerusalem Feast for Two, which at $56.95 offers virtually anything on the menu -- your choice of six mezze, two soups, two entrees and two desserts.
There is a small selection of desserts -- my favorite is the namoura , baked phyllo-dough-wrapped bundles of sweet white cheese. But baklava is another good choice.