From school course to main course

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2010; E3

With the debut of his first restaurant, the Mediterranean-themed Bistro LaZeez in Bethesda, Reda Asaad likes to tell people he has moved from "feeding brains to feeding stomachs."

If the Syrian native's concurrent job teaching Arabic at the Washington International School and the British School of Washington is anything like his zesty falafel or smoky eggplant dip, I want to sign up for classes. No less pleasing at LaZeez is the maiden restaurateur's signature grilled chicken medley: a thigh, drumstick and wing whose sunny flavors come from brush strokes of lemon, olive oil and garlic applied before the pieces leave the kitchen. A round of pita, crisp from the griddle, serves as garnish.

"What I cook in the restaurant is what I cook at home," says Asaad, who co-owns the eatery with his wife, Nadia Abourizk Asaad, a native of Lebanon. Raves over the years from his dinner guests, including more than a few students, prompted the educator to expand his curriculum with the stylish 30-seat dining room in July.

The focus is on what's fresh. Asaad swears the only thing in his bistro's small freezer is ice cream or the occasional piece of meat.

When he's not at school, Asaad is at LaZeez, which takes its name from the Arabic words for "enjoyable" or "delicious." His wife is responsible for turning a former pet-grooming shop into something chic. Teardrop lights with see-through shades, stained-oak tables and a butter-colored banquette make an attractive backdrop for baby fava bean salad, shawarma and rosewater-laced ice cream.

Asaad jokes that when his spouse isn't around, he tells patrons his food is Syrian; when she's present, it's Lebanese.

Some dishes could use more practice; grilled beef kafta, part of a sampler called the Emperor, proved a bit tough on my visit. But everything else about the plate - the lemony chicken kebab, the sweetly spiced lamb, the fluffy basmati rice - is a class act.

8009 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-8222. Entrees, $9.99-$15.99.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company