L'Os; 1117 N. 19th St., Rosslyn 522-2205; Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. to around 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. to around 10:30 p.m. Saturday (the kitchen may close earlier or later, depending on the number of customers), closed Sunday. Prices: Dinner for two with appetizers, drinks and dessert costs $35 to $45 including tax and tip. Cards: American Express, Diners Club, Carte Blanche, MasterCard, and Visa. By Barbara Rothschild and Daniel Zwerdling Special to The Washington Post
Come for dinner now at this appealing new Middle Eastern restaurant, before more people start discovering it, and you can feel almost like a sheik. There you'll be, sitting nearly alone in the pretty dining room wrapped with glittering mirrors and shimmering gold-tiled ceiling and understated beige fabrics. Since there are so few customers the staff will give you special attention. You'll order one appetizer after another -- chickpea hummos, eggplant baba ghannuj, even frog legs, at your own slow pace, without worrying about the kitchen rushing you. Most of the dishes are bound to be good (with an occasional slip). And you'll be pleasantly surprised at the bill. The average main course here costs only $7.50.
L'Os (which means "the bone") calls itself a "Lebanese and French" restaurant, although it's really "Lebanese with a little French." The long and enticing list of appetizers sets the tone. Definitely start with hummos special, the traditional blend of ground chickpeas and tahini (sesame butter), sprinkled with ground beef and pine nuts. At some restaurants the hummos tastes too strongly of garlic or lemon, but L'Os' version has a creamy, delicate balance. Baba Ghannuj is also excellent, with the faintly smoky taste of eggplant, and the Tabbuleh salad is one of the best we've ever had -- lots of diced tomatoes and chopped parsley, with just a hint of crunchy bulgur wheat and a seasoning that reminds us of allspice.
All the appetizers we've tried here, in fact, have been good, including mild or hot sausages, maanek and sujok, dripping with juices and fragrant with spices; kibbeh, crisp little bulgur wheat shells shaped like footballs, stuffed with ground beef and whole pine nuts; and yummy broiled, marinated chicken wings. This is one of the rare Middle Eastern restaurants where you can have authentic falafel (crisp-fried, mashed chickpeas). L'Os' falafel is shaped in patties, which were a little too dry one evening, but they were good topped with their tahini sauce. And be sure to order one of the few French-inspired dishes, mussels baked or steamed with garlic and tangy coriander leaves.
We've been spending a lot of time talking about the appetizers at L'Os, partly because there are so many of them -- 22, actually, more than the number of entrees -- and because so many of them are so good. In fact, instead of ordering a main dish for each person and then splitting some appetizers, we recommend ordering the other way around: order a lot of appetizers and then split a smaller number of entrees.
The best entrees include the chicken kebab, shish taouk -- chunks of juicy, crispy-charred white meat, really excellent -- and the nicely marinated pork kebab, something we haven't seen before on Middle Eastern menus. The lamb kebab is fine, although nothing special, but we've been disappointed with the shawarma -- sliced beef that at a recent dinner tasted all dried out -- and the shrimp kebab, which one evening tasted tired.
But we urge you to order one of the few French dishes on the menu, the steak with peppercorns. It's cut on the thin side, but it's delicious -- tender, fragrant with pepper, dripping with its own juices swirled in brandy. It's a good deal for $9.50.
L'Os offers an appealing choice of desserts, including a bittersweet chocolate mousse and deep fried bananas with ice cream. But it would be a shame to eat here and not finish with the classic sesame paste candy, halaweh (often written halavah). This version is the best we've ever had. It's amazingly moist, studded with pistachios and, in a bald effort to seduce you, L'Os serves it with a piece of flat bread and a couple of pats of butter. True, you'll violate every nutrition rule if you go ahead and smear the butter on your bread and then top it with a thick, rich slab of halaweh. But you'll surely miss something if you don't.