The Washington Post

First Bite: Le Mediterranean Bistro

The French-focused menu at Le Mediterranean Bistro offers onion soup, country pâté, roasted squab and steak au poivre. (Amanda Voisard/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

If you like deals and find yourself in Fairfax City, make it a point to drop by Le Mediterranean Bistro. Fourteen bucks buys you a three-course lunch; happy hour toasts $5 cocktails; Wednesday nights mean half-price bottles of wine.

Opened in April, the 50-seat follow-up to the short-lived Persian restaurant Sabzi puts Driss Zahidi at the stove and a big chalkboard of specials on the wall, similar to the design statement at the veteran chef’s previous gig, Bistro Vivant in McLean.

Zahidi, who once stirred and sauteed at Evo Bistro in McLean, was born in Morocco, which explains the bastilla on his Mediterranean menu. A dome of phyllo hides a filling of duck confit, almonds and raisins, but the package is missing the traditional dusting of confectioners’ sugar. “It’s too sweet for me,” says the chef, who thinks that flourish detracts from the dish. A small watercress salad flatters the beige presentation,

The menu offers onion soup, country pâté, roasted squab and steak au poivre: It’s French-focused, in other words.

Shrimp amped up with scallions, garlic and cayenne-spiced butter make a pleasing first impression, and they’re prettily delivered in a small round casserole. Rack of lamb is edged in crushed pistachios. The main course comes with sauteed spinach and roasted peppers and a black olive “jus” that’s actually a thick demi-glace — and, frankly, a distraction on the plate.

The bistro’s small crew includes Zahidi’s brother, Hicham, who makes an enthusiastic host and server.

“Excellent choice!” he says after each food request.

“Would you tell us if it wasn’t?” I teased.

“We’d take it off the menu!”

4008 University Dr., Fairfax. 703-383-1553. Entrees, $17 to $24.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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