Iraqi-American restaurateur Andy Shallal has recruited an army of immigrant chefs to cook the North African and Middle Eastern dishes developed specifically for Ancient Rivers, the new restaurant scheduled to replace recently shuttered Mulebone.
“We are in the process of remodeling,” Shallal says of the lightning fast turnaround he’s hoping to execute within days. Rather than continue with Southern-themed Mulebone — which replaced similarly themed Eatonville a few years back — Shallal tells Eater he’s hoping to build on the first restaurant he brought to D.C. three decades ago, a kebab shop called Skewers.
Some of the grilled meats he served back in the 80’s at 17th and P streets NW will also be featured at Ancient Rivers, which is scheduled to debut Tuesday, September 26. But Shallal is aiming higher this time around.
He says he’s assembled chefs from Iraq, Syria, Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia to create the dozens of mezze dishes at the heart of the new menu. Core offerings include lentil soup topped with burnt onions (his mother’s recipe); the fava bean dish known as ful medames; Merguez sausage; eggplant salad; hummus with lamb and pine nuts; falafel; couscous; yogurt with za’atar; and vegetarian-friendly dolma.
“It’s healthy food, it’s accessible,” Shallal says, adding, “It’s a sharing kind of space.”
Two ways Shallal plans to complement the cuisine are with fresh juices — “These are very important in the Middle East,” he says — and traditional tea service. Expect to find cold beverages made from beets, carrots, kale, and yogurt among others at the juice bar. As for the teas, Shallal envisions providing flavor profiles indigenous to Morocco, Iraq, and Egypt to start.
“We are very fortunate to have found really good people that have experience in these areas,” he says.
The restaurant is projected to serve dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Shallal says lunch and brunch should follow in the coming weeks.
On opening night all food and drink will be half-off. “We want to expand the circle and bring in new people,” Shallal says.