Welcome to Inside the Dishes, where Eater takes an in-depth look at the dishes that are defining hot new restaurants around town.
Almost three months in, Middle Eastern-themed hot spot Maydan is still an almost-impossible reservation to book on OpenTable, and its bar scene is bustling as well. Since the Washington Post christened it “the gathering place we’ve been waiting for” in late December, the chefs have continued to refine their offerings. Now is a great time to take a deeper look at the menu and the heavy-hitter dishes that crowds are flocking for.
But first, the fire. The city denied owner Rose Previte the ability to cook over open flames at her first restaurant, Compass Rose. But they granted her permission (and then some) here at Mayden: The giant, two-story fire pit, hidden dramatically down an alley at 1346 Florida Avenue NW, is its undeniable focal point. All of the vegetables, seafood, kebabs, and large sharable dishes (including chicken, rib-eye, and lamb shoulder) are cooked over it. Preparations are simple to let the effects of the grill shine, according to co-executive chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan.
The restaurant’s menu focuses on cuisines from countries that are underrepresented in the U.S. as well as the D.C. area: Lebanon, Georgia, Syria, Iran, and Morocco. The team both traveled to the Middle East and cooked with local experts in the cuisine, such as Georgetown-based Iranian cook Najmieh Batmanglij, to research the project. The goal was to present the foods in a transportive setting, and Maydan’s stylized design fits the bill.
Here are the top dishes Maydan is serving right now:
Condiments: If the wood-fired oven is the star at Maydan, the condiments are the scene-stealers, allowing diners to completely customize each item to his or her liking. Options like tomato jam and the parsley-cilantro mixture known as zhough are each priced at $1. “You can order 10 things one night, come back, and order the same 10 things and have a completely different meal, depending on how you mix and match,” said Addison. Other options include harissa (made with cumin and peppers), ezme (tomato, onions, peppers, and pomegranate molasses), toum (a basic mix of garlic, oil, and lemon), tahina (sesame paste), chermoula (an herb sauce with parsley and saffron), and tomato jam spiked with cinnamon and sesame. Chefs swear it isn’t an upsell when they urge diners to order them all.
Muhamarra: One of the more popular items on the menu (Maydan sends out nearly 200 orders a week), the chefs are surprised this Syrian spread ($9) hasn’t gained the wild popularity of hummus in the United States — at least not yet. Walnuts, red pepper, and pomegranate molasses are pureed together with unfiltered Lebanese olive oil. “Everything [at this restaurant] has so much olive oil,” Addison says with a laugh.
Beet Borani: This magenta-colored showstopper is compelling about 18 groups a night to order one for the table. The Iranian yogurt dip ($8) combines fully cooked beet with yogurt and garlic. It’s garnished with dill and black sesame. “It’s hard not to enjoy something that beautiful,” said Morgan.
Beiruti Hummus: Between 25-30 people each night order this hummus dish ($8), which has raw vegetables like shishito peppers, tomatoes, and scallions stirred into it. The chefs sampled the preparation when doing research in Beirut. The vegetables involved will change throughout the year.
Labneh: Another Middle Eastern standard, this strained yogurt ($7) is combined with lemon juice and dried, rather than fresh, mint, which is more traditional, even if common wisdom might indicate fresh always trumps dried.
Lamb Shoulder: This showstopper of a dish is flavored with Syrian seven spice, a blend that varies from household to household: here, Maydan incorporates black pepper, Aleppo chili, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. When visiting Turkey for research, the chefs found themselves largely cooking Syrian food due to the migration patterns that have recently led immigrant populations there. Maydan prepares the lamb shoulder sous vide overnight and then finishes on the fire — they found that smoking it directly muddled the flavors. Market price for the dish ranges from $70 to $100 (it serves at least four). It’s more of a splurge item, so the kitchen usually ends up sending out between four and five orders each night.
Grilled shrimp: Dishes continually evolve over a restaurant’s lifetime, and the grilled shrimp dish ($18) at Maydan is a good example of this. Shrimp were originally served head-on, but the cooks ran into issues trying to cook the delicate crustacean evenly this way. Like each of the seafood dishes at Maydan, the shrimp are marinated in and garnished with chermoula sauce, a North African herb medley spiked with cilantro and parsley.
Grilled kabocha squash: The squash ($9) is a new, seasonal menu item for Maydan. Seasonings include the Turkish chile pepper urfa biber and the Moroccan blend ras al hanout. Morgan describes the flavor as “earthy.” The grilled dish is finished with honey and chives.
Hinbe: This dish of sauteed dandelion greens, garlic, lemon, and olive oil — all topped with fried shallots — has special meaning for Previte, whose Lebanese family ate it growing up in rural Ohio. “We would pick them on the side of the road,” she said. This is a new addition to the menu ($8), replacing a Romano bean dish. “It’s acidic and bitter and help cut through the other dishes,” said Morgan. Addison had some concern customers might be turned off by the bitter flavor, but people have embraced it, and likened the flavor to broccoli rabe.
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