It’s two stars (“good”) for Cleveland Park’s new Israeli restaurant, according to Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema. He’s a “big fan” of chef Ryan Moore’s kushari dish, a shallow mound of rice, chickpeas and lentils with a well of stinging tomato sauce and a topping of fried red onions. Sietsema says it’s “perfect” how Sababa and its Indian street food neighbor Bindaas, also owned by seasoned restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, both translate to “cool” in Hebrew and Hindi, respectively. Moore’s “garlic-forward” and super creamy hummus, served with saucer-size pita bread rolled and baked on site, reigns supreme. Go with the tangy labneh, he recommends. Sietsema suggests ordering just a few dishes at a time, to avoid pacing issues, with salads and spreads (salatim) to start. He enjoys lush raw tuna accompanied by cucumbers and jalapeño, as well as super spicy dishes such as the “Not for the Faint of Heart” platter of blistered chiles. Chicken with fiery harissa sauce is the most memorable grill fare in his book. “As with the kebabs, chicken rules the roost. I could eat Moore’s lemony, garlicky roast half chicken every day,” writes Sietsema, of an entree flanked by sumac-flavored onions. Middle Eastern-inspired desserts include a “decadent” Halvah-chocolate pot de crème. One of the few misses is the lamb shank, which features “ordinary” meat and cabbage that’s much too sweet.
Eerkin’s Uyghur Cuisine
Northern Virginia Magazine guest restaurant critic Rina Rapuano visits the new-ish addition to downtown Fairfax; a “tiny but pleasant dining room” turns out to be home to cuisine influenced by China and neighboring countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Mongolia. Rapuano recommends kicking off the meal with flaky and pancake-like katlama naan, and a cool marinated beef salad sprinkled with garlic, cilantro and chiles. Another “standout” appetizer is the eggplant, with its “melty flesh and chewy skin” covered in garlic, oyster sauce, cilantro, and tomato. Notable entrees include: boneless chicken qourma with rice and fresh ginger, as well as noodles sauced with lamb and veggies with an “intense” homemade chili blend. The soft noodles — boasting “a perfect chew” — are the overall stars of the meal, as is the whole pomfret fish bathed in ginger, garlic, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Dumplings filled with spiced lamb, and a bowl of noodle soup fall short on the excitement scale. Same goes for the samsa, with its too-dry minced lamb filling. Rapuano urges diners to try a French press filled with a blend of black and green tea accented with saffron, cardamom, rose and a homemade spice blend; the mostly-Muslim menu means no alcohol, she reminds readers.
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly
Tom Sietsema gives chef Javier Fernandez’s new fast-casual Filipino eatery a first bite, immediately gushing over its signature Cebu-style pork belly. “Slow-cooked lechon sports mahogany skin that shatters like glass and meat that resonates with lemon grass, garlic and the sweetness of pineapple,” he writes. Expect lines, he warns. But at least the order-takers are a pleasant enough bunch. Sietsema suggests dunking fried beef empanadas in cilantro and tomatillo dip (Kuya Ja’s riff on ranch dressing). The only flaw of the burger, made with chorizo and topped with a fried egg, is its accompanying “blank” French fries. Pancit is “a kitchen sink” of a dish, with shrimp, chicken, egg, noodles, and more. Sietsema notes that the concept started as a pop-up in neighboring Gwenie’s Pastries, the chef’s sister’s bakery. Go-to desserts at the now-permanent locale include cheesecake, flan, and ice candies that remind Sietsema of freezer pops.