Unveiled tonight at 5 p.m. in the Northwest alleyway across from Maydan, Medina is loosely categorized as a cocktail bar — but a step inside reveals that it might defy expectation (1328 Florida Avenue NW). Part lounge, part restaurant, part Bedouin tent, the small space echoes images from the distant past (2015). Owner Rose Previte refashioned the now-dismantled Bedouin Tent Experience on the patio of Compass Rose, her first restaurant located on 14th Street, into a full buildout.
“I miss the tent at Compass, but it was just one table there [the tent was dismantled in response to the COVID pandemic]. I’m recreating it here — with more room to do cool things.” she says.
The co-owner of Michelin-starred stalwart Maydan continues to channel her journeys across the Levant and North Africa at the new sibling spot tucked past an evil eye-stamped door. Drapes are drawn, leather-bound sofas beckon, and glimmering chandeliers set the stage for an alluring cocktail program.
Previte and beverage director Drew Hairston have created a wide-ranging list of drinks that draw influences from Spain south to Morocco, west to Tunisia, and across ancient trade routes, but built “with modern cocktail styling,” Hairston notes.
The Rose Tinted Glasses blends gin with pink peppercorn, pomegranate liqueur, Meyer lemon and Txakolina.
Meanwhile, the Medusa goes smoky-sweet with mezcal, passionfruit, banana, and orange, sitting under foamy wisps of spicy salt air redolent of the sea.
Medina also serves a two-person martini service (making 4-5 martinis, depending on heaviness of hand) leaning on Moroccan olive oil-washed vodka, olive brine, and dry vermouth. A drinker’s choice of accoutrements include Castelvetrano or smoked olives, lemon zest, and sumac onions. A luxe add-on is Sardinian bottarga (cured roe) service.
Nearly all the drinks bring elements of salt and citrus, “because Mediterranean,” says Previte.
Wines hail from the islands of the Mediterranean and (with echoes of those on Maydan’s James Beard-nominated wine list) spotlight lesser-known producers and wine regions. Offerings come from far-flung islands like Corsica, France; Mallorca, Spain; and Crete, Greece.
Chef Sam Molavi helped engineer Compass Rose’s tented private dining room, and Previte says she reenlisted Molavi on the menu “as a reunion project all these years later.”
Unlike at Maydan, with its big, bold, fire-fueled dishes, the food here lands on the small plates side of the spectrum across a list of shareable dips, street foods, and salads.
The on-trend mezze board is “a tinned fish situation,” says Previte. Served on a wooden plank, tinned tuna is accompanied by olives, pickled vegetables, and amalou (“like an elevated almond butter,” Previte says).
Otherwise, you’ll find plates of thinly sliced citrus, topped with radishes and mint; a mix of beets and apples with chopped walnuts and fresh herbs; and a sweet carrot-raisin salad, also under an herb shower. Swipes of creamy tahini find their way to the bottom of a few of dishes.
One interactive dish is Tunisian brik (similar to a bourek), a paper-thin triangle of pastry wrapped around tuna, potato, and a runny soft-boiled egg that requires napkins.
On the table, regardless of what’s ordered are two required sauces, both made in-house: harissa (a spicy red pepper paste) and chermoula (a green herby mixture with garlic and olive oil).
After having spent years visiting Morocco and Tunisia, and whiling away evenings cooking with Bedouin women, Previte visited Malta this summer. There she found the ancient medina — walled city — entrancing. “It’s a place of protection, nestled and cozy,” she says.
For its translation in D.C., Medina is meant to be “more than what meets the eye, a little bit of mystery behind the doors,” she says. Snag a seat online.
A portion of nightly proceeds support Global Giving’s Morocco earthquake relief fund.