When it comes to pronounced flavors, Lebanese cuisine never disappoints. And its easy on the pocketbook, too.
But my favorite part is the near-ridiculous amount of olive oil in many of the dishes. At home, Im one with the olive: Ill cook anything in olive oil, from pasta and steaks to eggs and even pancakes. (Its a healthy choice.)
So in that regard, the fattoush salad ($5.95) is the best place to start at Al Wadi Cafe. A mix of bell peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, mint, onions, tomatoes and parsley is drenched in olive oil. Throw in some lemon and crispy pita chips, and youve got fresh, tangy decadence.
On the other hand, my brain (and mouth) has yet to understand dolmas ($4.95-$6.95), the popular Middle Eastern appetizer of vegetarian or nonvegetarian stuffing wrapped in grape leaves. I find their taste to be overly pungent, and Ive tried to convert myself many times to no avail. Regardless, youll find both hot and cold versions at Al Wadi, and theyre fresh.
There are other appetizers, like manakeesh meat (ground beef with pine nuts, $3.95), sambousik (pastry dough filled with cheese or beef, $4.45) and kibbeh ($4.95-$7.95), a starchy, deep-fried dough stuffed with flavorful, lightly seasoned beef, bulgur wheat and spices. The dough is thick, and the spices give the dish a subtle cinnamon flavor complemented by the accompanying pomegranate molasses.
At first glance, the skewers on the lamb kebab dish (lunch, $9.95; dinner, $12.95) seem insufficient, but between the tender, peppery lamb and a full plate of hummus, parsley salad, fluffy rice and vegetables, you might want to prep the to-go box beforehand. Theres enough there for two people.
Most of the above are Lebanese dishes, but Al Wadi has a few Greek plates if you want both worlds in one sitting. The gyro ($5.95) is prepared with thinly sliced lamb and beef and topped with tzatziki sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and feta cheese. The meat is flavorful and pleasantly salty, and unlike most gyros Ive tried, Al Wadis was moist and tender.
The mousaka ($9.95), another Greek dish, is my favorite at the café. Its a layered stack of eggplant, ground beef and potatoes in a sweet marinara sauce. The eggplant and potatoes are soft, and theres plenty of beef in the dish to please my meathead sensibilities. Its basically a variation on Italian lasagna. (Another dish, the pastitsio, is almost identical to Italian lasagna.)
You can try many of these dishes on Al Wadis lunch buffet (11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday). The restaurants traditional offerings make an appearance, but about a quarter of the buffet is reserved for new items not on the menu.
And if thats not enough to get you there, the place also has flavored hookahs on the patio. Now that the weather seems to be chilling out a bit, we can hookah it up all evening. On a full stomach, of course.