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Zenola, High-End Lebanese Cuisine in Vienna


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I often poke fun at Tom Sietsema for his disregard of Lebanese and Levantine cuisine in our area. But he just did a very nice review of Zenola in Vienna.

It's on my list for a try-out in the next few weeks, but his review probably complicated the reservations list. The owner ran Cafe Paradiso for a while, and is now settled into the former Le Canard pace in Vienna. I'm dying to have a few plates of the Kibbeh Nayyeh.

See --> Zenola.

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KN:  I was just about to post this review to one of you Middle Eastern threads.  

I was thrilled to see the opening photo of Koosa Mishi in the article.  I don't recall seeing that on a restaurant menu around here.  Unfortunately, their grape leaves are only the vegetarian type, but that won't stop me from asking for version with meat!!  😉

Either way, I'm psyched to try this place!

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2 hours ago, Bart said:

I was thrilled to see the opening photo of Koosa Mishi in the article.  I don't recall seeing that on a restaurant menu around here.  Unfortunately, their grape leaves are only the vegetarian type, but that won't stop me from asking for version with meat!!  😉

I just made koosa this week, with squash from the farmer's market in Stafford. Mama Ayesha's usually has it on the menu. As comforting a dish as you can enjoy at a Middle Eastern place.

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A group of us finally made it to Zenola on a Saturday evening. And in a word, it was excellent.

It's tucked away in the former Le Canard space in a strip mall next to Big Buns Burgers and Norm's Beer and Wine. The interior has been nicely appointed and the back wall has an eye-catching window (or portal) to allow some of the kitchen activities to be observed.

Cutting to the chase -- The "kibbe nayyeh" is an absolute hit, the best I've had off a menu in the DC area. My death row final meal request will be from here -- perfectly red lamb meat laced with spices and burghul, presented as a burger-patty-sized disk on a plate with two or three dots of garlic paste ("toum") and gherkins. With the fresh pita bread that is frequently plopped on the table -- nice touch, by the way, with the little warm clay disks at the bottom of each cloth bag that the bread comes out with, so as to keep them warm -- and near bottomless arak to sip, I downed at least two and a half orders on my own. The kibbe nayyeh scores a solid A, with the only thing keeping it from an A+ being the smallish portion size, so plan on multiple orders of this delicacy. (However, for me, any portion of kibbe hayyeh is too small, so take that into consideration.)

Zenola offers unique takes on all of its dishes, stylized by a chef with serious Lebanese chops combined with serious culinary chops. Tiny-sized kibbe footballs, a fraction of the size you might get at another Lebanese restaurant, must be difficult to make. They are delicious here, served with a drizzle of pomegranate syrup. The stuffed squash, one to an order, is delicious enough that we ordered six of them. The char-grilled octopus was delicious, served with chick peas. The hummus with lamb and pine nuts, elsewhere referred to as "hummus special" but here simply called "hummus topped with lamb and pine nuts" was perfect. The version of baba ghanouj here is reimagined as Allepo Batresh, and is quite good. The sujuk, spinach pie, and roasted cauliflower all continue to demonstrate a kitchen that knows a thing or two about how to cook Lebanese food in a slightly less traditional way.

This is restaurant food, nicely uplifted. This is not your typical mom-and-pop Lebanese restaurant, although it is in a way, but the dishes at the more traditional Lebanese restaurants are reaching for the hearts and stomachs of those who grew up with these dishes and want to be reconnected with memories and traditions. Here, the kitchen is reaching for something elevated, and by my initial observations, they are succeeding nicely.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Uplifted and creative cuisine from this part of the world is available here. Enjoy.

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On 8/21/2022 at 11:27 AM, Kibbee Nayee said:

A group of us finally made it to Zenola on a Saturday evening. And in a word, it was excellent.

Missed you by one night!  ;-(

I was there on Sunday night before a show at Wolf Trap and it seems like we had nearly identical meals.  Perhaps the biggest difference was they had live music on sunday....a jazz piano player and a female singer.  I don't know if it was Tom's review, or the live music, or something else entirely, but the place was packed on a Sunday night.

I completely agree with your assessment of the Kibbe Nayyeh.  Very good!  I would have liked a little more herbs or mint or onions to add to the pita, but maybe that's just because they have a lot of that at ilili at the Wharf and I liked it.  (But in family meals, we never had any of that stuff!)  My fellow diner had never had it before and loved it.

I didn't like the fried Kibbe as much.  I thought the small size took away from the contrast that the filling usually gives and I wasn't a fan of the sweet sauce.  I mean, I liked it, but I wish they were bigger and didn't come coated in the sauce.

The stuffed squash was great and similar to what I'm familiar with from family meals, but for $11 I was expecting more than one lonely squash.  The Roasted Cauliflower was fine, but didn't have much of a "roast" to it.  If I didn't know better, I would have thought they were steamed.

We also ordered the Aleppo Batresh, mostly because Aleppo is where my maternal grandparents are from and it was a big hit.  It was almost hard to tell that it was eggplant!

I may have to go back to Wolf Trap just as an excuse to eat here again, because there were lots more items we wanted to try.

 

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15 hours ago, Bart said:

We also ordered the Aleppo Batresh, mostly because Aleppo is where my maternal grandparents are from and it was a big hit.  It was almost hard to tell that it was eggplant!

It's very sad what Assad and the Russians have done to Aleppo over the past decade. My grandparents are from the Homs area, which has been similarly devastated.

Nice write-up.

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Saturday night check-in at Zenola produced some highs and lows, but this is still the best place in northern Virginia for a Lebanese taste of high-end cuisine that is not very traditional but very good.

The highs? Well, deliciousness was one, and uniqueness of capturing Levantine flavors was another. Again, this is far from a Me Jana or Lebanese Taverna traditional Lebanese menu, but rather, it's an accomplished chef taking these flavors to new directions and dimensions. Highlight dishes were the kibbe nayyeh, which is the best version around (albeit a spare serving), Aleppo Batresh, pan-seared sea bass, and grilled octopus. 

The lows? Noise should be managed better than the 85 decibels that prevented easy conversation across a 6-top round table in the middle of the dining room. Service was spotty, and occasionally disappeared, but evened out with other servers jumping in to take orders and keep the plates moving. The list of four specials became a disappointment when the chicken livers were unavailable, but at least the sardines were there. Cost is high, such as in $22 for kibbe nayyeh, which is absolutely scrumptious but a mere 4-oz disk of meat with not much garnish, or $7 for a plate of about a dozen olives. Then there was the poorly-timed arrival of two baskets of fresh bread, right at the end, just prior to ordering dessert, with nothing left to scoop with the bread. Most portions were on the small side, such as a single tentacle of octopus or a smallish stuffed zucchini, but most prices weren't.

We like this place and will continue to return, but the prices will make our returns more occasional. Zenola is certainly a welcome addition to the growing abundance of northern Virginia flavors -- Afghan, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Italian, Chinese -- and that list is growing more interesting all the time.

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