Kababji Grill, the hidden gem in Dupont Circle
The saying, “Never judge a book by its cover” and “Looks can be deceiving” are cliche but are ultimately proven by a visit to the Kababji Grill in Dupont Circle (1351 Connecticut Ave., NW), an import from Beirut. You would never be able to guess by peering into the front window of Kababji Grill that it’s actually a charming sit-down restaurant. Impossible to know from the outside, but once inside you’re welcomed by friendly and polite staff eager to lavish you with generous portions of superbly authentic Lebanese food, all in a Middle-Eastern casual ambiance.
The authentic decor, with imported quarry rocks from Lebanon, creates warmth in the back dining room. It’s modern, yet comforting. The table tops are striking in custom-made black tile, too dazzling to cover with starched linen. You can get a sense that the restaurant was designed with great admiration for their home country.
While the front bar and lounge area where you enter is quite deceiving, the tempting aroma and view of the display case of chicken, lamb and other meaty swords, provides an inkling of the feast you’ll encounter by Kababji’s signature charcoal grill. Diners looking for a quick, inexpensive yet delicious lunch will enjoy the assorted mezza. The kababs, wrapped in pita are just $6 and for just a few dollars more, the platter for $10.50 includes hummus and french fries. You’d think you were in New York City, but it’s true that Kababji offers delivery and take-out, with an online ordering system powered by Seamlessweb.com. Even though I work from home most days, I will have to try and spend more time in the office so I can convince my co-workers to join me for lunch. With the office not even a block away, I won’t have to do much convincing. Also, since the weather promises to warm up, and Kababji will be opening their sidewalk patio soon, I will be looking to snag a seat on a sunny spring day.
Most of the dishes are technically small plates or mezza, but the portions are very generous. The hummus with the sauteed meat and pine nuts was absolutely addicting with the house-made seasoned baked pita chips; however, it was really the Tabbouleh that won me over. I couldn’t get enough. It’s so simple, with finely chopped parsley and mint, diced tomato and onion, tossed with crushed wheat, seasoned with lemon juice, sumac and olive oil, yet it’s so flavorful. Even with three or four people, it’s difficult to finish each dish, especially if you order several. Also, I loved the Kebbeh, torpedo-shaped bulgur shells stuffed with minced beef or lamb and fried until brown. One order comes with four, and I nearly ate them all myself.
One of the most memorable of the dishes was the Kebbeh Nayeh, or steak tartare, Lebanon’s national dish. It was served extremely cold; however, once it sits for a few minutes, it’s a little easier to eat. While I usually prefer not to eat raw meat, I thought the Kebbeh Nayeh, a blend of refined lean beef and cracked wheat, was delicious and very flavorful. If you’re looking to try Kabaji’s signature charcoal grilled meats, the mixed platter comes with a variety of kababs. It’s the perfect platter to share. They are all so tender and juicy. I enjoyed the beef with pistachio and the tenderloin cubes. It doesn’t need it, but dipping the meats in the garlic sauce adds additional flavor.
I was completely stuffed after trying all of the various mezza, but of course, we were provided a few of their desserts to sample. The most memorable was the Namoura, a traditional Lebanese cake made from semolina, rosewater syrup and topped with an almond. It reminded me of a sweet cornbread. I tried three different kinds of ice cream. My favorite was the Pistachio.
The Washington, DC outpost of Kababji is the first in America, but will not be the last. The large Lebanese chain, with about 30 eateries abroad, has plans to open two more restaurants in the District. The locations are undetermined, but I’m determined to go back! Thank you to Jill Collins for the invitation, to Hakeem Bakeer for taking such good care of us and of course, Philippe Chamoun for his amazing hospitality.
Washington, DC 20036