In the dead of night in 1976, the Abi-Najm family boarded a cargo ship bringing only what they could carry; an escape from Civil War in Lebanon called for a quick getaway. They traveled across the ocean to safety in Arlington, Virginia, where they were able to open a small cafe in 1979. To save money, they changed the eatery?s name from ?Athenian Taverna? to ?Lebanese Taverna? so that they only had to update one word on the eatery?s marquee.
From these modest beginnings grew a series of eateries that today comprises of six cafes and four quick-service caf?s, all still operated by the Abi-Najm clan. One look at the menu explains the success: chicken shawarma, spicy hummus, lamb tartare?all Lebanese staples that helped the restaurant earn a spot on Northern Virginia magazine's list of 25 Iconic Eats. There's even kibbeh, or stuffed meatballs, which blend ground beef, lamb, almonds, and pine nuts into fried spheres suitable for felling miniature bowling pins on top of the table before entrees arrive. The decor is as striking as the cuisine; inside the Bethesda location, light filters through the colored glass lanterns that decorate the dining room.
The golden upholstery of the elegant chairs catches the eye when tucked beside a pristine white tablecloth. Blooms in bright, cheery colors sway in the breeze above a sidewalk patio, and the reflection of tomato-red chairs beams out from the polished bar. The bold hues that decorate Panache Restaurant match the bold flavors of its dishes. A menu of French, Spanish, and Italian tapas captures the stomach's imagination?the sweetness of dates mingles with prosciutto and arugula, crab croquettes rest atop a nest of sweet potatoes, and salsa verde lights up tender fried calamari.
At Amoo’s House of Kabob, house seasonings add zest to flavorful Persian dishes made with marinated chicken, lamb, and filet mignon. Skewered meats sizzle on top of a grill before they’re plated with heaps of rice and juicy stewed veggies and ferried to tables swathed in red and white linen. Patrons munch hummus appetizers as they peer through crimson-draped windows or hold philosophical conversations with their reflection in the dining room’s wall of mirrors.
The dining room at La Sandia radiates warmth and energy from colorful paneled screens, intricate metallic ceiling tiles, rustic tables, and hardwood floors. Diners at La Sandia enjoy a fun, casual atmosphere with attentive service; the food at La Sandia enjoys an upscale preparation and indulgent treatment where the ingredients play center stage. Warming up the stage for your meal, tender avocado mashes selflessly into a spicy guacamole ($9.50), prepared tableside. Delight in a bountiful harvest of creamy roasted corn soup ($7) and huitlacoche-mushroom quesadillas ($8.50) as you settle in for the show. The corn tortillas, handcrafted from corn masa and cooked on a traditional Mexican griddle, headline the three beer-battered tilapia tacos with rice and beans ($14), and poblanos play versatile characters in chile relleno (battered poblano stuffed with three cheeses and sautéed veggies with refried beans, $13) and chicken mole poblano (with Mexican rice and fried plantains, $16.50). Slow-roasted chipotle barbecue ribs ($19.50) or grilled salmon (with mildly spiced citrus marinade, chile morita-tomatillo-mango salsa, and corn tamal, $18) invigorate the palate with rich flavors and textures that are sure to do a little crowd surfing as everyone at the table has a taste.
At the age of 13, Domenico Cornacchia was already forming dough into pasta by hand, building manual dexterity that would further his ambitions of becoming a chef. He grew up working in restaurants in northern Italy before moving to the United States, where he opened his own trattoria-style eatery, Assaggi Osteria. The restaurant has been lauded by local publications, such as Viva Tysons and Washingtonian magazine.
Chef Domenico Cornacchia’s authentic menu centers on steaks and seafood, as well as house-made pastas and fresh produce garnered from farmers' markets and Amish farms. Hand-painted plates stand out from golden-yellow walls, which flank dark wood trim and rustic chairs, giving the space the European air of an old-country inn. Though the main room seats as many as 70 guests, the tables leave an arm’s length of space between each other, so that conversations flow freely without crashing into each other or causing sitcom-style confusion. In the outdoor area, lush greenery surrounds tables, ensuring that diners won’t be spotted by roving census workers.
High-backed, black leather sectional sofas set the stage for seriously fun lounging at the expansive, sprawling Iris Lounge. The sultrily, dimly lit nightspot features drooping lamps that spill red light across the lounge's four red-felted billiards tables as a weekend DJ spins floor-filling party anthems. Throughout the week, salsa, live jazz, and ladies’ nights entertain patrons who would otherwise keep occupied by luring skunks into the crawlspaces of neighbors’ homes. An exclusive members' only cigar bar offers up vintage scotches for smokers, and a menu offers calamari, crab cakes, and customizable grilled cheeses.