I basically planned my day around finally visiting Bawadi. I don’t go to Virginia that often and when I do, it’s usually to go to Shamshiry. Given my love affair with Shamshiry, did I even need another Middle Eastern restaurant with which to divide my love? When my aunt and I arrived at the location of the old Bawadi in Bailey’s Crossroads and it no longer existed, I had a minor panic attack. It didn’t get much better until after the nice man on the phone successfully navigated me to their new digs in Seven Corners, at the location of the former/kind of still Sunflower Vegetarian restaurant, but now somehow both Bawadi and Sunflower simultaneously…?
The restaurant itself is beautiful outside and inside, decorated with traditional outfits and backgammon boards (TIL: Backgammon was invented in ancient Mesopotamia). They were all set up for lunch buffet. Our server initially offered us only the buffet and the Sunflower vegetarian menu and seemed perhaps slightly confused when we asked for the Middle Eastern menu. I guess my aunt and I were both carrying handmade purses made by artisans in developing nations, so maybe we looked the part of people who might order “teriyaki mock eel” or “soy protein marinated in orange juice” or whatever other nonsense Sunflower continues to serve. [Side note: As a former long-time vegetarian and constant creator of delicious plant-based meals, I reserve the right to call shenanigans on any vegetable-based food that attempts to approximate meat].
Anyway, resistance against the buffet was ultimately futile, especially after I realized that the low low price of $14.95 would enable me to eat all the hummus I wanted without wasting space on the huge amount of rice that was sure to accompany any entree! But first I succumbed to the stuffed grape leaves:
These bites of heavenly (and vegetarian!) goodness were like your favorite Greek dolma, but actually completely different, flavored heavily with sour sumac which was incredible when sprinkled with fresh lemon juice.
My aunt clearly has more willpower than I do because she ordered the shawarma sandwich. Honestly, the meal was very slow to arrive, and while we waited for it I had to sit there staring wistfully at the buffet table while “My Heart Will Go On” played on repeat in my head. Finally, I heard the counter bell ding and our kind server rolled up with the sandwich, which, if you look at it might actually be TWO sandwiches. Now I could go to town on that buffet!
No picture can convey the deliciousness of this shawarma. The beef was so flavorful and chopped into tiny chunks that fell apart easily in my mouth. Pickled vegetables make my world go ’round too. It begs the question, though: why fries? Are they any better than rice? Something to ponder. But the real star was this all-you-can-eat business:
From the top, clockwise: the grilled chicken was a bit dry but with a good crust and charred flavor. The lamb biryani (aka all the lamb pieces I picked out of the rice and scooped onto my plate) was beyond tender. The okra stew was rich and tomato-y and I have never had such creamy hummus. Ever. I had to grab one of those breads too–it was much thicker and airier than the typical pita, somewhere between naan and a hamburger bun. It was good for sopping up sauce but nothing special unto itself. Then I had the fatoush salad, scented once again with dat sumac. Finally, the refreshing tomato, onion, and cucumber of the Arabic salad, which was a welcome element on a hot day. I died and went to heaven today, and I only made one pass at the table.
…well, kind of. I went back for this rice pudding. It was thick and creamy but not as fragrant with cardamom as your average kheer. It was actually kind of bland but would probably be amazing treat if I were a little kid staying home sick.
Even though my aunt hadn’t eaten the buffet, our kindly waiter still offered her a cup of this on the house, rounding out a slow but warm experience.
Price: $15 per person.
Bottom line: If you are anywhere near Bawadi, check it out but beware: the buffet sings a siren song.