Lapis Bistro

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It’s a shame that I didn’t want to embarrass myself taking a picture of the interior of Lapis. This place is gorgeous, decorated with refurbished furniture, Persian rugs, and modern maps of Kabul. We were seated downstairs, which boasted a bar on one side and a full-service coffee counter on the other. My in-laws were noticeably absent, but I could just hear my mother-in-law’s voice echoing in my head: “I LOVE THIS PLACE!”

Both the drink menu and food menu are large and tasty-looking. My husband got a Founder’s porter. I had the Lapis Manhattan. They said it would taste like cardamom, but….ehhh. It was good, though, and I was looking forward to the two home-preserved maraschino cherries at the bottom. In case you were wondering, yes, I was that kid who ate my PB&J’s in the round so that I could savor the crustless sandwich innards last. Who am I kidding; I still do this. So. Maraschino cherries. Remember that. This would come back to haunt me.

We ordered four dishes between us, even knowing that it was probably too much: pakowra, the sambosa trio, the cauliflower, and lamb tikka. The first two starters came out first.

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The pakowra were un-oily, maybe to a fault. They were very falafel-like and kind of dry, but large and filling. The sambosa were quite good, particularly the shrimp, which was a very original flavor and worth the hype. I also really liked the leek one, which was very savory and herbal. The unsung hero of the starter round was the spicy green sauce that accompanied both dishes. Next up: veggie and meat!

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The cauliflower was pleasantly soft and served in rich tomato sauce. It was a large side dish, and probably would have sufficed instead of the two appetizers. It was mildly spicy and very fragrant. Its partner, the lamb tikka, was surprisingly unsauced, under-spiced, but had a strong lamb-y flavor and contained a couple of tender bites. Was this $20 worth of lamb? You tell me. They also served it with a fragrant, cinnamon-spiced rice, some flat bread, pickled onions, and more of that green sauce. Just give me the green sauce.

Around this time, we noticed a young man in his early 20’s having an awkward dinner with his parents in which each person picked at their separate meat platters silently. I sometimes like to imagine what people’s stories are, and my guess is that none of these people understood the idea of small plates. Maybe they’re from some small town somewhere and sharing your restaurant dish is considered a form of socialism? In order to avoid a political confrontation, this family kept their dinners and their opinions separate.

Our server came by to clear our plates and offer us dessert, which we opted for just to say we did. It wasn’t until I came back from the bathroom that I discovered that along with our dinner plates, they had cleared away my Manhattan glass with the cherries still in it. Taking my drink before I’m done is a cardinal sin in my book. Everyone knows that’s why anyone orders a Manhattan! It’s basically just a Shirley Temple for adults. (On an unrelated note, they may want to consider putting larger signs on the bathroom doors. Requesting for a friend).

We had the firnee cardamom custard for dessert. I finally got the cardamom flavor that was lacking in my Manhattan, the pistachios were good, and the texture was somewhere between Greek yogurt and jello. It had the necessary spice, but was ultimately probably not worth the calories.

Price: $35 per person.

Bottom line: I’d come back to Lapis, but mostly for the ambiance, and definitely for coffee only. The food was high-quality and everything except the lamb was worth the price, but there is better Afghan food around. If your parents have ever considered going on the Diane Rehm cruise, make them drive you to Baltimore for The Helmand. If you’re a cheapskate, hit up Maiwand Kabob. But maybe if your conservative, xenophobic Minnesotan parents are in town and you want to give them a mild introduction to ethnic food, you could come here. Make sure their selections trickle down to you, steer them away from the likely-too-spicy green sauce, don’t tell them it’s food from Afghanistan, and they’ll be fine.

Ancient Rivers

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If you’re hip and with it, as I am, you might recognize the exterior of Ancient Rivers and think, “Hey, wait a second! It’s Eatonville with a crappy vinyl sign!” And you would be correct. Ancient Rivers is just Eatonville with the most minor of decor changes. I think they put about five minutes of thought into their decorating scheme here, but the decorations aren’t exactly why we were here.

When we arrived, we were told it was Happy Hour until 7 and all cocktails–ALL COCKTAILS–were $5. “They’re going to be watered down!” we moaned, then ordered them anyway. Long story short, we actually hit a second round before happy hour ended and were able to try a slightly embarrassing number of their house cocktails. My favorites were the Al-kindi, which had the pungent smokiness of mezcal with a pleasant sweetness, and the Nile, which tasted exactly how it purported: spicy and gingery. We were wrong about them being watered down; although it took an awfully long time to receive our drinks and they weren’t all winners, they were definitely made fabulously. Not quite sure how they can manage to sell these drinks for $5 apiece and still stay afloat, but that’s their problem.

We ended up ordering a total of seven mezze, which may have been a bit of a mistake. I always feel like tapas-style restaurants mean that I can eat exactly the right amount without having to finish a huge entree, when it reality it means that I will invariably slightly under-order and then compensate by asking for three more things, which end up being two things too many. Anyway, enough about my lifelong battle with Friday-night binge eating, here’s a picture of the first round:

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The meat dolmas had the classic spiced meat with tart, oily grape leaf exterior. The libne b zayt was so delicious, just a giant bowl of creamy, cheesy, yogurty goodness to scoop up with their plush, warm pita. The cheese fatayer was doughy and soft with a well-spiced cheese filling. Kind of boring, but hey, it’s cheese and bread and I’ve certainly never complained about this combination. But seriously, dat cauliflower. Spicy, crispy, and just the perfect texture, with a thin harissa to boot. I could eat this all day. And then…our merguez sausage arrived. How did I ever live without this sausage? How did I ever spend fifteen years of my life without any sausage? Is there a more perfect food anywhere? The merguez was one of the greats, though; all spicy, lamby goodness, pine nuts, and onions.

20171027_191529.jpg Next, we went for the kibbeh–yumyum meatballs in yogurt sauce–as well as the red pepper hummus. As you can see, Ancient Rivers doesn’t skimp on the pita. In fact, though you can only see two enormous baskets of pita pictured here, they brought us a total of three. Is there such a thing as too much pita? I’d ordinarily say no, but this was maybe slight overkill..? The hummus was good but not a star by any means. But that’s only because it was completely overshadowed by all the other great things we got.

I am not one to pass up a solid dessert, and I am really glad I didn’t. Ancient Rivers offered a slice of kunafeh that was basically the size of my head and at least an inch and a half thick of gooey, melty cheese. The top was not as crispy and honey-soaked as I like, but it was topped with a pistachio crumble and was laced with cardamom, two flavors I truly appreciate together. How can my husband hate chesecake but be totally fine with this, a cake that is just a huge block of cheese? I will never know the answer to this, but I won’t complain, as long as I get to keep eating sweetened cheese for dessert.

Service was slow, but ended up being totally worth the wait.

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Ancient Rivers is a hidden gem, if by “hidden” you mean “encased in a huge, conspicuous building on one of the busiest stretches of road in DC, but advertised only via cheap vinyl sign.” It has solid Middle Eastern specialties with decent portions for an actually reasonable price. Come here if you’re thinking about Zaytinya but are okay trading a small difference in quality for a huge difference in price. Or maybe you just couldn’t get a table at Zaytinya, I know how it is.

Shamshiry

Do you like driving to Tyson’s? Yeah, me neither. But sometimes going there is a sad necessity, and in these terrible times, you need to make the best of the situation. Shamshiry is how you do that. Shamshiry will cure all your Tyson’s-driving woes.

If you arrive after 7 or so, you can expect to wait a while. There’s a reason. Shamshiry specializes in Persian-style kabobs and rice dishes. Don’t be scared of the overly verbose menu, just choose a delicious-sounding protein and reap the rewards. I recommend the salmon, which was juicy and paired well with the yogurt sauce, and the lamb, which was flavorful and tender. The rice with orange rind is also unique and delicious, sweet and fruity. Shamshiry also features a ton of Persian desserts, including a baklava that is unlike any you’ve tried before; less flaky and flatter.

The downsides are that service can be a little slow and substitutions on the menu are extremely limited. You can swap rice for a fabulous salad (if you don’t do this, you risk being buried under the Mount Everest of rice), but don’t try to ask for other substitutions. The dessert menu is also extensive but they are sometimes out of one or more of the better ones.

The downsides will never outweigh the upsides, however. Shamshiry is a delight, a rare find in the land of chain restaurants, and worth a detour!

The bottom line: Great place if you happen to be in the area.

Price: About $25 per person