August 4th, 2009
So I made the mistake of reading a review that said “…can’t understand why anyone would eat at Aladdin’s in Ballston when this place is right down the street” and assumed this referred to walking distance. Yes, I walked from the Ballston metro to this location. Not exactly “close” nor “walkable”.
I went here for a friend’s birthday celebration, and was surprised that they were able to accommodate our party of 8 so well. The service was friendly, very friendly. They visited us at the right times and joked with us a bit, as if we had been coming here forever. I never noticed a lack of service and all dishes were timed well, even for a large party. We all split the “Sultan’s Feast” which consists of twelve different dishes (Hommos with Shawarma, Baba Ghannoug, Macarona Bel Laban, Layalina Chicken Arayis, Soujok, Grape Leaves, Beet M’tabal, Kizbareyeh, Manaeesh Bel Zaatar, Malfoof Salad, Lubieh Bil Zeit, and Kabis). This was supposed to feed four people, but it fed all 9 of us comfortably (with people ordering their own additional meze if they so desired).
I had been very interested in this place since it’s fairly close to where I live and it has high marks in the Zagat guide (ridiculously high marks) for decor and food. I don’t know what went wrong, but I deducted 10 points each for their 27/30 food and 23/30 decor. The food is just average, in fact I’ve had better food at Lebanese Taverna and Zaytinya for about the same price. The decor is supposed to be “transporting”, and transported me to some weird kitsch shop in the boonies where they sell antiques. The memorabilia that lined the walls actually went to the point to interfere with the efficiency of the restaurant, taking up a great deal of floor space. Some of the memorabilia was charming, like the small (read:huge) mountain in the corner of the room that we were seated next to. But that was all it needed, it didn’t need to have every inch of un-painted wall covered with something. I wouldn’t usually fixate on something so minute, but it was a point highlighted in previous reviews! The booths are made out of cushions that bring to mind those three-cushioned fold out sofa beds/chairs that we all had in the 90s, wrapped in poncho-like material. They were soft and comfy enough (if not set a little too low for my tastes), but the back cushions kept attacking us throughout the dinner, persisting to lean against us repeatedly until we were forced to either hold them back with purses or lean firmly against them.
You should go here for the expansive menu. Those that like Lebanese food won’t be disappointed. There were 34 different vegetarian dishes alone, and about 7 of them were hommos! The bread they served us was dry, hard, and tasteless, but it only served as a way to eat the various dips and dishes, so that was fine. I was not at any point “wowed” by a dish, but I was never disgusted, turned off, or disappointed with a dish. It was all just “meh”.
The barren, bright green store front did not do much to help, but the fact that he let us split our check 6 ways was amazing. My friend got a piece of baklava with a candle in it and we all sang Happy Birthday to her. I’m glad I went, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go back (despite what Zagat and others say!)
Located in a Ballston strip mall, this Middle Eastern “gem” may “lack curb appeal, but inside it’s a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach”: the “exotic”, artifact-strewn dining room is “quite transporting”, while the “wide selection” of “delicious” entrees and meze – featuring “fresh ingredients and lovely spices” – “taste exactly how they should”; what’s more, the “gracious owners” and “welcoming” staff ensure you’ll “walk in the door and feel at home.”
Food: 27, Decor: 23, Service: 22, Cost: $30
Ballston | 5216 Wilson Blvd. (N. Emerson & N. Greenbrier) | 703-525-1170