News & Politics

January 2003: Bacchus

Throughout the Middle East, a spread of dishes served in appetizer portions is a traditional feast called mezze. Whether one is an old hand at this form of communal dining or is looking for an introduction, there is no better place in the area to do so than Bacchus.

The best recommendation for the cuisine at the original on DC's Jefferson Place is the steady stream of diplomats from Middle Eastern embassies who come to enjoy mezze in the back dining room during lunch and dinner. Thanks to the stewardship of founder Usamah Al-Jallad, who shuttles daily to check on the work of both kitchens, the Bethesda branch is every bit the match for its parent.

As with any traditionally shared cuisine, it is best to have four to six people. Count three little dishes for each person at the table, and don't hesitate to order at least three eggplant preparations–say, baby eggplant stuffed with chopped walnuts and aged in olive oil; the Monk's Eggplant Salad, with an edgy dressing that includes pomegranate juice; and the deliciously smoky puréed eggplant meant to be scooped up on triangles of warm pita.

By teaming the eggplant preparations with other meatless dishes–chickpea purée topped with fava beans, okra stewed in a coriander-accented tomato sauce, and comforting rolls of rice-stuffed cabbage–a vegetarian could compose a delicious selection of mezze. The vegetables might be complemented with shawarma–a small serving of marinated grilled lamb–an order of fried smelts when available, or the bracingly spicy lamb-and-beef sausages called soujok.