Me Jana

Me Jana stages an appealing opening act with hot ovals of pita and hummus with pomegranate seeds. Photograph by Kathryn Norwood.

From the crisply suited host who takes your coat to the chic metal sconces to the fashionably stemless wineglasses, Me Jana, a new Lebanese restaurant in Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood, strikes an unexpectedly stylish pose. And that’s before you get to the artfully presented mezze: deep bowls of baba ghanoush and hummus; braised lamb shank atop silky truffled potatoes; a cone of skinny fries dusted with fresh thyme.

Sound familiar? Inaugural chef Ghassan Jarroui previously manned the stoves at Zaytinya, José Andrés’s mezze destination. He left Me Jana in January, but many of the dishes and glamorous touches there still recall the popular Penn Quarter spot. Problem is, the prices are higher, the portions are smaller, and the kitchen doesn’t touch Zaytinya’s consistency.

You’ll do fine with traditional fare such as tabbouleh or baba ghanoush, but many of the more creative mezzes—phyllo rolls stuffed with congealed Manchego cheese; haloumi cheese baked in a skillet until rubbery; seared sea scallops with an oddly gritty saffron/lemon yogurt—are disappointing.

If you’re going to charge $25 for a plate of kebabs in Northern Virginia, home of many cheap and delicious Middle Eastern carryouts, they’d better be fabulous. The versions here, from a dry chicken shawarma to a blandly spiced kofta kebab of ground lamb and beef, hover around average. You’d do better to jump into the car and head for Ravi Kabob in Ballston, where stellar versions of the same dishes are offered for a sliver of the price.

The best things come at the start. At the table, you’re greeted with a basket of warm, air-puffed pita (another Zaytinya trademark) next to a square palette bearing a rich labneh (Lebanese yogurt), a pinch of aromatic zaatar, jewel-green olive oil, and a few tiny olives. You’ll want to keep the bread to sop up the lemony sauce that accompanies a huddle of house-made lamb sausages. And the pita is the base for lahem be ajeen, an addictive snack topped with spiced ground beef and pomegranate molasses.

Mostly, though, the kitchen needs time to grow. Till then, keep the bread coming.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.