Restaurant Review: Alsaray

Alsaray mixes fine renditions of Lebanese staples—like hummus and baba ghanoush—with Egyptian surprises.
Alsaray’s smoky baba ghanoush with pita. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

The door to Alsaray advertises “Middle Eastern cuisine.” The imprecision is neither vague nor generic. In a metropolitan area where a kebab house could be Persian or Pakistani and where Lebanese, Israelis, and Jordanians debate who makes the best hummus, it serves, rather, to emphasize a shared culinary heritage.

The warmest welcome, however, is found in the cooking, which is good across the board. Don’t miss the pickled eggplants ($3.95), palm-size versions of the vegetable stuffed with garlic, hot peppers, and lemon. Their brightness and tang make them ideal to munch on between heartier plates such as the lamb chops ($14.95), served three to an order. The meat was perfectly cooked the night I had it, with a pleasant gaminess.

Dips and salads are essential to the Lebanese table, and Alsaray gets them right. The baba ghanoush ($4.95) is more smoky than bitter, the hummus ($4.25) is balanced, the tabbouleh ($4.95) tastes vivid even with winter produce, and the fava-bean-based foul ($5.25) is the product of long, slow cooking.

The menu glances at Lebanon but leans toward Egypt, including in two dishes you won’t find anywhere else: kibdah iskandarani ($7.95)—in which slices of fried liver are tossed with chilies and lemon—and kushari ($7), a comfort food bringing together lentils, chickpeas, and sticky fried onions atop elbow macaroni, rice, and a splash of hot sauce. Like okonomiyaki—that Japanese pancake best appreciated after a night of barhopping—kushari isn’t subtle, but that’s the point: It’s meant to be scarfed, not picked apart. Among the desserts are a fine rendition of kunafa ($2), a crunchy, slightly sweet cake of slow-cooked shredded wheat, and om ali ($3.95), a croissant submerged in butter-laced milk and topped with crushed pistachios.

The small, simple dining room’s white leather booths were all but empty on my visits. A shame. It’s not often you find novelty and quality, and at such low, low prices.

This article appears in our January 2016 issue of Washingtonian.

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