National restaurant critics love no DC restaurant more than Maydan. Since it opened last November, the Middle Eastern spot has gotten plenty of enthusiastic local notice, but it’s reached a whole other level of acclaim in the national press, landing on a host of prestigious dining-destination lists, including in GQ, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and Eater. Out of all of Washington’s big debuts in the past year, how did Maydan end up being the one to get such widespread acclaim?
To create Maydan, chefs Chris Morgan and Gerald Addison and restaurateur Rose Previte traveled through places like Morocco and Turkey, sampling dishes and cooking with grandmas. The restaurant also draws from Previte’s own Lebanese family. The menu represents immigrant cultures that play an important role in American life but are only recently being embraced in a big way by the high-end food scene. “We’re looking for the restaurants that tell the story of American dining right now,” says Eater’s national critic, Bill Addison. “Maydan plays into that narrative really beautifully.”
Compare it with, say, Del Mar, another top new DC spot, which hasn’t received nearly as much attention on national lists. Addison notes that Fabio Trabocchi’s high-end Spanish food is beautifully prepared, but it doesn’t “speak to the moment in American dining right now—what’s really emerging, what’s coming from a fresh angle.” Given its glossy new Wharf locale, Del Mar also doesn’t have the same distinctly Washington sense of place.
Then there’s Maydan’s space. Once a 19th-century streetcar repair facility, the restaurant is hidden down an unmarked alley, behind a medieval-looking arched door. When you enter, the effect is stunning, with a striking copper-topped fire pit dominating the dining room. “It’s incredibly photographable,” says GQ critic Brett Martin. “That helps. It’s sexy.”
Now Maydan is grappling with all of the attention. Reservations? Good luck. Walking in is tough, too. After the Bon Appétit nod hit the internet, Previte noticed about 50 people in line a half hour before opening. “I haven’t stopped crying for like two weeks,” she says. “We never expected [national acclaim]. I’m sure there are people who open restaurants hoping to get these types of things, but not us. We spent months thinking: What if nobody likes it?”
When Maydan opened, Previte worked the door herself with the help of a single host. Now she has three hosts, including a reservations manager, and has hired five additional servers. Meanwhile, investors and developers around the country are pitching her on new projects. Not that she’s worrying about any of that. “It hasn’t even been a year,” she says. “In November, I’ll think about what’s next.”
This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Washingtonian.