Quick Takes: Ya Hala

Checking in on a Lebanese cafe in Vienna.
Graze on terrific tabbouleh and baba ghanoush at Ya Hala. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Graze on terrific tabbouleh and baba ghanoush at Ya Hala. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

If only for the tabbouleh and the baba ghanoush, owner Bassem Yamak’s tiny, utilitarian Lebanese cafe is worth a visit. The former is a reminder of what a good cook can do with a few basic ingredients, each bite an astonishment of bright, vivid flavor. The latter is so far from the acrid paste of most versions that you might think you were eating a different dish; the texture is silky, and a subtle smoke is evident in every spoonful. Yamak’s brother, Khaled, is the chef, and he excels with smaller plates: The labneh, a strained yogurt, is luscious and rich; the hummus is light and lemony; the handheld meat pies called sfiha are flaky and savory.

The entrées, alas, are not as rewarding as the first courses; the meats, while well seasoned, could be more tender. A swipe through the excellent house-made toum, a zesty garlic sauce, however, and a somewhat dry kebab improves considerably.

Desserts, in the Lebanese fashion, are small and lightly sweet. Don’t ignore them, in particular the pistachio baklava, which makes a fine companion to a cup of mint tea.

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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