Sunday, November 13, 2005
Restaurant 63: Nizam's (Vienna, Virginia)
Doner Kebab: The lone bright spot of the meal.
LOCATION: 523 Maple Avenue West, Vienna, VA
DATE: August 13, 2005
FOOD: Split the mezze plate including Hummus, White Bean Salad, Borek (Fried Cheese), Feta Cheese, Olives, Yogurt covered Eggplant; ENTREE: Doner Kebab (Thinly sliced lamb with dill, covering a grilled pita and yogurt toped with tomato sauce); DESSERT: Dessert Sampler including Baked Pear, Baklava, Milk and Honey Sponge Cake.
BEVERAGE: Pasha Martini, Argentinian Red Wine
PRICE: Courtesy of my mom
As Europe turns inward and the EU’s xenophobia convulses like an epileptic seizure, the probability that Turkey will gain admittance to the unified Western nations becomes increasingly remote. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Ataturk, Turkey has embraced a precarious Western secularization, unique amongst its neighbors. While the EU’s desire to include Turkey wanes, the tremendous and intricate culture of Turkey is overlooked for economic reasons.
One furtive aspect of this culture is the cuisine. Reminiscent of Greek, Lebanese, and other Mediterranean nations, Turkish food centers around roasted and skewered meats, pureed vegetable dips, robust cheeses and honey laden desserts. Nizam’s, a Vienna establishment honored with a place amongst Washingtonian’s Top 100 restaurants for 21 consecutive years, attempts to drape Turkish cuisine in all the elegance and regality of the Europe which keeps the country at arms length. While it takes kebabs above the street cart form, Nizam’s, can’t quite succeed in being the refined European it seeks to be.
The house specialty is the doner kebab. Similiar to the Greek gyro but with a greater diversity of spices, ground lamb is roasted on a spit and then sliced paper thing. In Germany, doner kebab elevates street food to a rarefied level. In Vienna, Virginia, the meat comes on the pita instead of in it, but the taste is just as marvelous. The dish is richly layered – the lamb pieces rest atop pita bread softened by meat drippings and are lathered in a fragrant dill yogurt. The meat is then gently brushed with a forceful tomato sauce. This tiered trio comes off at great effect, producing a creamy and acidic contrast for the succulence of the meat.
But it was in the appetizers and desserts that Nizam’s was closer to stumbling than to Suleiman imperial dominance. A boring mixed mezze plate with the sole highlight of yogurt covered eggplant, left a lot to be desired. The hummus was bland, the feta under salted, the borek forgettable and the white bean mix regrettably cold. The mixed dessert plate was similarly misconstrued, with a commendable baklava backstabbed by a tasteless baked pear and a gelatinous milk and honey custard cake. Combined with service that was more distant than the Dead Sea, Nizam’s excellent doner kebab could not compensate for an otherwise uninspired meal. Fortunately, the nation of Turkey has a lot more to offer Europe than Nizam’s can offer diners. The only question left to ask: Why does Washingtonian view the restaurant so positively?
Posted by Vincent Rossmeier at Sunday, November 13, 2005