Walk east down Florida Ave in Washington D.C. a away from its intersection with 14th Street and you’ll come to a small alley. Okay, now go down that alley. (Trust me, do it – would the internet ever lead you astray? Don’t answer that.) So, go down the alley until you come to a beautiful, weathered, unmarked dark teal door that seems pleasantly out of place in such an alley. (See, this whole alley thing isn’t so bad, there’s a pretty door.) Open that door and you’ll immediately be transported into a town square in an unspecified Middle Eastern town! Not really; this isn’t a Narnia situation. You’ve actually just walked into one of Washington D.C.’s most exciting restaurants, Maydan, which really saves you on the travel costs.
Much of the reason for my travel Washington D.C. recently was to eat at Maydan, which opened in November of 2017, but I had been tracking the progress of for well over a year. Maydan was personally my most anticipated restaurant opening of the past year. Which is a little weird since, not only is it in a different state (or district, whatever), but Maydan specializes in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, which is not something I’m super familiar with. Regardless, once I had an opportunity, I made my way up to Washington D.C. and down the alley that leads to Maydan. . . twice in the first 24 hours after disembarking from the plane.
The restaurant itself stunningly gorgeous (just like the door). A large and substantial bar for drinking specialty cocktails, eating, or both. Communal high top tables. Exposed brick walls with lush greenery as accents. A staircase that leads up to a 2nd level for more intimate dining at smaller tables. The space is voluminous and wide open while managing to still feel warm, inviting, and not overbearing.
You won’t notice any of those things until you sit down at your table though. No, the first thing you will notice, and the thing that will continue to captivate and demand your attention, is the huge open fire grill in the middle of the dining room.
I highly, highly – like the absolute highest you can go; like on top of a mountain or somewhere in outer space – recommend trying to score a seat at one of the high tops near the fire to watch everything this blazing grill is used for. It is performance art. The grill is expertly used as the main cooking force in the restaurant to grill (duh), roast (also duh), sauté (hmm), bake (now we’re talking), and even stew (ooooh that’s unusual) items. They even have meats hanging above the fire slow roasting over hours and hours.
Something about open fire cooking is soothing. And watching the chefs feed, manipulate, and control the fire while perfectly preparing orders is fascinating. I assure you, you won’t be the only one watching (and taking Instagram photos).
While the open fire grill might be the aspect that captures interest and brings people in the door for the first time, it is the food produced by that grill at Maydan that keeps those same people coming back.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not crazy about Middle Eastern cuisine. I don’t like spicy foods or heavy spices and I tend to think that a lot of the foods are too similar to each other. After eating at Maydan, however, I am seriously rethinking all of those opinions.
The easiest way to order food at Maydan is to order something from each section on the menu: salads and spreads from the kitchen; vegetables, seafood, kebabs, and large plates from the fire; and condiments to go with them. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why is there a whole section for condiments? Why are there even condiments at all? This doesn’t really seem like a ketchup and mustard type of restaurant.” Well, you’re not wrong because Maydan isn’t a catsup and mustard type of restaurant. But also, you are wrong because these condiments absolutely deserve a place on this menu. Condiments – always practice safe mastication.
All of the condiments at Maydan are made in house from scratch, and the closest thing you’ll find to catchup is their Tomato Jam with sesame and cinnamon, a personal favorite. Other personal favorite condiments include the Toum (garlic, oil, and lemon) and the Chermoula (lemon, garlic, parsley, and saffron). However, you should absolutely try all of the condiments because they’re all fantastic (and only $1)!
There are also a number of spreads to choose from. Hummus and Baba Ganoush are the most recognizable offerings in this section, but I am a huge fan of the Labneh (strained yogurt, dried mint) as it can be used as a cooling agent to complement and counteract all of the spices coming your way!
Most commonly, these condiments and spreads are applied to the complimentary Flatbread that is brought out to each table (baked in their toné oven, constantly producing flatbread). The trickiest thing is trying to not fill up on the flatbread and condiments, they’re both addictive. But if you can somehow manage to restrain yourself from devouring the seemingly endless supply of blistered flatbread, the condiments are fun to mix and match with all of the food from the grill as well. Speaking of which. . .
Food from a fire just tastes better, and the chefs at Maydan have mastered the difficulty, uncertainty, and fickleness of cooking over an open fire. My favorite offerings from this particular fire were the Carrots with lemon and harissa, the Duck Breast seasoned with ras el hanout, and the Shrimp marinated in Chermoula.
I do not like raw carrots and am very particular about how they need to be cooked in order for me to eat them; but these carrots at Maydan, with a good char and simply seasoned, were on a whole other level. The carrots were the only item I ordered both times at Maydan if that tells you anything.
All of the seafood at Maydan is marinated and cooked in the Chermoula condiment and it is phenomenal. The Chermoula lends those classic seafood complementing flavors like lemon, garlic, and parsley, and throws in the saffron to tie it all back into the North African and Middle Eastern flavors. The shrimp was grilled to perfection, and slightly smokey and salty from the grill. The shrimp was one of my favorite bites from both dinners.
The duck breast was described by our waiter as “the best duck on 14th Street”. I don’t know if 14th street is known for having really good ducks or what. It seems like a strange thing to be known for, but whatever floats your ducks (usually water) I guess. But even if 14th Street is known for having good ducks, this duck absolutely deserves recognition among all those other ducks. The duck was cooked exceptionally well, the skin was crisp and seasoned with the ras el hanout spices (not to be confused with Ra’s al Ghul) to give it an extra kick of flavor.
I love Maydan. It will be my first recommendation to anyone and everyone living or traveling to Washington D.C. for any reason. I tried nearly everything on the menu, but the good news is that, like all the best restaurants, the menu will change depending on what ingredients are in season. So don’t get mad at me if some of the items I wrote about aren’t on the menu when you visit Maydan! I can guarantee you that whatever took its place on the menu will be just as good, if not better. The better news is that the open fire isn’t going anywhere, so you’ll always have that to look forward to.
The best thing about Maydan is that it opened my tastes back up to a region and cuisine that I had previously closed off. Because of my experience(s) at Maydan, I will continue to seek out those flavors in my restaurant choices as well as my own cooking. There is no higher complement or praise that I can bestow upon restaurant other than by saying that I left feeling inspired. . .