Looking for some delicious Lebanese cuisine in Manhattan? Well… Welcome to Au Za’atar with two locations, in East Village and Midtown this Lebanese cuisine experience is sure to live up to all of your expectations!
Manhattan is a true “melting pot”. Over 800 languages are spoken in the city. Coming from an extremely diverse background myself I always enjoyed indulging in different cultures’ cuisine and learning a thing or two about the culture, cuisine, and customs while I indulge!
Lebanon is the third-smallest country in the Middle East, Lebanon boasts over 7,000 years of rich history. The country was once owned by the French and many people in Lebanon still speak French. “The name Lebanon comes from the Semitic origin word “lbn” which means “white” in reference to the snow-capped Mount Lebanon.” – Source: CIA World Fact Book
Lebanon is among the oldest sites of wine production in the world. While at the restaurant my friends and I knew we must try Lebanese wine. We had a few glasses of “Château Heritage – Saint Elie”, a Cabernet from 2017. This Cabernet had distinct notes of blackberry, black fruit, and blackcurrant. It had subtle oaky, earthy, and red fruit notes. I would definitely describe the wine as a full-body wine that is powerful yet silky on the tongue. I would highly recommend trying this wine if you are a Cabernet fan or trying to get into Cabernet wine, due to the silky yet sharp taste.
Au Za’atar is the only place that started tableside shawarma and has been on Travel Channel, Food Network, and many other media outlets. Helmed by the Lebanese-born Tarik Fallous, the Arabian-French Bistro’s menu attempts to pay homage to all of the distinct flavors that make up traditional Lebanese cooking. “All the recipes at Au Za’atar are recipes I grew up eating, recipes from my mother and family–recipes that I enjoy cooking.” The inclusive menu, which features over 60 items, offers a roster of unrivaled classic dishes like expertly-whipped baba ganoush, a smoky in-house cultured labne, and pita bread so soft and flavorful, it hardly requires any of the signature mezze that accompanies it. On the more ambitious side, Fallous serves up dishes like Dalaa Mahshi — a braised lamb shoulder stuffed with minced beef, seasoned rice, and topped with herbs and ground nuts — or Samke Harra, a spiced sea bass fillet cooked in tahini with diced potatoes. The restaurant, cobbled together with dark wood and simple curtains, is Fallous’ fragment of Beirut in the heart of the East Village and a recent and first expansion to Midtown East. The standout dish is the tableside shawarma: a towering hunk of beef served directly from spool to plate. To prepare the meaty, cylindrical sculpture, Fallous and his team marinate fresh cuts of beef for 24 hours in house-made tahini and an eight-spice blend, before stacking them atop a spinning pole, where they’re cooked in steady, even turns on a spinning griller. Fallous delivers the contraption directly to each table, so guests can slice their fresh cuts of meat, served with warm pita, and spiced potatoes. “I wanted to have a place for my family and friends,” says Fallous, “where I can take them to Lebanon without them having to leave New York City.”
For food, we started with two large tower spreads; when I say large, I mean LARGE! The spread included all sorts of delicious items such as; hummus, pita, pickles, muhammara, tabouli salad, fattoush salad, arnabeet mekle, fattet al-betenjane, foul medames, labne, baba ganoush, and halloum mekli. The two spreads are listed under Mezze & Dips Samplers on their menu.
My personal favorite appetizer they brought out was the halloum mekli. The halloum mekli can be described as; fried cypriot cheese drizzled with garlic honey and olive oil. All my friends and I were fighting for the last fried cheese that’s how mouthwatering each bite of the halloum mekli was. Another thing the whole table didn’t leave a trace of was the tabouli salad. Tabouli salad can be described as wheat bulgur mixed with fresh parsley, tomatoes, scallions, mint, fresh lemon juice & olive oil. Tabouli salad is delicious and healthy, can life get any better?!
After we attempted to complete the spread we received 3 Mana’eesh. Mana’eesh can be described as baked flatbread or Lebanese open-face sandwiches. We sampled the falafel pizza, za’atar manouche, jebne manouche mana’eesh’s. The falafel pizza was the table’s favorite of the 3. It was a flatbread with cheese, tomatoes, red onions, and diced falafel. The falafel was SO tasty, it honestly tasted like a lamb for a second. If I could guess I would say that falafels are a great vegetarian lamb replacement. Jebne manouche was a cheese blend flatbread, very similar to the very well know Italian classic cheese pizza. While the za’atar manouche was something I’ve never tried anything like before. The Za’atar manouche flatbread had sun-dried thyme, sesame seeds, sumac & olive oil.
We ended our feast with the delicious beef Shawarma. We had an option between chicken and beef but beef seemed to be the highly favored option for my party. Shawarma is made by placing raw meat on large, rotating cones. As the Shawarma rotates, the meat is cooked by a heat source behind the cone. The Shawarma plate also came with seasoned french fries that we couldn’t get enough of. So delicious!!!
On top of the great food and wine, the staff was so kind and insightful, they made my friends and I feel like family. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who lives or will be visiting New York City. Be sure to check out their Instagram for some mouth-watering GOODEATSONLYYY.