The hunt for authenticity is often a fruitless quest. Rarely should it be held up as the holy grail of a dish, but authentic tabouleh and inauthentic tabouleh are a world apart. The usual difference is the starring ingredient. From 80’s picnic salads to cheap restaurants, the American public was sold tabouleh as a bulgar dish. This is a lie. Tabouleh should star the vibrant green of the parsley, an herb salad with a smattering of grain to enhance the texture. Mashawi, on Queen Anne, nails it. The bowl of lightly-dressed spring green glows with freshness, shouting for its chance in the spotlight.
A year and a half ago, I would have been screaming with joy about Mashawi. Prior to the influx of excellent Lebanese restaurants (see Café Munir, Mamnoon) over the last 13 months, Mashawi would quickly have gone to the front of the class for Lebanese food. As it is, the food is ample in quantity and quality. Though lacking either the romantic setting and home-spun feel of Munir or the hip, trendy vibe of Mamnoon, it takes the pretensions and the pressure down a notch. Mashawi may signal the coming of age of Seattle’s Lebanese food scene: a down-to-earth, neighborhood restaurant.
Nobody’s making pita by hand in full view of a crowded dining room, but the labneh is properly creamy. The refreshing cheese, made from straining yogurt until thick, then topping it with herbs and olive oil, is a cooling dip that will make you forget the store-bought bread’s texture. Nobody’s amassing the largest whiskey collection around here, like Munir. But you’ll find a few Lebanese wines on the short by-the-glass list, and they’re cheap enough that it’s worth the risk of trying something new.
The $24 mezza platter will easily feed two people a full variety of dinner. The entreés will feed them their next two meals as well. Huge portions are a hallmark of Mashawi, and they make for an eminently affordable meal. The mezza platter is a veritable parade of dishes, perfect for an evening of gossiping among friends. Like ADD-eating, everyone gets a nibble of the falafel, a dip of the hummus. The baba ghanoush, smokier than a Texas brisket, seems designed to convert eggplant haters to aubergine adorers. The fried cauliflower overcame a tinge of old-fryer-oil smell with its golden-crispness and creamy tahini sauce. Then there was that tabouleh.