Walking into Cafe Munir for the first time surprised me. As the first Lebanese restaurant in Seattle to open in many years, there was a low bar of restaurant quality it needed to clear to make me happy. By the time I'd entered the restaurant, that bar had already been left further behind than John Huntsman in a Republican primary. I was giggling like a schoolgirl at the romance and old-world styling of the restaurant as we were sat in the front window.
Lucky for me, and for any of you who are fans of the olive oil soaked and garlic-tinged food of Lebanon, the food is as up to snuff as the décor. I was quickly reminded of the way in which Lebanese food magically brings people together in a quiet conspiracy as we leaned in over our cold mezzes (small plates), dipping thin wedges of pita bread into the pomegranate seed-flecked muham'mara. The red pepper and nut spread brought a smile to my face as the familiar flavors assured me of the quality coming out of the kitchen. This was cemented by the serving of labne, with a plop of roasted vegetables on top, spiced and caramelized as a foil to the cooling, yogurt-based cheese.
We moved quickly through the second section of mezzes, the hot versions, less remarkable than their cold brethren, and less romantic, leaving a slight greasiness on our hands as we picked up the aarayess, char-broiled bread stuffed with spiced meats. Reaching for a skewer of chicken hot off the grill that serves as the main heat source for entrée cooking at Cafe Munir, I noticed that the restaurant around us had grown crowded, a good sign for a new place on a Monday night. The quiet hubbub of happy voices and clinking glasses filled with the microbrews and local wines on offer made for an excellent aural backdrop to the meal.
The visual backdrop out the front window, on the other hand, is toward the average mini mart across the street. But the one inward is toward the elaborate yet unostentatious metal light fixtures, the understated tile work, and the exquisitely curated art, all of which enhance the atmosphere, and even, dare I say it, the meal, transporting us to the place from which the dishes hailed. The crowning moment of this romantic meal came with the delivery of the check, because nothing makes a couple happier than leaving an amazing meal in an enchanting new restaurant, for less than a Jackson apiece.