A feeling of otherworldly mystery rises even before arriving at Maydan, created by the same team behind the award-winning Compass Rose. Hidden away in a back corner of the 130-year-old Manhattan Laundry Building at the core of the Cardozo neighborhood, it’s only accessible through an arching green door at the end of an alleyway. Stepping inside, diners find themselves in an antechamber decorated with slips of fabric and tiling, a muted swirl of sound emanating from the next room.
Entering the restaurant itself, visitors are overcome with an enthralling wash of Afro fusion, jazz and Middle Eastern melodies, complemented by a rush of heat from the open, oak-powered stone hearth that commands center stage. The conical copper hood is welded to an old ventilation shaft, which extends to the ceiling two stories up. Co-executive chefs Chris Morgan and Gerald Addison and their team tend the grills while fostering the flames with woven fans they keep stuck in the back of their aprons.
A large bar with yellow lights behind the bottles casts another fiery pall on the room, which features balcony-style dining halfway around the space. There’s a vibrant eclecticism to the decor—glass globe fixtures, honeycomb wooden paneling, exposed brick, a living wall—overseen by restaurateur Rose Previte.
The menu is a tribute to Previte’s Lebanese heritage, as well as Caucasian, North African and Middle Eastern cuisines (she and the chefs visited Turkey, Lebanon, Georgia, Morocco and Tunisia for research when conceptualizing the resto); and divided between items from the kitchen and those from the fire. Everything is designed to be shared and mixed. Guests come together for a communal meal, but enjoy completely different experiences based on their desires.
Start with spreads. Syrian muhammara is rich with walnuts and darkly sweet, thanks to a dose of pomegranate molasses. Tangy Lebanese labneh gets a lift from mint. Black sesame seed-speckled Iranian borani—made with whipped beets and yogurt—is as smooth as the olive oil puddled on top, but hides a tongue-tingling punch from garlic. And classic hummus is smoothed out with tahini (and even better when served as a special with shredded bits of lamb and gravy). Sop them all up with torn-off bits of the just-baked flatbread that manages to be light yet sturdy. Don’t worry if you eat it all, the servers will keep coming back with more.
Fill out the table with a couple of salads, including a bulgur wheat known as itch that’s sweetened with red pepper paste. The pickle plate holds a rotating cast: spicy cauliflower, sharp daikon, thick-cut cukes and greens-topped carrots packing plenty of crunch. Don’t forget to throw a kebab into the mix or one of the seafood specialties, like head-on sardines covered in herbaceous chermoula sauce that offsets the intense brininess.
There is a trio of large-scale meat dishes. Spatchcock chicken is splayed out on a round of flatbread to soak up its juices. The bird is brined in turmeric to add a golden glow to the crispy skin. Forgo formality. Reach over and rip the roasted fowl apart with your hands. Place a chunk of chicken on a bit of bread, and then dab on a dot of whipped garlic toum, one of seven condiments available. Others include a smooth, nutty tahini and a harissa with seemingly understated firepower—until you realize minutes later that it burns low and slow. I recommend ordering each and having them delivered at the beginning of your meal to add extra layers of flavor to the entire affair. When you walk back out into the night, you’ll be surprised that you’re still in DC. You could have sworn you were transported somewhere else.
1346 Florida Ave. NW 202.370.3696
Small and midsize plates, $6-$18; large-format entrees, $35-$50
Mon.-Sat., 5-11pm; Sun., 5-10pm