As we turn the corner of an alley lined with upmarket coffee shops, a pizzeria and the Manhattan Laundry WeWork office, we joke that the wooden, Tolkien-looking door looms ominously out of place.
At 9:52 p.m., we are characteristically a few minutes late to our reservation, but hesitate for only a moment before ducking inside a dim foyer lined with tapestries. We sheepishly ask our hostess if we are at the correct location, and she confirms that we have arrived at Maydān — a new Arab-rooted establishment by restaurateurs Rose Previte, Chris Morgan and Gerald Addison.
Bubble-letter graffiti and engraved Islamic geometric designs line the walls; a roaring fire pit topped with a copper dome extending up to the 20-foot-high ceiling gives the room an amber glow. Tending to the hearth, Morgan, who’s worked with Parts & Labor in Baltimore, and Addison, an alumnus of The Dabney, appear busy. Even at this late hour, the restaurant is filled to the brim.
Despite the hustle and bustle, Maydān, whose name refers to a town square or gathering place, feels intimate. Our server quickly hands us our menus, followed by a plate of warm round flatbreads baked in clay ovens known as toneebi in Georgian.
To describe the cuisine as simply Mediterranean-inspired mezze, however, feels lacking: A menu of dips, salads and kebabs draws from rich Lebanese, Moroccan, Tunisian, Turkish and Georgian traditions. Previte, Morgan and Addison travelled to North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe as part of their research and returned with a deep appreciation for several of the time-honored traditions.
We tear into the flatbread alongside servings of a Beiruti hummus, a chickpea dip with freshly chopped vegetables and garlic folded into the mash, and a delightfully deep magenta beet borani.
For drinks, the “Sanguinello Soda” and the “Laila and Majnoon” stand out: The former is an “Ilegal Joven” mezcal shaken with ice, ginger, the juice of a blood orange, serrano honey and club soda, while the latter sees Linie aquavit, Amaro Nardini, Apricot Eau-de-Vie and Syrian seven-spice poured over a tall, ice-filled glass.
We are two rounds into the flatbread by the time our grilled-over-the-fire eggplants arrive, accompanied by a trio of dips: a garlic, oil and lemon eggless emulsion, a tomato jam and a parsley, cilantro, cumin and serrano paste. The simple-looking blistered vegetable is drizzled in a walnut sauce — neither too tender nor too unyielding. We kicked ourselves for not ordering more.
With our cocktails out of the way, we turn to a bottle of Massaya’s 2016 Le Colombier, a blend from the Lebanese Beqaa Valley. The black cherry and blackberry hit hard; the result is a surprisingly sweet and floral wine.
As our table quickly fills up, it soon becomes clear how Maydān’s owners have devoted their time and effort to crafting dishes that are first and foremost delicious. We are excited by the flavors in front of us much more than each plate’s presentation.
We wrap portions of a juicy, saffron-laced beef kebab in pieces of teared flatbread and some of the Lebanese toum; mix and match, our server advised. Large out-of-the-shell shrimp grilled over the fire and marinated in chermoula sauce make for tender bites — no easy feat when cooking over a tremendously hot open fire.
A waiter brings over another table to carry a larger-than-life lamb shoulder, which is cooked through in an oven before being smoked over the main hearth’s crackling logs. Served alongside sumac-dusted raw onions, the first bite is unbelievably tender and rich. Aesthetics aren’t the main concern as we tear and hack into the heaping portion.
Quickly, our table turns chaotic. This plate is not suitable for our table of two, however, and by the sixth or seventh bite, the outside char is mostly gone; the inner meat, albeit tender, is dry when unaccompanied by any of our sides, dips or fat.
Despite its few faults, Maydān delights. Previte, Morgan and Addison disarm you with food made with respect and care. The intense combination of flavors, aromas and decor honor the various Mediterranean traditions that inspired the new venue.
If you’re looking for avant-garde cuisine or Instagram-worthy aesthetics, Maydān is not for you. Come for the food and hearth, bring a friend and indulge.
Daniel Almeida is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. Toby Hung is a senior in the College. This column is the final installment of Table For Two.