Middle Eastern Eatery Offers Mediocre Mezza Plates
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 01:02
With its rich variety of unique flavors and spices, it’s hard not to love Middle Eastern food. Me Jana, located in Arlington, may not do as much justice to the cuisine as hoped, but is still worth the trip out to Virginia for authentic Mediterranean dishes.
Me Jana, with its refreshing blue exterior decor, is hard to miss, and the interior decorations are just as exotic and well-crafted. From the romantically dim lighting to the candles on the wooden tables to the intricate patterns on the couches, each touch is exquisitely detailed. At only 6 p.m., the place was still rather quiet and there was a large selection of seating available, including smaller tables or spacious booths by the window.
Me Jana offers an extensive, yet not overwhelming menu, and a basket of hot pita bread wrapped in cloth is immediately served when orders are taken. The pita is outstanding: savory ,yet blended with a tiny trace of sweetness that complements the flavor perfectly. The basket is refilled throughout the meal as needed.
Most of the dishes at Me Jana are appetizers, or mezza, that resemble Spanish tapas and are perfect for sharing. We started off with a cold mezza, kibbeh nayeh ($12.99), which is essentially raw beef. The texture was smooth and the meat had the perfect amount of chewiness. However, in comparison to its counterpart in Japanese cuisine, the raw beef was, disappointingly, rather bland. Luckily, the potato kebbeh ($8.50), one of its signature hot mezzas, made up for the lackluster beef dish. Despite their relatively unattractive appearance, these fried dumplings were truly divine. The outer crust was a blend of potato and almond flour, and an inner filling of spiced feta and pine nuts produced an outcome that was light, delicious and cheesy.
The chicken shawarma ($8.99), another one of Me Jana’s most popular dishes, was unfortunately less than impressive. Though marinated with herbs and spices, the chicken tasted stale and flavorless unless drenched in the complementary garlic whip. I deliberately saved the falafel ($7.25) for last, hoping to end the meal on a high note. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was once again let down. In fact, I preferred the falafel from Whole Foods to the ones at Me Jana, as the restaurant again failed to give the dish enough flavor. Nevertheless, the complementary tahini sauce was superb. The slight hint of sesame was so irresistible that I paired the remaining tahini sauce with the pita bread.
The highlight of our dinner was the lamb chops ($15.99). The lamb was marinated in garlic, rosemary and mint, with the perfect amount of saltiness in the seasoning. Granted, the part near the bone was too rich in fat and tasted too oily. In general, however, both the taste and texture were impeccable.
Aside from the lamb chops, all of our orders were served within 10 minutes. While we appreciated the speed of service, we nevertheless felt pressured to rush through the tasting in an effort to finish the dishes before our food got cold.
Dinner at Me Jana was of varying quality. There were no awful — or even bad — dishes. Nonetheless, while several dishes were better than I expected, many others failed to live up to both my expectations and their prices. If you pick the right items off the menu, you will surely be rewarded with a spectacular feast. Order poorly, however, and you will have a mediocre dining experience. In either case, you are guaranteed endless baskets of wonderful, free pita bread and cordial service.