by Nicole Lisson
– The Capitol Hill Times –
This past month Wassef Haroun opened Mamnoon to rave reviews. In a neighborhood that offers a serious lack of Middle Eastern cuisine, it fills a void you didn’t know was there until that fateful bite of Falafel.
Located across the street from Melrose Market, Mamnoon sits in the renovated Melrose Square building. Exposed wood plank ceiling, concert walls and a black and white interior speak to the old warehouse it used to be. Open for lunch, a go-to counter anchors the front of the space with a small kitchen that turns out flavorful sandwiches. If you can spare a couple of minutes, rest your weary feet at the long family-style table decorated in mosaic tile.
In the back, a glass wall gives you a peak into the main kitchen. While I didn’t have a chance to experience dinner at Mamnoon, I did wander in for a late lunch. Out of my realm, the helpful front staff talked me through the menu while recommending a few popular items like the Lahm Bi Ajine ($9) and the Jibneh wi za ‘atar ($6). Although they both sounded fabulous, I ordered the Jibne ($6), the Falafel ($5) and the Quinoa Tabbouleh ($6).
The meal came beautifully presented on black slate plates. Wrapped in homemade pita, the Jibne had a layer of melted cheese and vegetables. The simplicity of the ingredients somehow added up to a complexity of flavors.
Next came the Falafel, which has always disappointed me when ordered from previous restaurants. Mamnoon however has sparked a new love for it. The falafel was crispy on the outside with a soft center, packed with spices and drizzled with a tarrator sauce. Mint leaves, tomatos and pickles round out the sandwich. Bright and lemony, the Quinoa Tabbouleh had the perfect amount of parsley. It neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed the quinoa.
Chef Garret Melkonian, who previously worked for Tom Douglas restaurants, spent a week immersed in the kitchen of Haroun’s wife, Racha, then partnered with chef and cookbook author Barbara Massad for a month to shape the menu. With dedication like that, it’s no wonder the food is so exceptional.
I finished off my lunch with fresh squeezed mint lemonade ($3). Pieces of mint leaves floated on the bottom. The go-to counter is open until 10 p.m., a reprieve from the burgers and pizza usually offered late at night. Mamnoon tapped into the key to success, offering a new type of cuisine to a highly competitive market on Capitol Hill.