Al Wadi

An oasis of outstanding Middle Eastern cuisine
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  October 6, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

Lebanon is an historically Christian polity with a substantial wine industry, mostly situated in the upland Bekaa Valley country, and Al Wadi has managed a mostly Lebanese wine list with just enough else to make it work. A glass of Ch. Musar "jeune blanc" ($9) was bone dry with enough freshness to satisfy most pinot grigio drinkers. A more serious bottle of 2007 Ksara "Le Priure" rouge ($42) had the fruit and stuffing of a young Bordeaux cru bourgeois, with even a bit of vanilla oak as it opened up. I'll drink it now, but it might be better in a few years. "Turkish coffee" ($2) is served with and without cardamom roasted into the blend. When I tried it, it was too thin for fortune telling, though okay for caffeine. I liked it better without the cardamom.

Desserts are novel and excellent. The best I had was an off-menu baklava ($5) that had fresh-baked flavor. Znod al sit ($5) a dish of fresh cheese in pancakes that sounds suspiciously like my grandmother's blintzes, is quite different due to rosewater and pistachios. So is atayif, ($5) a filo-dough concoction based on farina. A fruit/ashta cocktail ($5) is prettily arranged around farina studded with pine nuts, almonds, and pistachios. The kiwi and strawberry were reasonably ripe, the cantaloupe close, but the nectarine was inedibly green. You wouldn't go wrong with mahloubbia ($5), a kind of pudding/panna cotta.

Service at Al Wadi is quite good, especially when you show some knowledge or interest in the cuisine. The space has been completely redone into a square dining room with fresh wood floor, recessed lighting (thus dark), a little hammered brass and art glass. By the standards of previous Middle Eastern restaurants around Boston, it is dark and loud. By the standards of say, the new South End, it's still dark, but not loud. Silent plasma TVs straddle the ethnic hyphen with football over there and what looks like Arab-American CNN over here. On an earlier visit, we seemed to be watching Lebanese soap opera without subtitles in any language. I guess if you know the show, it's nostalgia.

There is pop background music, not bad, although I missed the two great female divas of Lebanese music, Fairuz and Sabah, the best-known female singers in the Arab world. Perhaps they're a little old school for the restaurateurs.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

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