For a long time, Seattleites headed to this address on Roy Street for their falafel fix, to get their shawarma on, or to satisfy a craving for kabobs. But when Mediterranean Kitchen decamped to Capitol Hill (where it lives on as Mediterranean Kitchen Kabob House) and Asian Breeze moved in, uptown garlic-lovers were left in the lurch.
Then last year Kahlil Kahlil and Paul Maroun opened Mashawi. The Lebanese-born brothers-in-law, along with Wissam Moghrabi, the genial waiter everybody calls Sam, all once worked at the old Med Kitchen. “We are thrilled to be back in the neighborhood. Fate brought us here, and we are very thankful,” Maroun told me in a phone interview.
The double storefront has been strikingly updated with pomegranate-red walls, dramatic lighting and a towering wine display. Among the bottles: a crisp white blend from the Lebanese winery Chateau Musar, and a vigorous red, Tikves Vranec, from Macedonia. Both are available by the glass and both held their ground against the barrage of garlic that was to come.
Portions are substantial, prices reasonable. A pile of mildly seasoned yellow rice, comforting lentil soup and a romaine salad accompany most dinner entrees. The salad, unfortunately, was so sourly dressed and so heavily laden with herbs one bite was all anyone at the table could manage, but we all wanted more of the lamb shawarma and the gyros.
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The shawarma’s thinly sliced strips are marinated in seven secret spices (I sussed out cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove among them) then sautéed with cabbage, onion and tomatoes. The gyro meat, made of finely ground lamb and beef, tasted like an aggressively seasoned hot dog; it even looks like one, sliced several times lengthwise and topped with a big spoonful of thick, delicious tzatziki.
Lamb and ground beef (kafta) kabobs were the two best out of a three-kabob combo; chicken (shish tawouk) was acrid and overcooked. A long-boned, braised lamb shank, served with a side of couscous, tasted as impressive as it looked, though some of the vegetables surrounding it (carrots, onions, squash, chickpeas and potatoes) would have benefitted from longer cooking in the bright, rich tomato sauce.
Cayenne sparked a creamy, walnut-thickened sauce smothering salmon (Samakeh Hara). The sauce helped compensate for fish that was slightly dry. A caustic lemon-garlic sauce worked to the detriment of chicken wings. Served with tips akimbo as if they might take flight, those marinated and broiled wings had a great, kicky flavor all by themselves.
Given the huge portion sizes, appetizers are overkill. If you are dining with a group, do consider sharing the mezza, a collection of several appetizers ($24). If there are only two of you, it could be your entire meal, so sumptuous and satisfying is the assortment presented in small bowls and plates.
Accompanied by lots of warm pita, the mezza array includes: tahini-rich hummus and smoky, eggplant-flecked baba ghanouj, each finished with a splash of olive oil; thick, tangy strained yogurt (labneh) whose pretty garnishes include deep purple, pickled turnips; golden brown florets of fried cauliflower (zhara) and crisp, spicy falafel, both drizzled with tahini; a parsley-dense tabbouleh salad; and, last though least impressive, “foul madamas,” beans, chickpeas, radishes and tomato in a pool of olive oil and herbs.
A smaller vegetarian combo plate offers several of these same items (falafel, hummus, baba ghanouj and zhara) plus grape leaves stuffed with mint-seasoned rice. Considered an entree, it comes with soup, salad and yellow rice.
You may feel too stuffed for dessert but if, like me, you crave something sweet after the garlic onslaught, the baklava made here is lovely. It is filled with chopped pistachio and ground cashews and lightly sweetened with rose-water syrup. Or dip into a bowl of vanilla ice cream, also sprinkled with pistachios and rose-water syrup.
Mashawi attracts families and is very much a family operation. Kahlil does a lot of the cooking. Maroun’s sister makes the kibby (deep-fried orbs of minced beef and bulgur). His mother is coming soon from Lebanon to attend her grandson’s baptism. “I told her to bring more recipes,” Maroun said. He may even coax her into the kitchen at Mashawi.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.