KIRKLAND — To enter Hibiscus Egyptian and Mediterranean Cuisine is to step into chef Gege Abdallah and Mohamed Basiony’s dining room.
“We want everyone to be a part of a big family,” Basiony said.
Basiony and Abdallah, husband and wife, are not born restaurateurs. By trade, Basiony is a biomedical engineer and Abdallah an electrical engineer. The couple and their children, Heba and Hossam (also engineers), moved to the U.S. from Egypt 10 years ago, but settled near Seattle only recently.
They say their mission is to introduce Seattleites to authentic Egyptian cuisine — and Egyptian hospitality.
“We’re just doing this for fun,” said Basiony, his eyes crinkling behind thick glasses.
Basiony and Abdallah claim Hibiscus, which officially opened for business Jan. 24, is the only eatery within driving distance of Seattle that serves authentic Egyptian food — and they may be right.
Seattle’s Ethiopian joints (alas, diminishing in number) will scratch an itch for creamy ful medames, a tahini and fava bean-based breakfast staple. Garlic Crush is a standby for lovers of hummus, baba ghanoush and all things shawarma.
But where else will eaters find molokhia, Egyptian mallow greens with chicken ($7.99)? Where else can we order beef liver, served with a plate of koshari, stewed-tomato-and-shallot-covered rice and macaroni ($9.99)? Or wolf down mombar, deep-fried cow intestines stuffed with rice ($12.99)?
Only, it seems, at Hibiscus.
Located in the same strip mall as popular Northern Dumpling House, where lines can stretch out the door, a dumpling-hunter with a grumbling tummy may be tempted to pop quickly into Hibiscus for an order of fries, glistening with oil and covered in tomeia yogurt ($3.99), to weather the wait.
That would be a mistake (and not because the fries aren’t garlicky-good).
It’s just that at Hibiscus, everything slows down — way down.
But in the restaurant, Basiony and Abdallah’s good cheer rubs off on the assembled eaters, many of them from Egypt, in a way that makes the time worthwhile.
It’s in the way Basiony smiles and touches Abdallah’s arm as they pass each other at the cash register, and in the way Abdallah bustles between kitchen and table, delivering portions of food with a generous smile and a, “Yes, my dear, of course.” It’s how Basiony takes orders, written in Arabic on the back of blue flashcards, and how Hossam cues up Disney movies for restive kiddos.
There’s really no point coming here if you’re in a rush, and frankly, that’s part of the appeal. Let the food come to you, as it will, in the passage of time. Why hurry? After all, you’re with family.
Nor does the food disappoint.
The coriander-scented falafel, each one hand-rolled and craggy with sesame seeds, are so fresh that the oil is still crackling when served ($5.99). Each order contains several normal falafel, and one massive, dinosaur-sized flattened falafel chip, perfect for scooping creamy baba ghanoush into salivating maws ($4.99).
The above-mentioned molokhia is one of several rotating tagines-of-the-day. I didn’t get a chance to try it, but did sample the potato tagine ($6.99), a warming tomato-based stew, lightly spiced with cardamom, that begged to be eaten with baladi bread ($1.99), dense pockets with a yeasty tang, baked fresh every morning and served steaming.
When I go back, I’m hoping to sample the okra-and-beef tagine ($7.99), and the fried chicken, seasoned with Mediterranean spices ($7.99).
For dessert, I was excited to try the rice pudding ($3.99) and the basbousa, a semolina-flour cake ($3.99), but somehow, those never arrived on the table. Tant pis! Around the corner in this truly excellent specimen of strip mallage is Sahand Persian Grocery, where I can buy all the nabaat — saffron-flavored rock candy — and nan-e nokhodchi — melt-in-the-mouth chickpea cookies — that my heart could desire.
The restaurant’s eponymous dish is not food at all, but rather a drink: iced hibiscus tea ($2.99), served from a glass cooler with gallons of the garnet-red liquid displayed prominently at the storefront.
After a meal, drink this. Rest your hands on your bulging stomach. And settle into the embrace of your new family.
Hibiscus Egyptian and Mediterranean Cuisine, Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-7 p.m., Saturday noon-7 p.m., call in advance for Sunday hours; 12095 124th Ave. N.E., Kirkland; 425-439 -9017, hibiscusegyptiancuisine.com