ME JANA (www.me-jana.com) opened a little over a year ago on Clarendon Blvd. smack in the center of the Courthouse neighborhood in Arlington and is a true gem of a find for Middle-Eastern cuisine at reasonable prices. Children are welcome, the ambience is fine with subdued lighting, cozy banquettes (with leather pillows) and some bright modern art. The neighborhood can be crowded, but there is free parking on evenings and weekends in an underground lot on the side street. Do be aware that Me Jana (named for a Lebanese welcome ballad) has a Wilson Blvd address with the entrance around the corner on Clarendon! We started with a bottle of crisp tasty KSARA Blanc de Blancs from Lebanon which goes well with many of the tasty appetizers, which was what we decided to make our entire meal up of.
The two boys chose the SALMON main course which was seared with a tahini type sauce underneath (of course, Samuel said he would not touch ANY of the fish that had touched the sauce!) and a superb Orange and Fennel Salad on the side, which neither of the boys ate, but we all gobbled up! You will recall I am not a fennel fan, but here the seasoning and the mildness of the fennel made it just perfect.
Our appetizer choices were, for the most part, all top notch, and what is nice is that many of the items are vegetarian or available as a vegetarian dish.
Rice-filled GRAPE LEAVES come with a light POMEGRANATE MOLASSES coating and are superbly tangy and tasty.
ZUCCHINI FRITTERS made with egg white, scallions, Manchego cheese and a touch of mint are crispy on the outside and almost decadently rich and creamy from the cheese on the inside. SEARED HALOUMI CHEESE is just bronzed and warm and served with seared PEARS & DATES (a few more slices of date would have been nice). The firm cheese is tasty and not rich making for a balance with some of the other cheesier items.
SPINACH PIES are on the richer side and come in a "hamantaschen" tri-corn shape and hence are more like empanadas when it comes to the "pie" as opposed to the traditional phyllo crust. Also rich are the creamy POTATO KIBBE (veggie option here) made with burghul, feta, pine nuts and served with one of the best BABA GHANOUJ DIPS(eggplant paste) that I have ever had!
The meat version of the KIBBE are also FRIED with beef, lamb, burghul and onion filling but served with the tart LABNEH (yogurt) DIP which is a nice foil. If you don't like yogurt, avoid the meat kibbe as they can be dry on their own and are truly "made" by the LABNEH. By this time we had moved on to a reasonably priced tasty L. de LYETH 2006 Sonoma County CABERNET SAUVIGNON which is another pretty good wine to pair with most of the varied choices.
Will was feeling a bit "meaty" and asked to try the BEEF PIES which were sadly a bit on the dry side. All they needed was some of that tasty Baba Ghanouj or another sauce to dip in!
I must give credit here to Post critic Tom Sietsema whose review we used from Feb '08 for Me Jana. While many of the things HAVE changed (the grape leaves were NOT cold), his basic info is quite good. We did stick to the tasty dips, appetizers and gorgeous fluffy warm pillow shaped pita, and avoided the main courses except for the boys.
He did say that we should mention to co-owner/co-chef Rabih Abi-Aad (and we also did to our server, who was a bit slow each time we tried to order) that we were first-time patrons and "there's the chance a glass of sweet wine will appear after dessert...Show up again, and the kitchen might send out a few desserts for the table to share." Well, I guess Mr. Siestsema's chances of this were better than ours!
All told, Me Jana offers a large varied menu and lots of fun for folks out for a good Middle Eastern jaunt!