I have eaten many hundreds of Middle Eastern dishes over the years, but never in Lebanon, which is probably why I’m not familiar with arnabit ($7), lightly fried cauliflower with a lemon-tahini sauce I can’t get enough of. Nor have I ever seen hummus
b’lahem ($9) on a menu. This Lebanese specialty, which I’ve cooked from books, is a plate of the creamy chickpea spread topped with sauteed ground lamb and pine nuts, served with pita bread that comes right from the oven, hot and still puffy.
Someone has dropped me into Ottolenghi-esque heaven.
Fairouz in West Roxbury was opened two years ago by local dentist Fadi Metri, who was raised in Tal Abbas in the north of Lebanon. Arnabit, says Metri, is on every home Lebanese table; hummus with lamb, he adds, is also a famous dish.
Metri has practiced dentistry in the area for 25 years and went daily to the restaurant that was in the space before Fairouz. Cristelle Pizzeria was owned by another Lebanese family, who offered lunch specials that attracted Metri. When the family wanted to sell, Metri bought the place and renovated, though it still looks like a pizzeria and still offers pies, but with table service.
To come here and eat pizza means missing the warm pita rounds and a plate of olive oil sprinkled generously with za’atar, the wild thyme and sesame seed mixture. You wouldn’t get to sample manakich ($5), a flatbread spread with za’atar and served with tomatoes and olives.
Fairouz is what I picture a restaurant in Lebanon to be like. One day a long table of men are lingering after a late lunch. Three generations of several families are dining another time. The music is from the popular Lebanese singer who goes by the name Fairuz, now in her 80s and revered throughout the Arab world, for whom the restaurant is named.
Metri offers home cooking because he wanted to introduce people to his culture. Another unusual dish here is lamejun, the very thin meat pies, served everywhere pizza-style. Here, lamejun ($7) are folded up to form four corners with the meat poking out of the center, delicious turnovers with a lovely crust and moist lamb filling. Tabbouleh ($9) is the way Lebanese cooks everywhere do it: It’s a bright, refreshing parsley salad with mint, tomatoes, and onion. There is so little bulgur you can hardly see it.
All the meat here is halal, to comply with Muslim dietary practices. Spicy ground lamb kafta wrap ($9) is rolled in pita with hummus, tomatoes, and pickles, then set on the grill so it flattens slightly and the filling becomes juicy, creamy, and crunchy. Beef shawarma ($9), strips of spicy meat, is tucked into pita rounds with pickles, salad vegetables, and tahini sauce.
Dinner plates are served with traditional vermicelli-laced rice pilaf, homemade turnip pickles tinted red from beets, and a smear of hummus. Lamb kebab ($18) is two generous skewers with fine-tasting, but dry, meat. Chicken kebab ($14) is also generous, and juicier, with garlicky yogurt sauce. Cauliflower steak ($12) is a nice surprise in the meaty lineup, perfectly cooked, nicely lemony, and accompanied by crisp fries. It comes to the table way after everything else and cold.
After Fairouz was open for a while, things in the kitchen came full circle. Krikor (Koko) Garabedian, who is Lebanese-Armenian and the son of the Cristelle owner, returned to the kitchen. Metri says he wants to bring in Lebanese wines to go with the food. The cold-pressed olive oil in the cooking comes from his town, he says. “It’s what we eat.”
I’ll have what he’s having.
5268 Washington St., West Roxbury, 617-469-0000, www.fairouzrestaurantma.com. Wheelchair accessible. All major credit cards.
Prices Hot and cold mezza, salads, pizzas, flatbreads $5-$20. Wraps, sandwiches, dinner plates, pasta, seafood $6.50-$32 (most items under $18). Desserts $1.75-$6.
Hours Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat 8 a.m-10 p.m., Sun 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Liquor Beer and wine.
What to order Arnabit (fried cauliflower with tahini sauce), sumboosik jebneh (cheese turnovers), sfiha (meat pies), za’atar manakich (flatbread with herbs and spices), lamb kafta kebab wrap (ground lamb sandwich), beef shawarma, chicken kebab platter