Thursday, August 11, 2005


the BistroMed debate.. to lunch buffet or not to lunch buffet?

the question is always there to taunt you-- you first see the buffet ad on the black chalkboard outside the small M Street Mediterranean cafe next to Pizzeria Paradisio and you think, "wow, sounds like a deal." once inside the restaurant's cozy dining room, you can't help but notice the spread of fresh veggies, fish and lamb options and think, “all this for just $9.99?”

small platters filled with baba ghanouj, fresh cucumber and tomato slices, yogurt dressings galore, tri-bean vinegarette salads, vegetable pizza and chicken kafka make eyes at you, and still the question remains, how could i turn all of this down? and for $9.99?

oh, you can. and more importantly, you should.

..but for some reason, i just can't. the conniving little car salesman of an offer always gets the best of me and before i know it, i'm up out of my seat and in line for the Lunch Buffet with dishes that only moderately satisfy. sure it's fresh and i'll even say it's tasty, but it's never as good as i want it to be. filling the seconds plate is always a battle because there's nothing i desperately crave or want to immediately revisit, and considering i am a buffet junkie at heart, this problem is absolutely foreign.

the spread is basically a row of “just alright" salads--chick peas in muted vinegarette dressings, kidney beans and carrot chunks in mild tomato sauce, eggplant without a clearly defined flavor-- and they all start picking up a vague dill aftertaste. at the end of the bar there are a few hot dishes including seafood pasta, overcooked vegetables and white fish (which generally speaking, i adore) but i’d only recommend it if you’re looking to avoid conversation because removing all the bones requires full attention. and for the record, the buffet itself looks nothing like it does on the website.

the crux of it all is this-- the Lunch Buffet may pass as satisfying and even bragworthy to the Little Cafe novice, but anyone who has ordered from the regular menu knows that the buffet simply pales in comparison.

the bar is mostly filled with appetizer-types but lacks the hearty Lentil Soup or the Avocado Orange Salad (with toasted sesame seeds and refreshing shallot dressing) which both stand out as starters on the menu. wouldn’t the restaurant want to brag their very best? both dishes whet the appetite with their titles alone, but they are nowhere to be seen on the bar. most tragically, the bar has absolutely no hummus.

what?! the homemade hummus makes BistroMed! without the fusion of smashed chickpeas, tahini and lemon juice, the BistroMed Lunch Buffet is like the Lower Merion High School basketball team without Kobe Bryant. Dirty Dancing without Patrick Swayze's swingin' hips.

you can still order a small side order from the menu once you notice the oversight, but at $5.95, it is more than half the buffet price and just expensive enough to turn off lunchtime patrons. maybe it’s just BistroMed trying to capitalize a little more on their main attraction, but the way I see it, the harder they make their hummus to come by, the harder time they’ll have producing repeat customers.

i can usually flirt my way into a small dipping sauce-sized side of hummus, humus, hommos (however you want to say it) but plain and simple, the experience at this point becomes a headache.

and the crying shame of all of this is that once you step away from the buffet line, BistroMed is wonderful. the truth is, all i want at the end of the day is my favorite Seasoned Chicken Hummus Veggie (under the Pitawiches, $11.95) -- it doesn't involve multiple plates but provides the satisfaction that endless servings of the mediocre Lunch Buffet never achieves.

the warm pita sandwich is the perfect combo: sliced bell peppers, a few other crunchy greens (always fresh), savory chicken and in my case, extra hummus, all wrapped up in a warm, doughy pita.

it has been my signature choice for late-night delivery from BistroMed ever since I discovered that quality Mediterranean delivery food actually exists. (both Little Cafe and BistroMed share the same roof, same chef, roughly same menu.. BistroMed is just Little Cafe's take-out counterpart)

the buffet concludes with an iced section devoted to fresh melon, bananas with pistachio and honey (a favorite) and rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon. don't get me wrong, i love fresh honeydew and cantaloupe-- and it is definitely fresh-- but at least throw some baklava my way, especially if the rest of the meal was only decent.

i know it's just one plate and more importantly, just one sandwich, but the contents of the Chicken Hummus Veggie outdo all of the bar's bland platter selections combined. and so would many other entrees on the menu including the Mediterranean Beach or Filet Mignon Beef Kabob.

it's hard to turn down unlimited plates, especially from a place that has become my choice Mediterranean cuisine outlet, but in this case, don't let the colorful spread of mediocre side dishes fool you--if you want the Turkish Coban Salad or the Chicken Hummus Veggie (and clearly you do), order one plate of it, enjoy the straight-from-the-oven pita and olive oil served as a complimentary appetizer before your meal, and be satisfied.

BistroMed is located at 3288 M St., NW, in between 33rd and 34th streets, 2 blocks from the Key Bridge.


At 12:26 AM, Blogger austin lavin said...

wow, your good


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