Along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria constitute the Levant. Featuring more lemon and sumac, the region’s cuisine is lighter and brighter than food on the Arabian Peninsula. And it’s what chef Michael Rafidi grew up eating with his Palestinian family outside Washington, D.C.
At Albi he’s helping diners understand the region without being rigid. For some dishes, Rafidi stays true to his grandparents’ recipes, perhaps with a chef-y twist. Take his hummus, which he packs with raw garlic and fresh lemon juice but then adds some chickpea miso for a layer of fermented flavor. Other items, such as his manti dumplings, may make grandmothers across the region raise their eyebrows. There he’s turned a yogurt-and-dumpling stew into lamb-and-eggplant-stuffed dumplings that are served with a dollop of yogurt and a Chinese-influenced Urfa chili crisp.
Rafidi’s cooking excels in the hearth, where his triumphs include coal-fired beets with walnuts and fermented muhammara and his lamb dish of molasses-covered ribs served alongside a kebab and a minced-lamb kefta that’s molded around a cinnamon stick. Across the entire menu Rafidi proves he’s a master of balancing acid, smoke and spice.