Perhaps widespread quarantine for a global pandemic isn’t the best time to open a business. Even less so a restaurant where diners are intended to gather for big plates of shareable victuals. But Serkan Gozubuyuk is making it work. The chef debuted Lezzet Mediterranean Restaurant, an upscale Turkish restaurant with touches of Greek and Lebanese, on May 1, nearly a month before phase one of reopening allowed him to serve on his Centreville restaurant’s shaded front patio.
“We were supposed to open in April, but we held off because of the virus,” he explains. He decided that he spent too much money on renovating the space not to open for takeout. He began turning out lahmajun (meaty Turkish flatbreads) and adana kebabs to a small audience of locals hungry for his Mediterranean fare. In fact, the former executive chef at Ankara in DC says that he chose the mostly Korean-centric plaza in Centreville where Lezzet occupies a corner spot because there were no similar restaurants nearby.
But it’s worth making the trip from outside Centreville. At the time of our review, the airy white dining room was closed and we dined out front in view of the patio of kids and families gathered at the nearby Glory Days Grill. Somehow though, the friendly service, big portions of even more outsized flavors and warm weather almost tricked us into feeling like we were enjoying a meal in Gozubuyuk’s native Adiyaman, where his father long operated a restaurant of his own.
The dense menu can be hard to navigate—there are just too many appealing choices not to feel like you’re missing something potentially wonderful. That’s where Lezzet’s combo plates come in. We ordered the Lezzet Mezzes for Two in order to get our share of as many dishes as possible.
Highlights include petite rounds of falafel so herbaceous that the interior matches the springy green of the fresh parsley showered on the plate. The Chef’s Cigars, known in Turkish as sigara böreği, are usually a relatively one-note affair—skinny rolls of phyllo stuffed with salty, fatty feta. Not so at Lezzet, where the flavor is brightened with dill and parsley. The only disappointment on the plate, which also includes bright-tasting dolmades, baba ghanoush and htipiti, is the hummus, weighed down with too much nutty tahini and not enough garlic or lemon.
We took the same approach with the main course by ordering the mixed grill, purportedly sized for two, but which could easily feed three or four. Gozubuyuk’s prized adana kebab works its magic with a sweet kiss of garlic folded into the combination of ground lamb and beef. It’s an excellent specimen of the common kebab, but diners may want to steer in the direction of harder-to-find lamb ribs, which pull with sensual, crisp-edged ease from the bone. The collection of meats, which also includes chicken and beef shish kebab and juicy little rounds of kofte, are colorfully accompanied by buttery pilaf, earthy bulgur and a rainbow of vegetable preparations ranging from pink cabbage salad to a pair of long, blistered green chiles.
The heat of those veggies is best quelled with an order of kanafeh, an upgrade over the simple walnut-filled baklava. Sweet cheese is baked inside a shell of shaggy kataifi pastry, then sweetened further with honey simple syrup. It’s served warm, allowing the cheese to maintain its appealing stretch. It offers the kind of comfort that we all need right now. Maybe opening during a pandemic wasn’t such a bad idea after all. // 13850 Braddock Road, Centreville; Open for lunch and dinner daily; Appetizers: $7-$40; Entrees: $15-$90
See This: Dine inside for white walls and wood tables punctuated by red napkins for a shot of color, or outside where you’ll almost forget you’re feet away from a parking lot. Almost.
Eat This: Falafel, adana kebab, lamb ribs, kanafeh