Even if I weren't Palestinian, I'm pretty sure I'd still still have a passion for Middle Eastern food. Arabs believe that every dish can be zinged up with lemon and garlic, and they're not wrong.
Is there room for improvement? Sure. In my opinion, pita bread pales in comparison to a baguette or croissant, and it's a bummer that Arabs haven't truly embraced chocolate. But a slow-roasted lamb and spinach hand pies? More than makes up for it.
Recently, I went to a dinner in support of SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) and the reception was followed by intimate dinners, broken out into small groups. My friends and I dined in a private home, and the chef was Ari Augenbaum from JewFro - the downtown restaurant where he combines his Jewish background with African cuisine, inspired by co-owner William "Trey" Owens.
I had dined at JewFro previously, and it did not disappoint. Jewish cuisine can go many ways, since in essence, Judaism is a religion and believers stretch across the globe. There's the Eastern European influence, with matzo ball soup and gifelte fish. The Jewish deli culture is strong, with lox bagels, mile-high Reuben sandwiches and black & white cookies. Luckily, the influence at JewFro was Middle Eastern - my favorite iteration.
Ari Augenbaum served us at the SCAN dinner, delivering plate after plate of familiar yet visionary dishes. With each course, he described what we were being served. Earthy fava bean dishes sprinkled with a tangy pop of pomegranate. A tartare version of kifteh with raw venison, and topped with a cured quail egg, which is, by the way, a superfood. Splashes of microgreens gave each dish a fresh-tasting heat. The meal was extraordinary.
It all reminded me that giving back can be delicious. We should support the restaurants and chefs that devote their time and talent for important causes. If you live in the Richmond area, you can visit the restaurants of these talented chefs. It's a good excuse for a date night. After all, you're just trying to make the world a better place, right?