Falls Church is blessed with an array of ethnic restaurants, none finer than Fatouche’s true Iraqi eatery across the street from Birch & Broad shopping center along West Broad Street.
On the way home from ordering takeout there, the heavenly aroma of warmed Samoon bread wafted through my car such that at stoplights, I was forced by thoughts of coming sensory pleasures to dive into the takeout bag and sample the goods.
By the time I got home, sadly, little remained…
Samoon is light, a kind of feathery flatbread which floats in your mouth (to take you to heavenly places). In the traditional way, it’s baked in stone ovens and made without butter (which is striking, since it tastes like a half stick is hidden in there somewhere).
Fatouche — which is the name of a kind of salad — is one of the few authentic Iraqi restaurants in Northern Virginia to serve true native food.
What distinguishes it from Middle Eastern competitors, one of the owners, Haider Sulaiman, told me, is its homemade spices. To that, I can attest.
Everything I ate was blended well, with no spice dominance in the spice wars. I am not a “spicy” fan, though I do it to oblige my editor, and a request for “unspicy” to the Fatouche chef was not necessary.
Like other small restaurants, Fatouche’s exterior conceals its gentle interior with nicely Covid-spaced chairs and tables, each holding a vase of real sunflowers.
While waiting for orders (this is not McDonald’s, after all, with instant food at the ready for hurried consumers), customers may study the paintings on the restaurant’s wall made by an Iraqi artist, and none for sale, said another owner, Asim Alobaidi. Additional works may change that.
The mixed mezze plate is affordable ($11.99) and better tasting than even the bright colors would have you believe. It was my favorite of what I ordered — a variety of healthy foods fills the container, making it feel like it weighs five pounds.
Included are five or six appetizers, like tabbouleh, a dish of bulgur, tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, onion, and tossed with olive oil and lemon juice. All of that makes you feel healthy by just crunching it the way you’re supposed to do with lahano, another appetizer of coleslaw of crisply cut purple cabbage and vinegar.
Other foods on this plate are sweet zaytoon olives and pasta salad (without an overpowering saturation of mayo), some of the best I’ve tasted.
Also, baba ghanouj, a delicious eggplant dish made with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and salt, with a seafood taste (at least, to me), creamy, like its chickpea sister hummus (also a mezze component), both low in calories.
On one website, I learned that hummus has a higher calorie content than baba ghanouj, and baba ghanouj contains vitamins B and E, which are nonexistent in hummus but seldom found on American plates. (Basically, eat more baba ghanouj…plus it’s just fun to say).
Served with Samoon, the mezze plate would make an excellent hors d’oeuvres platter for a group which is what Fatouche caters to: crowds, weddings, and events being their specialty, as Sulaiman said.
Another Fatouche hot seller is jajeek ($4.99), a yogurt and chopped cucumber dish with fresh herbs I’ll have to order on my next visit.
Kabobs and chicken and beef shawarmas are popular items, too, but Sulaiman emphasized the restaurant’s 11 different kinds of kubba, which are akin to meat pies or balls made of cooked chicken, beef or lamb with parsley, onions and house spices.
One, the Kubba Mosul ($13.99), is named after the city in Iraq. Being a calorie counter, my ground beef kubba was a little too heavy for me to eat often, but I allowed myself to cheat this one time.
I also had the lamb shank (qouzi; $18.99), a huge serving marinated in a mild barbecue sauce, tender, tasty and mild, served atop plentiful Basmati rice with almonds, enough for two meals. It’s accompanied by stewed okra or white beans.
Being used to fried okra from down South, I had to check on differences. Fatouche’s is, of course, healthier than the fried kind, since it is prepared in a mild-mannered tomato stew that gets better with each gulp.
At first it was a little too bland, but gaining momentum as I ate along I began to love it, even emptying out the container. Its spices, again, never overpowered its pals in the pot.
The restaurant also serves sandwiches and, even some American foods like fries ($3.99) and cheeseburgers ($8.99) have found their way to the menu.
But who wants them when you can “travel” across the sea and eat authentic Iraqi cuisine?
Sulaiman said his restaurant came to Falls Church five years ago because the space was “walk-in” ready with a freezer and refrigerator, and besides, it was cheaper to rent than in Arlington or Tysons.
The shortage of labor limits the restaurant’s closing hours to 7 p.m. but the owners hope that pre-Covid times can return to close at 9 or 10 p.m. Next month they are planning to introduce four new menu items whose names they are working on and are not ready to reveal.
I have often thought that if I were stranded on an island, I could be happy with bread, wine, and grapes, and now I’ll have to require Samoon. Truly. Don’t leave the ship without it.
Fatouche’s (between Don Beyer, Sweet Rice and U-Haul) 1109 W. Broad St., Falls Church 22046 703-534-0708. [email protected]
Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed, Monday. The online menu differs from the onsite menu. Park on the side of the building.