Words by Ruben Gzirian, Photos by Clarissa Villondo
Dinner was at 8 p.m. The fact that I was five minutes late enveloped me in the type of anxiety that only comes from having the added bonus of hunger. Part of the “experience” of going to Maydan—Rose Previte and the Compass Rose team’s new restaurant in the Manhattan Laundry inspired by flavors from a region spanning North Africa to the South Caucasus and everything in between—is finding it. And boy was it tough. After walking past Franklin Hall and seeing a Hill staffer annihilate a liter of Miller Lite faster than you can think, “Nah, I’m good,” I began to panic. Only after finally finding Maydan, walking through its Harry Potter-esc door, and immediately being slapped in the face with the smell of lamb and burning wood, did that anxiety disappear.
If there’s one word to sum up the Maydan experience, it’s journey. From the moment you walk into the restaurant, are led past the fiery cauldrons of the central hearth, and walk up the stairs to a dining area brought to life by lush green graphic wallpaper, you feel like you’ve walked through 2-3 different restaurants. That idea also directly translates into a menu stocked with a gamut of dishes divided into “From the Kitchen” and “From the Fire” categories. Initially, the “you should try it all” menu was overwhelming; it was hard to know which salads or spreads would pair best with the heartier protein-focused (there are also veggie options) plates. This is definitely a restaurant where server recommendations are the best way to go.
Every meal at Maydan begins very much the same, with hot wood-fired oven baked bread carefully placed in front of you as a centerpiece of the meal. Maydan’s menu praises the laurels of traditional bread as a focal point of the culinary experience, and after biting into their doughy yet crunchy creation it’s hard to argue otherwise. What’s not hard to argue is that Maydan’s menu is a little hit and miss right now. The spreads, which included a vibrant Beet Borani made creamy by yogurt and olive oil and elevated by garlic and dill garnish, were superb. In terms of the hummus—an important staple in this type of restaurant—Maydan’s Beiruti Hummus is pretty much a must-order. Other dishes, such as the Koobideh (Persian beef skewers with saffron) or the Aleppo (lamb skewer with pistachios) were welcome deviations, but didn’t stand out on their own. Additionally, while the sardines were cooked perfectly and marinated in chermoula sauce, trying to eat sardines with a knife and fork in public is an exercise in self-imposed public shaming.
You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about the drinks yet. Truth be told, the amount of food we tried left no room for more than two drinks. On initial glance, the wine selection was small but focused, and the cocktail menu had a few standouts that might have been worth trying. The two drinks we did try were about average. The Filfuli, a tall light drink with mezcal, blood orange, ginger, paprika, and soda, was a little too watery for my liking. Soda drinks are a tough bargain because everything but the soda has a tendency to race to the bottom of the glass creating a watery unbalanced experience.
The other beverage, the Jagal, a scotch-based drink with Montenegro amaro, mint atyr, and black tea, was good on the initial sip but quickly lost any character.
The inspiration behind Maydan—an epic culinary adventure taken this summer by Previte, and executive chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan—is clearly evident the moment you step into the restaurant. And while it does a wonderful job as a relatable, time-tested narrative that makes the customer feel like they’re going on their own adventure, its transition to a menu is not as seamless. The talent pushing Maydan forward will undoubtedly continue to refine the experience. Luckily, the basics are already spot on.