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Chez Manelle in Arlington - Report

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  • Steve Apr 23, 2010 07:38 AM
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Another great option in NoVa eating has opened up - the very tiny Chez Manelle serving Tunisian specialties. Almost everything on the menu is a specific rendition of North African cuisine that you can't find anywhere else in the DC-Baltimore area.

I got take out that held up very, very well - which is a rarity. Omek Houria is a pureed carrot appetizer that tasted amazing cold the next day with an agressive olive flavor. This was an instant favorite. Brika is a crispy crepe stuffed with a fried egg - the yolk broke open cutting into it. Very delicious. The Kaftaji Merguez is a potato-intense, egg, and vegetable pan-fry topped with merguez sausage. This was simple and hearty.

For those looking to explore new and exciting options, this is a destination restaurant.

www.chezmanelle.com

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  1. Awesome find Steve! I can't wait to fly home and go straight here.

    1. Thanks Steve -- great find. I think if I woke up one day and was told I could eat nothing but foods from countries that are on the Mediterranean, I'd be more than fine with that.

      1. Yeah, I saw this restaurant just popped up on Todd Kliman's "25 Places I'd Spend My Own Money" list last week. I was hoping another chowhound checked it out before I took the dive. Well done, Steve! I can't wait to try it.

        1. Wow, the menu looks awesome and CHEAP! I haven't had a Tunisian sandwich since Paris. This is very exciting, thanks for the tip!

          3 Replies
          1. re: hamster

            Just had a nice early dinner at Chez Manelle. DH and I shared the Omek Houri (hubby liked it better than I did), Brika (very good), and Sagara Boregi (phylo dough wrapped around feta cheese and parsley (delish). We also had a beef kabob, which came with two side salads (white bean and Tunisian salad) and nicely spiced and cooked rice. The beef is not top-quality, which is reflected in the price, but it was spiced nicely as well and was very good. Thanks for bringing this place to my attention, Steve. We'll definitely be back. Oh, the prices are amazing!

            1. re: cabster

              Glad you liked it. The carrot dish does get better and works extremely well the next day straight from the fridge.

              1. re: Steve

                I will try this week, I have seen that restaurant but I don't know why I didn't even bother to do research about it, I just thought it would be another bad joint, glad to read your report Steve!

          2. I see they do delivery. Nice.

            1. Finally got out here. We ate in, but I am not sure that we will again. The food was good, but we weren't really blown away. The biggest problem seemed to be the disinterest of the staff. The cook, the waiters, just didn't seem to care that there were customers. We were tolerated (and ignored) for the most part and this really turned us off.

              If we go back it will be to go. Service, even in dives like this is important. We would have loved a server who had the interest to know if we have had Tunisian food and made suggestions or even walked over to greet us when we walked in.

              We had the humus. It was fine. I prefer more lemon juice and less tahini. We had the omek houria which was interesting, but has an overwhelming caraway flavor. We had a daily special, spinach stew with lamb. It was nice. Mildly flavored in a tomato-y broth. The other entree was couscous with lamb. Same stewed lamb as in the stew. Couscous was a bit dry and cooked with a tomato sauce/paste in it.

              1. i'm anxious to try it. their site's photos show some appetizing food. is it the same in person?

                1 Reply
                1. re: alkapal

                  I went there last night. Friendly, family-run place.

                  Food was OK, nothing amazing. Certainly interesting.

                  BUT they have one of the hottest blondes I've ever seen working there, so I will be back. (-;

                2. Unfortunately, Chez Manelle seems to be under new management. Maybe with time they'll figure out some of the kinks, but I'm going to stay away for the time being.

                  Food-wise, they were out of the leblebi (chickpea stew), so I ordered the vegetarian tajine, which ended up being studded with chicken. The omek houria now has tuna on it, but once I scraped that off (I'm vegetarian) it was admittedly tasty. My dining partner tried ordering one dish, but was steered to what was described as "a chicken dish with vegetables". One drumstick and some pieces of potato covered in oil, spices and half a parsley plant later, he was done. Oh, and he managed to eat all of his food before mine showed up. Service was odd as well.

                  The one thing I will say is that at least the new owners are also North African, based on their Arabic. Maybe once they learn how to run a restaurant I'll go back, but I have my doubts that Chez Manelle will last that long.

                  1. Although the name on the awning still says Chez Manelle, this place is now Taste of Tunisia.

                    It is still possible to eat well here, but you have to be more selective plus lucky.

                    A couple of items are about the same as before. Omek Houria is still a great dish. The segara (goat cheese cigars) are always a good idea.

                    But a couple of items have taken a turn for the worse: The brika was quite oily, and the filling tasted more like an unrecognizable mistake. Lamb couscous was dry all around.

                    Leblebi (chickpea stew) is very good and unlike anything i've had before. The tagine here is not at all like its Moroccan counterpart. Tunisian tagine is like a quiche, and it is moist and tasty. Both dishes standout from other North African offerings in the DC area.

                    I would consider coming back because of the unique and tasty menu. but I wouldn't go out of my way.