After two disappointments – closed restaurants – in trying to uphold our family tradition of eating Chinese food on New Year's Day, we headed to the downtown core of Raleigh hungry and willing to try anything.
The glow of Sitti, on the corner of Hargett and Wilmington streets, beckoned. Free, on-street, convenient parking made it easy to stop. Lebanese food would have to do.
The Location: There are parking garages nearby, but on a holiday, parking was plentiful.
The decor is warm, golden lights and wood tables, accented with black-and-white photos of grandmothers. "Sitti" is the Lebanese term for the family matriarch, and the restaurant serves food faithful to her influence.
The Company: My husband and 25-year-old daughter.
The Service: We submitted to the suggestions of our server, who, upon hearing it was our first visit, helpfully described the types of dishes and ingredients behind the uncommon names. She helped us understand that "mezze" could be ordered as a kind of tapas – family style for lots of small tastes.
The Meal: The three of us split the Sitti Tasting platter, Sundried Tomato flatbread and Warak Anab – grape leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables. The chef added four sweet orange peppers stuffed with cream cheese.
The platter featured two dips familiar to most Western diners – Hommos (key ingredient: chick peas) and Baba Ghanouj (roasted and whipped eggplant). Both were more fresh and vibrant than any pre-packaged dip.
It also included:
- Fattoush – a green salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and radish in a minty vinaigrette
- Chicken Shawarma – small slices of chicken breast coated in a thick, garlic-y sauce
- Cheese Rolls – imagine a cross between a spring roll and fried mozzarella sticks
- Kibbee Mikli – dumplings of ground beef and lamb
In every case, the food was amazingly fresh. The vegetables had crunch; the pita was homemade and warm; the spices were bright.
The Final Bill: Three full tummies, plus enough leftovers for two lunches ran us about $35 with no alcohol.
The Verdict: Lebanese food was unfamiliar to my family, but the tastes at Sitti are distinctive yet delicate. There is something here for even a picky eater. I recommend starting out with a sampling, but we'll return to taste the entrees as well.
Sitti is part of the Empire Eats restaurant group which also includes Raleigh Times, Gravy, The Pit and Morning Times. It is a partnership between the families of developer Greg Hatem and the Saleh family, known for their bread and more at Neomonde.