50 BEST DISHES: From Mt. Lebanon to the Tetons

By on March 7, 2018

No. 44 and 45: Kafta Kebab and Falafel Bites, Figs in Hotel Jackson

The only kafta kebab in town is done just right. (Robyn Vincent)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Nestled into Hotel Jackson’s modern lobby, Figs is a refreshing deviation from Jackson’s Thai and Mexican dominated food scene. The clean, sharp lines of the interior and striking artwork contrast the warm smell of spice swirling through the bar and kitchen.

Hailing from the mountains of Lebanon, Chef George Rouche has brought the style of Lebanese home cooking to his new mountain town, encouraging diners to share the menu’s mezze (small plate) dishes in the valley’s sole Lebanese restaurant. And the portions and plating encourage sharing too. Prices hover between $10 and $15, barring a few higher fare options. The menu includes an array of house-made hummus as well as various mezze, kebab, kibbeh and other micro-menus.

“Food is about the love you put into it. It’s about how happy you will be when you give someone food and it makes them happy,” Rouche said in a 2017 PJH interview. “It’s not political. It’s like everyone says kebabs are Turkish. But Lebanon makes kebabs. Israel makes kebabs. Everyone makes kebabs. I don’t believe you can look at food and say, ‘this is mine.’ Food is for everybody.”

Amen, Chef George.

After nibbling on various dishes, I decided on a tie between the falafel bites and kafta kebab. The falafel bites were the best I have tasted since spending time in Washington, D.C.’s multicultural Adams Morgan neighborhood. Some folks develop an aversion to the popular Middle Eastern dish when it comes up too dry; chickpeas, after all, are the main ingredient. Rouche’s falafel, however, is perfectly fried, leaving a crisp, toasty shell, while the center is still moist but not gooey. The flavor is also spot on—herbaceous with just the right amount of cumin, and a touch of heat to round out the sweetness of the chickpeas. I’m dying to know what the house spice blend is. To round out the dish is a tahini and pickle salad. The fresh herb salad, tangy pickles and creamy tahini sauce accentuate the flavors of the falafel while cutting through its textures. This is ideal for a group of four—$10 gets you eight pieces.

The kafta kebab is also fantastic. While these minced lamb, onion and parsley pieces of heaven are usually served as small, sausage-like meatballs skewered on sticks, at Figs they serve one large kebab seasoned and grilled. It is served with a spiced rice pilaf with vermicelli noodles and garlic sauce.

While lamb has a very rich, distinct flavor, it can often be quite light. This dish accomplishes the balancing act by allowing the flavors of the lamb to stand out with the sweet white onion and bright parsley. The accompanying garlic sauce pairs well with the salty, charred flavors too. At $16, it’s great for a solo meal or it can be sliced for sharing.

Opening its doors in 2015, Hotel Jackson is a family-run business. Owner Jim Darwiche, his wife Safa and sons Sadek and Dorian have done a beautiful job designing a modern, comfortable atmosphere while keeping in line with a Western motif. Indeed, Jim has merged two cultural experiences right in the lobby of the hotel.

When you walk through the doors to people sharing food, there’s an immediate sense of welcome and communality. A large fireplace heats the restaurant-lobby where a mélange of seating and tables lends a comfortable atmosphere even with the space’s stone walls, floors and high ceilings. It says, “Come have a drink with a book, maybe a plate of hummus, we have no demands or expectations of you.”

A smooth concoction of citrus and St. Germain: the Lebanese lemonade.

Tucked into the corner is a charming copper bar where bartenders mix delicious and inventive cocktails like the Lebanese lemonade, made with local Highwater Vodka, St. Germain, orange bitters, rose water, mint and citrus juices.

Together, the drinks, food and atmosphere are a memorable taste of Lebanon and the hospitality the country is known for.

 

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