On a trip to Morocco several years ago, I stayed with friends in their lovely home in Rabat, the capital city.  As each November day grew dark, the cook Fatima would fill a container with a warm tomato soup and take it down the gravel driveway outside to the small house of the property’s caretaker. Curious and lured by the delicious smell following Fatima, I finally asked her what it was and why she brought it to Omer every day. Of course, the fact that I spoke English and Spanish while Fatima spoke French and Arabic…well, somehow we managed to make ourselves understood. It was harira, she explained, a special Moroccan tomato and lentil soup. Moroccans love their harira year ‘round and even more during the month of Ramadan when it’s very often served at sunset to break the daily fast…which explains Fatima’s daily sojourns. One taste and I knew Omar was a very lucky man!

Harira Soup Fast forward eight years to the 2011 opening of Distrikt Bistro, the Moroccan-Mediterranean influenced café in the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Suddenly, here was the fragrant soup of my memory – fresh tomatoes and broth thickened with lentils and garbanzo beans, full of flavor from onions, cilantro, garlic, turmeric, cumin, ginger and more. Harira became one of my go-to lunches while working at the DCJCC when an elevator ride was all that was necessary for quick, hot and delicious take-out.

But the soup and, indeed, so much of the food at Distrikt Bistro is worth a metro ride or drive. Owner Michael Medina says the restaurant grew out of his own desire to have “an elegant and upscale kosher restaurant in DC, not just deli or a stereotypical Jewish menu. Jews and non-Jews alike would enjoy a place like this,” he decided. So fresh, top-quality salmon, lamb, rib eye steak find spots on the menu alongside an excellent ‘burger, pasta, a portabello mushroom entre and other favorites. Medina wrote the menu himself based on foods his family cooked. It’s not a big menu, he says, because he opted to “keep a focus, otherwise it’s easy to lose your identity if you try to do too much.”

The restaurant also grew out of Medina’s catering business, The Kosher Kitchen Catering Co. (link to site) started in 2009. After moving to the area 14 years ago from Montreal where he grew up as part of the city’s Moroccan Jewish community, Medina used his background in marketing and business administration to fill what he saw as a missing piece in the DC market – an upscale, but reasonably priced kosher caterer with a unique approach to flavor and service. His own family came from Tangier with its strong Spanish influence. “The cuisine in Tangier, including among the Jews, if not Arab-inspired, then was it was the Spanish influence,” he explains. And this explains to me why another favorite of mine from Distrikt Bistro, Tortilla Española, tastes so authentic. Thin slices of onions and potatoes with eggs whipped into lightness, all fried together in a pan and then finished in the oven.  Even more delicious together with a bowl of that special harira soup.

Distrikt Bistro
at the DCJCC
1529 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
Q Street entrance
Dupont metro
Reservations accepted