Ceviche and Baklava (with a side of Lamb, Tripe and Tongue)

Ceviche – a tart, tangy mix of raw fish, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and lime juice. Baklava – layer after layer of crisp, buttery pastry dough and ground pistachios, drenched in honey. An unlikely duo under a single roof. But in Falls Church, VA, this matrimony not only exists, it’s astoundingly orchestrated, profoundly delightful. And oh, just tender, creamy lamb, tripe and beef tongue on the side. Just that.

What better way to spend a cold, windy Columbus Day. “Mirage” in Falls Church boasts a lineup of both Persian and Peruvian cuisine. Odd at first, but not for Falls Church. It’s already home to some of the best pho and bahn mi in the country. Persian and Peruvian? Why not.

My friend Scholar volunteers to lead me to a gastronomic experience I would not forget. Scholar is just that – a scholar. A student of modern Turkish history, of philosophy, of old dusty books in general. More importantly, for my purposes, he is a student of baklava and grilled meats on skewers

An aside: the “Peruvian” chicken, pictured prominently on my plate, was actually the worst dish. Just a hint of charcoal smoke, but nothing magical.

Good lamb is not easy to come by. Melt-in-your-mouth tripe, even harder. Beef tongue? It’s a lost art form in this part of the world. But as I grabbed my first plate to step up to the buffet line, there they were, lamb, tripe and tongue, simmering and resting side by side. My eyes widened in disbelief, and I swear I felt my heart beating on my fingertips as I piled on hills and mountains.

There is something inherently soothing about slow-roasted meat. It’s a religious experience, a holy grail moment. Lamb smothered in a blend of greenish, earthy herbs and spices, ready to spill its juices on first touch. Tripe soaking in a golden curry-like sauce, soft but not mushy, meaty yet not gamey. Beef tongue – one of the most delicate and flavorful parts of the animal – soft as velvet, with a taste that screams “BEEF”, more so than a plateful of steaming brisket.

Tender, moist, succulent cuts of meat in three different curry-like sauces, poured over three different types of rice. Don’t mind the flavors mixing – it’s all for the better.

On the opposite side of the dining hall, pans and pans of fresh baklava await. In my memory, this delightful pastry was usually detached from its herd, already locked up in clear, plastic containers. With luck, they may be aligned in lasagna-sized pans.

Here, giant circular pans, larger in diameter than the largest of New York pizzas, proudly housed the bite-sized, homemade manna. Scholar is ecstatic, haven’t seen him this aroused about anything. The baklava here, he proclaims, is the closest thing to the real Turkish deal in Northern Virginia. Impressed, I munch on, sipping a hot black tea of sorts in between bites – sweet and tart, crisp and flaky. God knows how pissed I would’ve been if they served Lipton. The tea didn’t even have the “L” of Lipton. It was a first for me, refreshing not bitter, dancing perfectly with the baklava.

Thanks Mr. Columbus. We have discovered new land indeed, in Falls Church.

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