Downtown Raleigh is full of beautiful old spaces which have been re-purposed as restaurants. Sitti is a great example of this as the space the corner of S. Wilmington and E. Hargett looks as though it used to be a furniture store. The floor to ceiling glass windows and entrance set back from the street create a lovely open space at the front of the restaurant. It is a large open space with warm wooden floors, wooden support posts, and wood table tops and simple black leather chairs. The center of the room is filled with a large communal table, to the right is a long bar and to the left are several booths and tables. The walls are a light olive green with framed portraits of Lebanese men and women from a bygone time. There are also ornate glass hookahs scattered throughout the restaurant to add a little color and sparkle.
Sitti, which means ‘grandmother’, is a Lebanese restaurant with a menu of cold and hot mezze (small plates) and entrées. G and I met another couple there on a Saturday night. When we arrived for our 7pm reservation the place was bustling. We were seated a few minutes after we all arrived. We decided on drinks as we chatted and looked over the menu. I opted to try a Lebanese Syrah which was lighter than I typically like but was fruity. We started with the Hommos, which was thick and earthy, as we looked over the menu. After asking a few questions, which seemed to irritate the waitress though she joked it off, the guys decided on entrées while the ladies decided to share several mezze.
The Village Salad was made which had diced feta, cucumber, tomato, kalamata olives, red onion, and green peppers and dressed with sumac vinaigrette. It was a fresh dish which balanced all the other rich flavors we had. The Halloumi which is a Mediterranean seared cheese topped with dates, roasted almonds, olive oil and fresh thyme. This was a wonderful combination of salty cheese and sweet dates. The Kibbee Mikli are fried dumplings stuffed with sautéed minced lamb, onion, pine nuts and spices. They were delicious! The ground lamb was perfectly seasoned with the spices and the pine nuts provided a subtle sweetness and richness to the mixture. The Falafel, which are fried crushed chick pea patties served with tahini sauce, were wonderfully seasoned. However, I felt the texture was a bit dense as I prefer a lighter version. The Beef Shawarma, thinly sliced marinated tender beef, was the weakest of the mezze we tried as I felt the beef was bland and bit underdone, therefore causing it to be chewy. While these were mezze, and we were hungry, the five items were too much food for us. The fellows helped us finish up. G had the Fatteh with Lamb as his entrée which is stewed lamb served over white rice, crispy phyllo triangles, pine nuts, and a whipped yogurt and garlic. The lamb was wonderfully tender but was missing something in the taste.
Finally, we all managed to find room to try a couple of desserts. We tried the molten chocolate cake special of the evening, the rice pudding, and the baklava. All were very well received at the table. But, the baklava was the best thing I had that evening! It was a perfect ratio of nuts to phyllo and it just the right hint of sweetness to not be cloying.
Sitti is a lovely space to get together with friends and enjoy Lebanese food in downtown Raleigh. All of the dishes were very good though none, except the baklava, really stood out. Personally, I prefer the depth of flavor of the food at the Med Deli.
137 South Wilmington Street