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Park Slope Welcomes New Lebanese Culinary Gem

Siblings Samaya Boueri Ziade and George Boueri opened Sawa, their first restaurant, in April.

Sawa, a new Lebanese restaurant, opened on 5th Avenue in Park Slope, joining other recent Lebanese openings in Brooklyn like Cobble Hill’s El Cedro.

Sawa’s co-owners, Samaya Boueri Ziade and George Boueri, are siblings who hail from north of Beirut. They come from restaurant people — their mother still owns and operates a restaurant back in Lebanon — but this is their first venture independently. 

Sawa means “together” in Arabic. To facilitate Lebanese traditions coming together, the siblings decided to open a small provisions shop and restaurant in Brooklyn.

Dining room at Sawa. Photo by Hannah Berman for BK Reader

“When we first moved to the neighborhood, … we were really missing just being able to order dinner,” shared Boueri Ziade.

In the beginning, the two thought about just opening up a provisions place.

"I had two kids in the meantime, got into cooking — the clichéd story — and then I became more passionate about food and preparing food. Again, a cliché, but it was really a form of love,” said Boueri Ziade.

Before the pandemic, Boueri Ziade had experimented with small-scale popups. But after a double crisis in Lebanon — first, the 2019 financial crisis and then the pandemic in 2020 — the siblings decided to expand their concept into a restaurant that celebrated Lebanese cultural history. 

“There's always a restless fire in you to just try to do something,” George Boueri said. “We took the plunge from there.”

Large plates at Sawa: Beiruti samke harra (center), Kibbeh arnabiyeh (right), rice (bottom). Photo by Hannah Berman for BK Reader.

Intent on finding an acclaimed chef to help them represent Lebanese culinary traditions, the siblings are pleased that chef Soroosh Golbabae, who has also worked as a chef at Eyval, Gramercy Tavern, and the nearby Sofreh, is now manning the kitchen. 

Typical Lebanese restaurant menus tend to be very long and read like a book. At Sawa, the menu is purposefully limited to about 20 items. 

Boueri Ziade said when non-Lebanese go to Lebanese restaurants, they tend to order dishes they are familiar with, like hummus and falafel.

"So the goal of the menu was to keep it modern and restricted, to put choices that people have not seen on other menus while also keeping safer options for people to still be comfortable ordering,” she said.

For example, Sawa’s hummus, which comes with handmade pita, can be ordered with an optional topping of braised Wagyu beef cheek, a showstopping tangy topper that is marinated in aromatics and spices, then cooked in pomegranate molasses.

Hummus with beef cheek at Sawa. Photo by Hannah Berman for BK Reader

The kibbeh arnabiyeh is another star of the menu. This dish consists of a big shank of lamb, with meat that leaps off the bone at a mere touch, served in an aromatic tahini stew with three kibbeh, or fried meatballs, floating on the side. The kibbeh are typically the foundation of this dish as it is traditionally made in Lebanon — the lamb is the Boueris’ modern addition. 

“Really, the goal is to hold on to what we have and preserve the culture, the traditions, and the history that we have,” Boueri Ziade said. “There's been a lot of changes in the country and it's meaningful to us to hold onto all of that — the warmth of Sunday lunches. We're trying to portray that in this space, where it's warm and cozy, where you can have happy, big gatherings.”

Sawa is located at 75 5th Ave. and open Wed–Sun, 5:30pm –11pm. 

Hannah Berman

About the Author: Hannah Berman

Hannah Berman is a Brooklyn-born freelance writer. She writes about food, culture, and nonprofit news, and runs her own grumpy food newsletter called Hannah is Eating.
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