There’s a grand brick building on Gallows Road in Vienna you can’t help but notice. Bright lights shine through expansive windows cluing passersby there’s a party going on. A carved wooden ship poised by the entrance hints at the elaborate décor you’ll find inside. A glittering red chandelier shoots crystal rainbows on the walls. A vibrant mural, featuring ancient traders on the shores of the Mediterranean, symbolizes the ancient heritage of its owners. Groupings of tables with comfortable leather chairs beckon you to sit down and feast.
But wait, that’s not what owners Sadek Toufeily and his wife Ghiva Nassif want you to remember. Sure, you’ll stop in to check out the action, but they want you to come back for their food. You probably will. Sadek is a perfectionist who won’t settle for anything but the highest quality meats, seafood, and produce.
“This was my family’s business back home,” Sadek explains. Born into a family of restaurateurs in his homeland of Lebanon, he grew up working in the kitchens every summer. He acquired his recipes and cooking techniques from his mother. In his own kitchen, Sadek refuses to cut corners. Every lemon is fresh squeezed; every piece of filet mignon is indeed filet mignon. “I bring all the spices fresh from villages in Lebanon. I import Lebanese olive oil, olives. There will never be canned food in my kitchen,” emphasizes Sadek.
When Sadek arrived in Sterling in the 1998, he studied and worked in various businesses. He founded a shipping company and then an event company. He still has both, but never lost the hunger to return to restaurant life. “I’ve always had this on my mind. I had a passion for this,” he says. His dream became a reality when he saw the building where he would build Phoenicia. Seeing its potential, he bought it. The renovations took him a year. “When I saw it, I knew how it was going to be. I bought all what you see here.” He traveled overseas to buy nearly every element of his décor, from custom glassware to the graceful mosaic tiles. He created a lounge upstairs with exceptional ventilation for hookah smoking. On the ground level, Sadek constructed a stage with a giant flat screen that compliments the live music Phoenicia hosts every Friday and Saturday night. With his connections in the event business, he’s able to showcase a variety of performers—Arab, American, Spanish, and Jazz. “Back home people like to go out; they party until 4 am,” Sadek tells me. Phoenicia stops the show at 2 am, “and the people don’t want to leave.”
At Phoenicia, Sadek and Ghiva have captured the Lebanese zest for life. They wanted to make this a family-friendly destination where people could gather to celebrate weddings, graduations and birthdays. “People wanted something for families, a classy place. This is what we needed,” he notes. “But I’m focused on the food.”
Phoenicia’s menu has some unique dishes, but overall it celebrates faithful Lebanese cuisine. “This is what everybody who comes here tells me. This is the place that we always wanted. They tell me, it’s as if we went to Lebanon,” Sadek says.
Sadek and Ghiva have been working together for 15 years. Every bit her husband’s partner, she runs staffing and other aspects of the business, but leaves the cooking to Sadek. “Anything we did, we did it together. It’s a lot of work, but the ambition is strong. We want to succeed,” Ghiva explains.
Some of their successes come from the innovations they offer. On Saturdays, Phoenicia receives a fresh shipment of whole fresh fish. The restaurant puts them on display and allows guests to select one, then decide how it’s prepared. Some choose roasting over the hot coals; others prefer sautéing it. Phoenicia’s signature dish is probably the Neya Boat, a clever display of meat tartar, rolled in Kibbeh spices, including jalapeño and mint, then they slice it like sushi. It’s served with garlic sauce and vegetables on a small wooden boat topped with a frozen granite top—an exotic, insta-pretty dish ideal for sharing. “They drink it with Arak,” notes Sadek. Arak is a Lebanese anise-flavored aperitif.
Phoenicia’s cuisine stands out for its light healthful preparation and tart flavors. The lunch buffet for $12.95 gives diners a chance to sample several first-course items including salads, fresh baked Lebanese bread, hummus, a divine lentil soup, meat pastries called Sambousek, and stuffed grape leaves. They also select a main course from a choice of three. Sadek offers examples “Salmon with potatoes, Kafta Kabob with tahini sauce, or yogurt with chunks of lamb called Labneh Amo. “Every day this will change,” Ghiva says.
Vegetarians will find a wide array of choices, like the lemony Pumpkin Kibbeh stuffed with pine nuts and Swiss chard, and the Kibbet Batata with mashed potatoes and crispy onion. The Aranbet elevates a combination of cauliflower, pine nuts, and chickpeas with a tangy pomegranate molasses sauce. Phoenicia’s flatbread comes with a range of smoky, savory toppings like ground beef and pickles, or cheese, tomato, and arugula—all flash-baked in the Italian pizza oven.
Along with a full cocktail bar, Phoenicia prepares a variety of raw fruit and vegetable-based beverages that are so fresh, you won’t miss the alcohol. The lemonade with mint is thirst-quenching and cool. The carrot, strawberry, and mango juices are blended when you order. There’s an intriguing avocado cocktail with pistachio, strawberry, and honey.
Sadek says Phoenicia’s mixed grill is very popular. It’s a generous plate of filet mignon, chicken Tawaak, and French-wrapped lamb chops. If you’re craving a sandwich, there are multiple versions, from the traditional Shawarma to shareable sliders. Sadek is especially proud of his desserts; they are all homemade in the restaurant. He’s particularly fond of Halawet El Jiben, a semolina cheese pastry with rose and orange waters, topped with crumbled pistachio—an aromatic treat at the end of an authentic Lebanese meal.
Phoenicia may look like a flashy restaurant and club, but the food here stays grounded in tradition. So, next time curiosity strikes, stop in for a taste and enjoy a sensibility that is uniquely Lebanese.
Contact Sadek Toufeily at 703.204.9555 and his cell is 571.233.6250.