Harissa: A chat with chef and owner Walid Alabtan

“I don’t need to sleep!” he says as we part.

Not that Walid Alabtan has much time to, with his very own restaurant opening the next day (not even two weeks after the previous restaurant tenant, Himalayan Kitchen, closed).

He’s very busy, to be sure — we’re interrupted three times during our brief chat that day — but his passion for his new enterprise is almost infectious.

“I wish I could open today,” Walid says. It’s a crazy thought to my mind, but already clad in his chef’s pants, he seems rarin’ to go.

Walid has been cooking since he was ten years old.  When he came to the United States in the early 1990s, he started his more formal restaurant education doing dishes in an Indian restaurant. But he made his way into the food side of things there a couple of years later.

In 1995, Walid was cooking with his Vietnamese wife (now former) at Pho Saigon in Wallingford. They sold the restaurant in 2001, and Walid started working at Raja Cuisine of India (under the owner of Himalayan Kitchen and India Express up on Broadway).  After two years at Raja, Walid then moved on to Ephesus in West Seattle, where he was head chef for five years.

After Ephesus, Walid says spent a couple years at an Italian restaurant in downtown Seattle, and then began his ice cream business.  His (and his current wife’s) Go Go Ice Cream concession stand sits over by Green Lake’s Bathhouse Theatre (7312 West Green Lake Drive North), and Walid would also make the rounds in his own ice cream truck. He says he hopes to have some of that ice cream in the new restaurant in the future.

The Seattle Times’ Seattle Sketcher, Gabriel Campanario, sketched a picture of Walid and his truck for his illustrated blog back in July of this year (“The frosty sound of summer“).

Illustration by the Seattle Sketcher, Gabriel Campanario (used with permission of The Seattle Times).

As for this new restaurant, and its focus on Mediterranean cuisine, Walid says his inspiration has been his Lebanese wife (who is now running their Go Go Ice Cream stand) and their family (Walid is Muslim, and his wife and children are Catholic). The namesake Harissa is a Lebanese pilgrimage site whose main attraction is a 15-ton statue of the Virgin Mary (she’s featured on the menus in the restaurant).

We talk of the dishes to come; healthy, with lots of fresh ingredients and flavors. But he struggles to describe them further.  “Where I present food, it’s like art,” Walid says, emphasizing that people should just come in and experience it for themselves. He wants Harissa to be a place for everybody to relax and enjoy each other, and his food.

He literally can’t wait to meet you.


Harissa Mediterranean Cuisine (2255 NE 65th Street) opens today.

For hours and menu, see the previous post on the restaurant (“Harissa Mediterranean Cuisine opens this Thursday“).

Harissa Mediterranean Cuisine to open this Thursday

Less than two weeks after the previous tenant, Himalayan Kitchen, shut its doors, the restaurant space at 2255 NE 65th Street is (nearly) ready to open to customers once again.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Harissa Mediterranean Cuisine.

I talked with Harissa’s front-of-the-house man, Denzel, this afternoon about the new restaurant, and the food (Lebanese, by chef and owner Walid Alabtan), and he’s very excited. One might say he’s giddy.

They are celebrating the grand opening weekend with a 2-for-1 special (bring the flyer to redeem the deal; good through Sunday, November 7th). They’ve canvassed my part of the neighborhood already, but if you haven’t yet received your flyer, Denzel said to stop by the restaurant tomorrow, after 11 am, to pick one up.

Harissa will be open for lunch and dinner, Tuesdays through Sundays, from 11:30am-10:30pm.

Oh, and, would you like to see a menu?

Click on the image to open it to full size (big file)

Denzel said that they’re happy do to-go orders, but to please give the restaurant at least a 30 minute lead time, especially this first week. The phone number is (206) 588-0650.

Beer and wine will also be available.


UPDATE (Thursday, Nov. 4): Interview post with chef and owner Walid Alabtan is here:” Harissa: A chat with chef and owner Walid Alabtan.”

I hope to speak with chef and owner Walid tomorrow, if he’s available. (As you can imagine, everybody’s pretty busy over there at this time.)

Himalayan Kitchen CLOSED?! (updated)

[UPDATE: Post about new restaurant opening on Thursday, November 4th, in the old Himalayan Kitchen space, is here: “Harissa Mediterranean Cuisine to open this Thursday.”]

Some sad news I accidentally ran across just this morning (on a site about data mining, of all places):

Last night, I visited my friend Sheila, owner of the Himalyan Kitchen [2255 NE 65th St] in Ravenna, Seattle. She told me the sad news that they were going to be closing the doors today (so we managed to have one final meal there).

The Ravenna Blog JUST got take-out from the establishment last Thursday, October 21, and saw no signs then that they would be closing.

We’ve got no official confirmation of the closure yet, but we’ll do some investigating today. Look for an update this afternoon.

As potential eulogy, I offer this review of the Himalayan Kitchen from the Seattle Weekly (August 9, 2010), and this excerpt from it, which really sums up the place for me:

With the monster portions they serve, it’s easy to find yourself sitting in The Himalayan Kitchen for a few hours picking away at your dish, which is totally fine. The restaurant is occupied mainly by families with kids darting between tables and fighting over the free lollipops, which gives the place a lively ambience. Servers treat you like family, telling you to save your rice pudding for last. Also, the background music was something lifted from the soundtrack of a spaghetti western, which is bad-ass. I mean, who wouldn’t want to feel like the High Plains Drifter munching on curry?