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2017-09-27 / Taste

Club Med

A Grecian gem gains a following in Midlothian
BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER


Falafel with hummus and tabouli. 
PHOTOS BY JENNY McQUEEN Falafel with hummus and tabouli. PHOTOS BY JENNY McQUEEN Working the kitchen at Nora Taste of Lebanon off Broad Street, Rasool Al Hasani always knew when his future wife – a waitress there – was ordering food for herself.

Whereas other employees usually included a crude or humorous message on the order ticket to convey to Rasool that the food was for themselves, Angie Al Hasani would write something encouraging. Rasool kept every note she sent, and eventually, they went on their first date. Six weeks later, they were married.

“I knew when I saw her that she would be my wife,” says Rasool, who moved to the United States from Iraq in 2013. “In my culture, we don’t have dates. If you like her, you marry her. There’s no guessing or gambling about that.”

A year ago, the Al Hasanis struck out on their own, opening Orexi Greek and Mediterranean Restaurant in Midlothian. Rasool works in the kitchen and Angie waits on guests. Located in Deer Run Shopping Center, the eatery was such an instant success, it overwhelmed them. During their first two nights of operation, they didn’t have a dishwasher and quickly ran out of clean plates. After posting a sign that they could only do takeout service for the remainder of both nights, they ran out of food.


Angie and Rasool Al Hasani opened Orexi in 2016. Angie and Rasool Al Hasani opened Orexi in 2016. Tasting their menu, it’s easy to see why. Generous portions of Greek and Mediterranean standards like baba ganoush, hummus and falafel receive a light, subtle seasoning. The spanakopita – a Greek savory pastry – is buttery, filled with Parmesan, feta and mozzarella.

Tabouli, a salad of finely chopped mint, parsley, tomato, onion and bulgur, is fresh, and finished with virgin olive oil imported from Lebanon. Their falafel, a deep-fried ball made from ground chickpeas, has a nutty, lemony taste and the fluffy consistency of a doughnut. Rasool says he always makes everything from scratch, using fresh produce and prime cuts of lamb and beef for menu items like souvlaki, a dish featuring small pieces of meat on a skewer.


An Orexi original, Fruit of Heaven is dates stuffed with walnuts and topped with tahini, coconut and hazelnut chocolate. An Orexi original, Fruit of Heaven is dates stuffed with walnuts and topped with tahini, coconut and hazelnut chocolate. Orexi doesn’t sell alcohol, but does offer homemade juices, such as numi – which is infused with dried limes, lemon and cardamom – and roselle, a hibiscus juice. Cardamom tea and Turkish coffee are also available, pairing well with Orexi’s desserts of the sweet, nut-filled pastry baklava, and Rasool’s own creation, Fruit of Heaven. The latter is three dried dates stuffed with walnuts and topped with tahini, coconut and hazelnut chocolate.

The origins of Greek food date back thousands of years, with the ancient Greek poet Archestratus said to have written the first ever cookbook in 320 B.C. Olive oil, wine and seafood have always factored heavily into Greek cooking, and the country’s cuisine evolved over time as it was influenced by other cultures it came in contact with. Mediterranean cuisine is a much broader label, incorporating the cultures of Greece and other countries around the Mediterranean basin, such as Lebanon, Turkey and Spain. Though the names of dishes and ingredients may differ from country to country, there is much overlap.

Many of the recipes served at Orexi come from Rasool’s grandmother’s kitchen. After his grandfather died, Rasool moved in with his grandmother at the age of 13, and she taught him how to cook. Angie, who grew up in Emporia, says she first realized Rasool had a crush on her because he was always making food for her at their restaurant job.

“I had never had this kind of food before I met my husband. Now I never go out [to eat]. I’ve been spoiled,” says Angie, who previously worked for the Department of Corrections and Capitol Police. “His food has so much flavor.” Prior to coming to the United States, Rasool owned three photography studios in Baghdad before the Iraq War closed two of them. He then started a money transfer service, and came to America to see if he could make something similar work. With family members still in Iraq and a brother fighting ISIS, keeping up with the news can be nerve wracking.

“It’s really frightening to watch anything on his newsfeed,” Angie says.

Since coming to the United States, Rasool’s English has steadily improved. He recently confessed that he only understood a fraction of what Angie said when they first met. Today, he regularly plays Angie’s grandmother in an online Scrabble-like game.

“He’s actually beat her a few times,” Angie says. ¦

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