A look inside the owner of Compass Rose + Maydan’s new cocktail bar in Northwest.
Couples and friends gather around small tables and on woven poufs in a warm, dim glow. Panels of gem-toned fabrics loop in half-moons across the ceiling, the stage set like a Bedouin tent. One might expect to encounter such a scene in an ancient city halfway across the world, not hidden in an alley in Washington, D.C. Far from the culture, food and people that have inspired its creation, Compass Rose and Maydan Owner Rose Previte describes the impetus behind the newest in her growing family of award-winning dining establishments: Medina.
“Maydan is inspired by Moroccan fare, but is much more about the Levant, because I’m Lebanese American,” Previte says of her award-winning restaurant just across the alley on Florida Avenue from Medina. “Here, we wanted to get a little bit more into the flavors of North Africa in the drinks and the food.”
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Those familiar with the region’s culture may know that a “medina” (pronounced “muh-dee-nuh”) is the Arabic word for city. Many of these ancient cities are now surrounded by newer ones, as colonialism drove forced separation. The medina thus became a place of gathering and trade for those under occupation in their own homelands.
“For the people who lived there, the medina, the center, was a place for them to take refuge, and [retain their culture], a place to feel safe because they were originally walled,” Previte says. “And so that’s what we want you to feel when you come here.”
Medina is, in some ways, Maydan’s “little sister.” With Maydan as the central square and Medina tucked beside it, the sisters speak to each other in the same tongue, with the essence of bringing people together around food and commerce…
… and cocktails. Previte says Medina was meant to be very cocktail-forward in a fun rather than pretentious way and it shows. Beverage Director Drew Hairston’s cocktail list is creative yet comfortable. The Fourth Regiment (Rittenhouse rye, sweet vermouth, celery bitters, Peychaud’s, orange bitters) offers delightful brightness not typical of a classic Manhattan, and the The Daucus (El Dorado, medjool dates, calvados, apricot, peach, carrot-ginger ice) tasted wonderfully like drinking a ginger-laced carrot cake. Mezcal features prominently in several others, you can order martini service for two, and of course, there’s the trendy espresso martini, laced with cardamom to stay on theme.
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And while cocktails are designed to be the stars of the show at Medina, the food is also standout. Aromatic, warm and all meant to be shared, the lamb, chicken and vegetable tagines are a palate’s delight, and the brik a l’oeuf is a Maydan fan favorite.
Previte, of course, is a revered veteran among D.C. hospitality leaders, one of the intrepid entrepreneurs (many of them women-identifying) who have put our fair capital on the map as a food and beverage destination. Like others of her ilk, she has come up with the city during a time of tremendous change, not an insignificant amount of which pre-dates the Covid-19 pandemic.
Still, she says, there’s nothing quite like what we are all still navigating today. But her compass certainly seems to be on point. Named the 2023 Restaurateur of the Year by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, Previte celebrates the release of her Maydan cookbook in the same month as opening Medina, and has recently announced the plans for a massive culinary compound in Los Angeles — her half-time West Coast home.
“This is a lifestyle, not a job. And when you’re part of it, you don’t know any other way.”
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