When you order arak service at Zakia, a bottle is brought to you tableside on a golden cart—it’s an event, a presentation. “Would you like me to prepare this?” your server will ask before gently combining the spirit with cold water and ice, which is the traditional way to drink it. It’s a bit of a magic trick—the clear liquor turns a hazy white as soon as the other elements are added. This is because the essential oil of aniseed is soluble in alcohol but not in water.
Arak is an ancient Levantine spirit made with anise and grape brandy, enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean and a perfect complement to a Lebanese mezze spread. “The fennel, licorice flavor cleanses your palate throughout the mezze experience,” says Jonathan Akly, who opened Zakia in Buckhead late last year with his brother, Ryan. “It’s a love-hate relationship for people, but it goes with our cuisine.”
The Aklys say there’s an order to enjoying food with arak: Get cold dishes first, like hummus, baba ghanoush, and kibbeh nayyeh. Take a sip to cleanse the palate, then get the hot spread of kibbeh, spinach cheese rolls, and spice-roasted cauliflower. Sip a little more arak before moving to vibrant salads and entrees like kafta kebab and red wine–braised lamb shank. Then more arak, rinse, and repeat—you get the idea.
“Lebanese meals are meant to last for hours,” Jonathan Akly says. “A table will share a bottle of arak for a whole meal. We mix it in a ratio of one part arak, two parts water. But everybody has their own formula.”
This article appears in our June 2023 issue.