Agora: A Citadel of Warmth within the Icy Expanse


The frigid breeze of early December panged against my coat. The never-slowing calendar had finally arrived in the realm of winter, truly the most peculiar season of the year. The once welcoming evening sky had shifted to a dark and foreboding posture, devoid of all light except from the lone lunar candle. An umbral expanse has blanketed the landscape, bringing with it the universal misfortune of the cold. After trekking through the malicious air for what felt like weeks on end, I had finally arrived at the location the legends had told me of, Agora Mediterranean Restaurant in Tysons Corner. When I entered the door, tears came to my eyes from the realization that the stories I had heard were true: Agora was a citadel of warmth within the icy expanse of winter.

As I stepped foot into the temple of vivacity, I took a moment to absorb the atmosphere around me. The bright lights of the restaurant startled my eyes, which had become acquainted with the murky skies that draped the land outside. The restaurant was crowded, but not with guests. It was filled with employees rushing to get ready for the evening crowd as our reservation had been scheduled to start just as the restaurant opened for dinner, and we had arrived a few minutes early. After we had been seated, someone who I assumed to be the owner walked to our table. There was warmth in his expression as he began speaking to us, and he informed us that we would be provided with a free round of drinks due to any inconvenience that we may have endured from the slightly chaotic atmosphere we had entered into. His generosity surprised me, but I was glad to accept a diet Coke free of charge. While I hadn’t yet consumed any of the cuisine that Agora had to offer, I was already bestowed with a very positive outlook on their quality as a whole. We were soon provided with a menu and I began to ponder what to order.

Most of the food at Agora is served mezze-style in small plates which you are expected to get many of and share with a group. After analyzing the menu, I soon created a growing entourage of edible characters who were all vying for the spotlight of my palette. As I listed off the chapters in my epic poem of foodstuffs to the waitstaff, I began to grow a bit anxious over the amount of food I was ordering. I didn’t necessarily know why, but anxiety can be mysterious in that way. 

The first plate served was the Dolmades, a dish made from a grape leaf which is wrapped around a filling, which in this case was made out of rice, tomatoes, and parsley. The refreshing flavors were a great start to the meal and made me feel like it was the dawn of summer and not the dead of winter. After I tasted the Dolmades, however, I began to notice that more of our dishes were arriving at an alarming speed and our table soon became crowded with an assortment of plates. I hurried over to the Borek, a dish similar to spanakopita, and was welcomed with a warm embrace of feta and crackling pastry, but that brief moment of bliss was soon interrupted by a raging fire as the Saganaki, a fried cheese, was brought to our table on a blazing skillet. As I rushed to try the new item as it was placed upon the table, I came to a horrifying revelation: I was completely surrounded by beautiful plates of food. While I understand that to many, there would be no obvious problems with this predicament, my anxiety turned this situation into my own personal purgatory. This was due to the fact that I was eating with other people, but I was also determined to write this review—I ended up having to repeatedly partake in the incredibly embarrassing act of preventing everyone from digging in to the delicious mezze, as well as taking a picture of every single plate and making sure that I get a bite of each and every item with enough time to write down notes on them. 

This miniature crisis, which I had blown way out of proportion in my mind, forced me into an anxiety-ridden spiral, and the only refuge from which was found in the truly delightful food. When I sliced through the Saganaki with the side of my fork, a piping hot and decadently gooey truth was revealed to me. As I ate it, an oily and immensely rich flavor coated my tongue. It was an intensely fatty flavor, but that was to be expected from something that is literally fried cheese. I then brought my attention towards the Grilled Octopus, a dish I was a bit less familiar with. As I bit into it, I was hit with a suplex of spice followed by a deep smoky flavor. However, through the thick smoke I was still able to spot the delicate flavor of the octopus itself. 

The next menu item on the chopping block was the Lamb Chops, which was really just a high quality piece of meat cooked well. As I sunk my teeth into chop, my emotions began to calm, the hectic visions that had overrun my mind began to surrender as the forces of panic dissipated. Once peace was declared in the battlefield of my brain, I decided to try the Mücver, a zucchini based appetizer. While I typically am not a fan of zucchini, I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the subtle flavors of the dish which came together quite nicely in my esophagus.

Photograph by Ash V.

After that surprise, I decided to try something a bit more familiar to me, the Lahmacun, a type of flatbread topped with ground meats. Growing up Armenian, I had tried many of these before, however, they were typically of the reheated frozen variety. This circumstance caused me to be intrigued to see how a version made fresh would taste. When bitten into, the Lahmacun responded with a toasty snap and, when processed by my taste buds, responded with the emmination of a strong savory zest. It was admittedly better than the frozen kind, which I already really loved. 

After my nostalgia-inducing experience with the Lahmacun, I decided to put my focus on the Ottoman Rice. The dish contained a bed of fried rice with fillings of nuts, crispy shallots, and other such delights. As I processed my first spoonful, the nuttiness came in full force, but it was foreshadowed by an unexpected yet welcome sweetness that accompanied it well. I then shifted gears to the penultimate dish in my meal, the Kibbeh, a dish made out of fried ground beef and lamb. When consumed, it revealed itself to be a fatty nutty treat, something always welcome at my table. 

However, once I finished the Kibbeh, an ominous, unavoidable truth lay before me, the final dish in my quest would be the most intensive. The Spread Sampler, six different spreads, all with completely different palettes, the consumption of which would be my final mission, stood before my mortal soul. With a pita in one hand and pure determination in the other, I braved the deepest darkest cave with no certainty of ever returning to the surface. The first spread in my gauntlet was also the most tame, the Hummus, a classic spread done well, with a smooth texture that elevated the flavor of the chickpeas. The Htipiti brought a similarly smooth texture but with an additional hit of spice that really heightened the depth of flavor. There were also two yogurt based spreads. The Labneh had a semi-addictive garlicky flavor while the Cucik was more subtle with hints of cucumber and mint. The Baba Ghanouj was met with a surprisingly warm reaction from someone like myself who tends to avoid anything containing eggplant, and with that done, there was only one spread left for me to try, the Taramosalata. Now, I was initially taken aback by the concept of the Taramosalata, as the main ingredient is a mousse made of cod, which seemed a bit odd to me at first, but once I tasted it, its rich flavor soon made it my favorite spread of the bunch. 

Now that I have finished recounting every plate that had been served to me, one might expect me to finish this review here; however, one must never forget to save room for dessert. The first dessert we were served was the Quince Carpaccio with Lemon Curd, a lovingly spiced and candied fruit topped with a perfectly tart curd. The next dish was something I had been entirely unfamiliar with before I entered the building, it was a dessert called Kazandibi. Kazandibi is a type of Turkish caramelized milk pudding with a surprisingly bouncy texture that shocked me with its incredibly unfamiliar design despite its familiar flavor. The final dessert that was served to us was the Isparta Rose Ice Cream, a creamy, but not rich, scoop with a strong, but not overpowering, flavor of rosewater.

I had finally finished my righteous quest of culinary discovery, but before I can finish this review, I must first provide readers like you with a definitive rating of the restaurant as a whole. The first criteria in my rating system is Taste, and from my never-ending soliloquies on the wondrous flavors found at this establishment, you’d be right to assume that Agora scores a 5/5 in that category. The second criteria is Vibe, and with its quick service and charming architectural design, Agora is able to once again score a 5/5. The final criteria of my rating system, Affordability, is where Agora begins to fall off, as, while any individual plate is not particularly expensive, you are actively expected to order multiple dishes due to their small size. This means that I will have to give Agora a 2/5 for this final criteria, giving it a final score of a very respectable 12/15. I highly recommend that anyone who is willing to accept the higher price tag come visit Agora and try out the wondrous culinary expedition for themselves.