I'm not exactly sure that New York City was in desperate need of an Armenian/Lebanese restaurant, but this stateside opening of Almayass, a Beirut-based establishment with locations across the Middle East, is very exciting for at least three or four of us here.
At first glance, Almayass looks a lot like what you might expect a new Middle Eastern restaurant in Flatiron to look like. It's a nicely appointed room with white tablecloths and a vaguely Mediterranean looking tree hanging over a few of the tables. Small speakers in each corner play a strange mix of loungey hotel beats and what I believe to either be the Arabic version of Michael Buble, or music from the movie Aladdin. The staff is worldly, and while they don't all seem to hail from this specific region, everyone looks the part. Very few have two discernible eyebrows. Ultimately, if you've ever walked into an upscale Greek restaurant, you've seen this movie before.
What makes Almayass exciting though, is its unique brand of cuisine. Almayass not only focuses on traditional Lebanese food, but also Armenian food, because the two cultures are so tightly knit. There has been a large Armenian population in Lebanon for centuries, and the best things that both of these peoples eat are on display at this restaurant. For someone like me with ties to both cultures, this place is heaven. The problem though, is that I'm not sure that Almayass will be heaven for you if this food doesn't connect you with some version of home. It's a fairly formal and expensive restaurant, which means it's not the place to take a big group of friends who are just looking for some hummus and a falafel. Almayass is more of a [perfect_for slug ="dinner-with-the-parents"]Dinner With The Parents[/perfect_for] version of Tanoreen or Balade. And if your parents are Lebanese or Armenian, jack this rating up a full point. You'd be hard pressed to find a better restaurant for a family meal and some nostalgia on the table. Just don't tell grandma what you paid for some of the same stuff she cooks in her sleep.
This is an Armenian dish that usually consists of very thin layers of dough with cheese in the middle. Here it's more of an Armenian Hot Pocket. We liked the cheese inside, but this felt a little bit like a shortcut version.Kebbe Sajieh
Think of this as a ground beef meatball with pine nuts in it that's been fried. I've been eating kebbe like this all my life, and my Grandma's version owns this. They went too light on the allspice. We'd say skip this and do one of the other meat dishes - like the Soujuk Almayass instead.Mantee Spinach
Mantee is a small "boat shaped" Armenian pasta dish, and each boat is filled with spinach and then topped with a garlic yogurt sauce and baked. It's incredible. This is an absolute must order item.Chicken Kebab
Perfectly cooked chicken on a stick with garlic sauce on the side. I don't know what more you want from life, but you're asking too much.Ashta
A traditional Lebanese dessert that consists of a cheese that almost resembles what you might find in a ricotta cheesecake. The cheese curd sits atop a caramelized pastry, and is then topped with a sh*tload of pistachios and simple syrup. It's excellent, but it's also thick. Don't order it unless you're splitting it.
A must order, no matter what else you're eating. This is flavorful and perfect, and doused in excellent olive oil.