Lebanese, Armenian & Fun…Oh My

Al Mayass

Scene: Somewhere in the middle east. Hotel dining room for homesick ex pats and per diem’d journalists. Bright pastel clad service staff charge about trying to keep up. Accents abound, though very few are from the region.

But now, live from New York is this same luxe version of Lebanese/Armenian food hailing from its established roots in Beirut and Kuwait. Al Mayass NYC is finally here! Still feels like a pretty but carefully constructed hotel dining room. And when I consider last night’s dinner, I think of a neutral background with blasts of intense color. That goes for the decor and the food. Dishes seem simple, unadorned and then a pop of color, of taste, of za za zing clues you in to the layers of thought and preparation.

It’s rather lovely even if not quite ready for primetime. A few more served meals will benefit all. The night we were there involved a variety of kitchen mishaps and an eager staff with all ultimately solved by an incredibly generous manager in the true spirit of customer consideration and hospitality. A rarely seen combination.

The menu is extensive and I look forward to trying every hot and cold mezze eventually. It’s like a sacred book when presented to you at the table. Enticing.

We shared a few bottles of an Alsatian Pinot Gris, any gaffes were softened and then forgotten. What’s divinely memorable are 85% of the dishes. A zillion variations of hummus so we took the waiter’s recommend of the house version – hummus a la almayass. Absolutely fabulous and given my chickpea snobbery, that praise doesn’t come lightly. Spicy but as not to overwhelm, just to titillate.

A generic bread basket sits atop a colorful Persian crown and is filled with the lightest, fluffiest pita as well as crisps that were devoured before chosen accompaniments arrived – the peppery olive oil made an excellent foil.

Fatoush salad was incredibly fresh, tangy and textured with those favored crisps now appearing as a velvety crunch among the greens and tomatoes.

Mantee Spinach was pleasant enough, surprising texture provided by baked, boat shaped ravioli filled with seasoned spinach. They’re bathed in a creamy garlic yogurt sauce topped with red pepper. We mistakenly received the lamb version first and our table strongly preferred the spinach version.

It’s a middle eastern meatopia here. You can have it on a kebab, as kefti, grilled, shredded, and sided with one of several rosy looking spicy or sweet dips. Perfectly charbroiled lamb made up for lackluster seafood. Those were better for the condiments that came with. Samkah Harra, an appetizer of red snapper filet served with a sesame paste, cilantro, garlic sauce was a bit dry sans paste. The grilled prawns were on the chewy side but I requested a little Muhammara on the side and used it as a prawn condiment. That was superb. The brightness of crushed walnuts, red pepper paste and pomegranate molasses could perk up any lesser plate.

Persian desserts are enchanting. Honey, sesame, pistachio and rose combined become exotic. Complex, beguiling – no homey chocolate or vanilla here. We had a sampler of rice puddings – with rosewater, with cinnamon, with cream upon cream, a piece of turkish delight that was fine but didn’t hold a candle to the fantastically light and rich halvah.

The ashta custard was good, served with the above honey and rose syrup, but the outstanding jewel in this crown was something that a dining companion referred to as fairy food. And indeed – that is one apt description. I think it’s called Osmalich Almayass. It’s “golden crisp sweet vermicelli filled with ashta, topped with traditional floss halva” and strands of white cotton candy. Gossamer wings melting in your mouth.

There’s a sister lounge two doors down from the restaurant, a perfect place to partake in drinks and small plates if a full dinner isn’t the thing.

Rounding out the gastronomic pops of taste and color are scattered vessels filled with brightly hued hard candy balls. Maybe it’s a Persian grandma thing! In any case, it’s a sweet thought, a little unusual and rather compelling. Much like the whole experience.

Al Mayass
24 East 21st Street between Broadway/Park Avenue


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