Almayass: Good but not Amazing Armenian-Lebanese food

Almayass is a relatively new Armenian-Lebanese restaurant in Gramercy / Flat-iron district in NYC – it opened in Spring 2012.   It is owned by a brother-sister duo (Varak and Alidz Alexandrian) with other family members contributing to the menu design and the decor.  Many reviews that I read were favorable including this one from the NY Times that said that if one sticks to the small plates one will have a good experience.   The same review also indicated many vegetarian dishes among its recommendations.  Now, isn’t that great?

I was very excited to be going there for dinner with a group of friends, and had inadvertently assumed that none of them would have been there already.  When I wrote to my friends that we had dinner reservations there, and one of them said that she had been there, and that the food is “good, but not amazing”, but that she did not mind going back.  This statement from my friend made me all the more keen to head there for dinner to form my opinion.  Little did I know how accurate her summary was until I ate there.

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Almayass has two entrances next to each other – one leads to the bar and one to the restaurant and they are both connected inside.  The restaurant entrance quotes this from Bernard Shaw “There is no sincerer love than the love of food”.  When one reads such a quote, one expects that the food served at the restaurant will be great (or is just I who thinks so?)

Overall, the decor is very cool and elegant.  See picture of the curtain of colorful artisanal glass pieces at the entrance to the restaurant.

The wall decor on the walls along the restroom are very elegant, and very Armenian like (or so they seemed to me) – but I forgot to click pictures to post here, sorry 😦

Our first server asked us “are you folks familiar with the concept of Armenian-Lebanese dining”?  We weren’t sure, and did not want to presume that we knew anything specific about Armenian-Lebanese cuisine, and so decided to let him educate us.  He went on say that “everything is family style, meant for sharing”, and he gave us a few minutes to review the menu and order drinks.  We were waiting for him to leave our table, so we could talk about how annoying the question was, especially when the response was hardly specific to Armenian-Lebanese cuisine (Many Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian restaurants have family style portions meant for sharing). I was reminded of this post by Kelly Dobkin of Zagat where she writes about 8 most annoying questions asked in restaurants.  I was to have shared this post with them soon as we finished dinner, but better late than never and if I post it here, you get to read it too.  Our server’s question was closest to question 3 in Kelly’s list.

Food:

Back to our food now.  We ordered many vegetarian and some vegan dishes.

  • While we were waiting for our food, the bread arrived in a very cute basket and a spicy dip.  The bread was thin, almost wafer-like – not like a Pita at all (which is what I expected, for no logical reason), and closer to a roomali roti.  The dip was OK.
  • We ordered some cold and some hot dishes – mostly appetizers.
    • The cold items we ordered seem to be vegan from their descriptions, but I did not check or confirm if these were in fact vegan.  We ate the following:
      • Sarma (grape leaves with rice and vegetables, but sounds like an Indian last name) – This dish was tasty.
      • Hummous Almayass (with “special” Almayass sauce) – The “special” sauce is made from a combination of sumac and za’atar from what I remember.  This was good hummus, but nothing fantastic.
      • Mouhammara (spicy spread made with crushed walnuts, redpepper paste, and pomegranate molasses) – Yhis dish was topped with pine nuts.  It tasted more sweet than spicy,and I did not particularly care for this dish.
      • All the above dishes seem to be vegan, but I did not check with the restaurant if these were, in fact, vegan.  None of these dishes were spectacular, as you can probably tell from the limited description here.
    • The hot items we ordered were:
      • Hot Fetta (oven baked feta cheese with onions,tomato, oregano, and spicy green peppers) – I loved this dish in small doses.  I am always a fan of Feta cheese, but this was too salty for me to have more than a couple of dips with the toasted bread slices served with the cheese.
      • Spicy potato (fried cubes of potato sauteed with fresh garlic and parsley) –  This dish is like patatas bravas that one would get at any tapas place, but with parsley, and with little to no salt.  I was able to eat this dish after I added some salt, but the rest of the table did not bother doing so and most of this dish was left untouched.
      • Falafel – The spiced, fried balls of ground garbanzo were not adequately salted,  felt too dry even with the tahini served by the side, but were not too bad. Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and some lettuce leaves were served at room temperature on the side as well and served as a good salad.
      • Spicy olive salad (pitted green olives with tomato sauce, spicy paste and fresh lemon dressing) – This was served in a very small bowl and that was fine, because the green olives were bitter and astringent, the spicy paste a little too spicy.  Perhaps more lemon juice and salt would have made this salad more palatable.
      • Ferri (sauteed quail in fresh lemon, garlic and red pepper) – This dish was a huge disappointment.  While the quail was warm when it arrived, it was dry, bland, flavorless,and lacked salt.    Need I say more? Sorry, I forgot to get pictures of this dish.

We didn’t think we ordered too much for four of us, but most dishes had left overs.  We took a while to realize that the server(s) assumed that we were having a good time enjoying the dishes and our conversation.  While we enjoyed some dishes and our conversation, we were really done with the food.  Eventually, our dishes were cleared and the dessert menu was presented.   We wanted to try at least two dishes for dessert and ordered the Ashta el Saraya (caramelized pastry topped with ashta and pistachios), and the Ossmalieh Almayass (golden crispy sweet vermicelli, filled with ashta and topped with floss halva).  It took more than 45 minutes between the time we asked for the dessert menu and the time the desserts were  brought to our table.  How is that for service?

  • Ashta el Saraya – The caramelized pastry was crumbly and sweet and the crushed unsalted pistachio topping was great.  The ashta must be an acquired taste – it was creamy and thick alright, but had no other flavor.  One would expect a dessert to be sweet, right?
  • Ossmalieh Almayass – This was served with a sweet (simple?) syrup. Addition of the syrup to this dish more than made up for the not-sweet Ashta el Saraya.   This dish without the ashta is closest to the South Indian Peni (or payni?).  For a simple and modified Peni recipe, see this post that utilizes shredded phyllo dough from Mediterranean stores.  I just came across this blog and do not endorse it in any way, but found this recipe there.

Overall, Almayass has great decor, good but not amazing food, a wide range of vegetarian and a smaller range of vegan options, but not-so-great service (based on my single experience there).  I am not going back there, even though its very cool that its the only Armenian-Lebanese restaurant in NYC

If you want to enjoy Lebanese food in Manhattan, got to Ilili and you will enjoy delicious food (not just vegetarian) and especially their Sumac Margarita.  Apparently, most Armenian restaurants have moved out of Manhattan to LA per the NY Times post cited at the top of this post.

More about Almayass:

  • Reviews:  Please see here, here, and here.
  • Other outposts of Almayass are in Kuwait, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar

Almayass on Urbanspoon

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2 comments

  1. sheila0911 · · Reply

    An accurate and fair assessment! As one of the diners with Vidya that night, I can attest to her review of the dishes and service. We went in with an open mind (for me, it was a second visit and I worked hard to give the place another chance). Vidya’s pictures and descriptions very nicely capture our excitement about some of the dishes and also disappointment with many of the others.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Sheila, for your feedback. Loved the company that evening!

      Like

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