Almayass Restaurant may sound familiar to those of us who have lived in or been to Lebanon, reminding us of a place where cravings for Armenian and Middle Eastern food are met. Recently, the restaurant that specializes in Lebanese food with an Armenian twist came to New York City, and thousands of diners have since experienced a variety of unique flavor fusions in a sophisticated atmosphere. Owner Varak Alexandrian and his sister Alidz brought the restaurant to New York after opening four successful branches throughout the Middle East.
“New York is the heart of the world. If you do it here, you do it everywhere,” Alexandrian tells the Weekly (reminding me of Sinatra’s line, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”). Almayass is whimsically decorated with artisanal stained glass and wire sculptures throughout, and the dining area exudes a relaxed and sleek atmosphere where art meets fine dining. Not only is the decor artistic, but the cuisine is creative as well, melding together the flavors of traditional Lebanese and Armenian dishes. “The Armenian twist on Lebanese food gives us an advantage,” Alexandrian says. “We add a couple of new Armenian dishes to the menu every year by creating fusions.”
On the menu, mezze items are the main attraction, from sarma and moutabbal to soujouk and mante. Many of the dishes and flavors are reminiscent of dinners at grandma’s house; they’re certainly not far off. “The food is inspired by my mother and grandmother who love to cook, and so does my father,” admits Alexandrian. On the menu are even classic favorite drinks, like tan or arak. The home-style inspiration mixed with the modern fusion of their cuisine offers a unique take on some of our most loved dishes, making Almayass a restaurant worth visiting.
The opening of this restaurant in New York brings us to an important topic. Amidst the variety of Italian, Chinese, or Indian eateries available to us in the U.S., there are a handful of Mediterranean restaurants in the New York/New Jersey area that can satisfy our cravings for our Armenian favorites. Take Krichian Grill and Bistroin Paterson, N.J. After starting an Armenian grocery and deli in 1991, Anahid Krichian expanded to both a catering business and restaurant, which opened in 2010. Upon entering Krichian’s you are immediately engulfed by Armenian culture: Armenian music plays from the speakers throughout the dining area, framed paintings of Armenian landscapes adorn the walls, and Armenian TV is on in the corner of the room. “The atmosphere represents an Armenian home with a family feeling,” Krichian says. “My kitchen is open, which makes people comfortable.” The restaurant has become something of a gathering place. “It’s a place where people can meet and get together,” she says. The outdoor eating area is the perfect scene for such a gathering, complete with woven Armenian table clothes and plenty of flowers and outdoor lighting.
Krichian’s modest and humble demeanor hides her talent, but her food has become something of legend in the area. She began her career in the foodservice industry because of her own perceived lack of Armenian eateries that offered home-style, authentic dishes. “Everyone has their own favorites at the restaurant,” she says. “Some think I have the best hummus, others really like my kofte.” Krichian’s offers a wide variety of classic Middle Eastern dishes that are clearly prepared with care. From the juicy chicken kebab, to the savory shawarma, there is something for everyone here. The menu even boasts American dishes like a smoked salmon wrap, a popular choice among customers.
Recently, Anahid Krichian has begun preparing lunch for the children of the Hovnanian School in New Milford, N.J. The hungry kids now enjoy authentic Armenian lunches, including sarma and chicken kebab, four days a week. “I’ve heard that some kids go home and compare the lunches I prepare to the meals they get a home. I’ve become the standard for them now!” she adds, laughing. Krichian admits that she enjoys the catering aspect of her business the best. “There aren’t many Armenian-oriented caterers left and you often need one”
If you’re more interested in having a classic dish prepared with more restaurant-style flair, Zara Mediterranean Cuisine just outside of New York City, in Cliffside Park, N.J., might be what you’re looking for. Recently opened, the restaurant was named after the village of the owner’s father, in Sepastia. Masis Piric opened the restaurant as homage to his father, aiming to create a cozy, inviting atmosphere. “The menu has been evolving since we opened. People really seem to like our kebabs, so that’s what we’re focusing on now,” he says. Among the best dishes at Zara are the liver and Adana kebabs, but the shepherd’s salad is a must-try. “My kitchen is what separates me from the rest. No one has the same attention to detail that we do,” says Piric, who has taken traditional dishes and updated them with a fresher taste. The artistic details and decor of the dining room mimic the feeling of dining outdoors in a Mediterranean setting.
Although having a large, filling meal at a restaurant is great from time to time, there are also occasions when just a small portion of great food will suffice. That’s where Zar & Co. come in. Recently founded in December 2011, Arek Feredjian and his small group of bakers have set out to fill all of our homes with choreg–and not just during Easter. With memories of his grandmother in mind, Feredjian took her recipe and began crafting home-made choreg and selling it at the Ramsey, Nutley, and Tuxedo farmers markets. “The reason we got started was because I wanted to preserve the memories of my grandmother. The number of people who know how to make great choreg is starting to decrease. I don’t want it to be lost,” says Feredjian. He stresses the fact that his delicacies are created with all-natural products and no preservatives–just simple, wholesome ingredients. “I’m proud to say that what I bake doesn’t have a long shelf life. It’s made without anything artificial,” he says.
Perfectly balancing mehleb spice and sugar, Feredjian has mastered the art of choreg-making, but his creations don’t stop there. “We’ve expanded to classics like hummus and babaganush and we now sell spreads; peppered pomegranate is a good one.” His treats are also uniquely available online, to be shipped to your home or sent as a gift. “There’s something nostalgic about choreg to me,” he confesses. He is certainly on his way to making one of our most loved treats an everyday, wholesome staple.
24 21st Street
(between Broadway & Park Ave.)
New York, NY 10010
Krichian’s Grill and Bistro
399 Crooks Ave.
Paterson N.J. 07503
677 Palisade Ave.
Cliffside Park, NJ 07010
Zar & Co.