Two Jews and a Lebanese walk into a Syrian restaurant (thanks to Lori for that starter sentence!) … and yes that story ends with the usual fireworks but they’re happy fireworks this time, I promise!
I had dinner at Damas Restaurant for the second time a few days ago and I was just as blown away as I was the first time around. Stepping into the restaurant feels like stepping onto a one thousand and one night fable. The decor has middle eastern arabesque touches everywhere but it’s done with moderation so that it still feels contemporary and not over the top.
You know how pasta pomodoro is the one dish that you order in an Italian restaurant that will tell you just how good the restaurant is? Well in a Lebanese or Syrian restaurant, hummus is usually that barometer that will allow you to decide on the quality of the food. For me personally though, the fattoush salad is really important as well. It is my favourite salad in the world and if it’s not done right in a restaurant, then unfortunately that restaurant will not be well rated in my book. Nothing to worry about when it comes to Damas and their hummus or fattoush! The hummus we ordered was not the classic but the one with meat, roasted garlic, pine nuts and pistachios and it was absolutely scrumptious! The chickpea and tahini purée was smooth and well seasoned, the meat was spicy and the nuts added a little richness to the dish. Every pita bread scoop of this hummus was just delicious and the fact that the plate was empty in mere minutes is a testament to its deliciousness. The first time I went to Damas, I fell in love with the fattoush. This second time only confirmed my undying loyalty to this perfectly seasoned salad with its specks of ruby-coloured pomegranate seeds on top. The dressing is absolute perfection and so well balanced. I could eat this everyday and I would never be bored!
One absolute must-have dish at Damas is the kibbé nayyé with muhamarra. Kibbé nayyé is the middle eastern equivalent of beef tartare. The extremely smooth beef is mixed with spices, herbs and bulgur (cracked wheat) and is eaten in pita bread with raw onions, fresh mint and olive oil. It is absolutely essential to have all these ingredients in every bite otherwise it just won’t taste its best. At Damas, one more ingredient is added to the mix: the quintessential Aleppine (from Aleppo, Syria) spread muhamarra. It’s a spread made of peppers, nuts, pomegranate molasses and spices (including the famous Aleppo pepper) and it is absolutely divine! It’s sweet, spicy, tart and salty (hello umami?) and is the perfect accompaniment to the kebbeh nayyé. I don’t know how I will ever go back to eating kebbeh nayyé the Lebanese way, sans muhamarra!
The main meals at Damas include the usual grilled meats but also a large selection of typical dishes, including a few fatté, a favourite dish of mine consisting of layers of yogurt tahini sauce topped with fried pita and nuts that can include either chickpeas, eggplants, chicken or meat. My plate of filet mignon with eggplant purée and spicy sauce had a slight Jackson Pollock feel to it but tasted delicious. The meat was a bit too overcooked for my taste (the fact that the waiter didn’t even ask me for my cooking preference was a bit disconcerting) but it still managed to wow with the spicy sauce and drizzle of pomegranate molasses.
Of course one cannot end a middle eastern meal without sweet mint tea, thick Turkish coffee and a few Arabic desserts. The halawet el jebn – cheese and semolina rolls stuffed with cream and drizzled with orange blossom syrup and pistachios – is an absolute favourite of mine and one that I don’t get to eat very often here in Montreal. I was very happy to see some on the table and although they don’t taste quite as good as the ones back home, they still managed to bring a nostalgic smile to my face.
5210 Parc Avenue
514 439 5435
Sunday–Thursday 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Friday-Saturday 5:00pm – 11:00pm