Lebanese restaurants aren't rare in this city, but they aren't especially common either—a shame for New Yorkers who'd rather pig out on eggplant and yogurt than foie gras and pork belly. Lebanese cuisine is Southern Mediterranean meets Middle Eastern, and can be as conservative or as exotic as you care for. At the newly opened, surprisingly fancy Almayass in the Flatiron, both routes are open to you. Want to stick to pita, hummus, and kebabs? No problem. Curious about quail egg-topped Lebanese salumi, beet root dips, or bulgur-studded tartar? They can make that happen.
This isn't the first incarnation of Almayass, a family business that now has restaurants in Beirut and Kuwait and franchises in Abu Dhabi and Qatar. The current owners, brother and sister team Varak and Alidz Alexandrian, have taken over the business from their parents. Their father, an Armenian transplant to Lebanon, began Almayass in Beirut as a Lebanese restaurant with Armenian influences, which includes the addition of chilies and a number of pasta- and pastry-based dishes like mantee (beef dumplings) and bureks. Their mother has decorated the Almayass restaurants since the beginning, and is responsible for sourcing may of the impressive pieces of art in the New York branch. all made by Lebanese artists.
Homestyle-but-dressed-up small plates are the main event here, which the menu divides into hot and cold sections—about 45 in all (there's a smaller entree section as well). Expect a wealth of dips to swipe up with thin Lebanese bread. Beyond several hummus variations you'll find mashed charred eggplant, mouhammara (walnut, roasted red pepper, and pomegranate molasses), and moutabbal Almayass ($9; pictured above), an Almayass original of puréed beets with lemon, tahini, and garlic.
Vegetable-forward dishes are plentiful, such as rice-stuffed eggplant topped with olive oil and yogurt ($9), stuffed grape leaves, pickles, and okra. But you'll also find plenty of grilled meat with sweet and sour pomegranate sauces, flaky pastries stuffed with cheese, meat, nuts, and vegetables, and Armenian classics like mantee ($15), which is baked in a ceramic dish and topped with a garlicky yogurt sauce. Harder to find cured meats also make appearances, like a spiced soujuk sausage and basterma, Armenian dried beef that tastes like Italian bresola.
The sophisticated but homey menu is priced surprisingly well for a restaurant this spacious and attractive (to say nothing of its Flatiron location). Expect Almayass to be popular with office lunchers looking for a taste of something different, including those who often have to drag along less adventurous eaters.