Tonight we wanted to eat somewhere well-situated to experience Montrealhenge. Damas came up because it is perfectly-located at the intersection of Park and Fairmont (although this did not matter in the end due to the cloudy skies). Also, we've been wanting to try this place for a while now. A word of warning: this review will be VERY biased, since we are both Syrian!
The interior is well thought-out; they managed to make it very oriental without it being tacky or too “ethnic”. We did enjoy the suspended brass lights and “diwans” along the walls. This might be the only Middle Eastern place in town that manages to introduce a certain level of sophistication with their overall setting.
Damas offers traditional Syrian dishes while introducing new elements. For starters, you will find hot & cold mezzés, a couple of salads and soups. Then you will find the token “grillades” that pretty much every Arabic restaurant in town offers, and finally the authentic dishes that Syrians would call “home” food. The focus isn't on one particular region, as in some other Syrian restaurants. Rather it spans all of Syria with dishes from Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, and the coastal cities. We generally thought the main dishes were a little overpriced and could be better purposed and priced.
This is by no means an “authentic” fattouch, but it certainly is a tasty one. Thin ribbons of romaine lettuce (as opposed to purslane), small diced red peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and thinly sliced radishes all dressed in a vinaigrette containing sumac that gives a delicate sweet & sour kick.
You get to choose three cold appetizers; we went with the Kibbé Nayyé (or literally, raw kibbé: a spiced beef and bulgur tartar), Mouhammara (a paste of roasted red peppers and walnuts) and Beet Mutabbal (roasted beets pureed with tahini paste). We have to say this is the first place in town we found that actually serves well-made, very authentic appetizers of the sort. Great flavors, great execution.
Another type of kibbé, this time made by stuffing a shell made of beef and bulgur with sautéed minced lamb, onions and pine nuts. The kibbé is then fried and braised with slices of quince in a tomato-pomegranate-molasses sauce. Two kibbés were served alongside a slow roasted lamb shank. The kibbé was good, but the sauce didn't really do it for us. And given the high price point of the dish, we thought it would be better served as a starter with more, smaller kibbés and no shank.
Layered dish with yogurt-tomato-pomegranate sauce, fried pita, fried makdous (small eggplants) stuffed with lamb, pistachios and pine nuts. The flavours were definitely there. Again, it reminded us of the same dish served at a home in Syria. While not necessarily a bad thing, we thought there wasn't enough eggplant to stand up to the other flavours. Awesome flavour, could use better presentation.
Cheese and semolina rolls stuffed with cream, covered in orange blossom syrup, topped with pistachios. The city of Homs is known to have the best Halawet el-Jebn in Syria. This one does not come close to compare to that of Homs. It was a little hard and the cream didn't have much flavour, probably because it was not fresh and had been sitting in the fridge for a while. We thought they could have let it warm up a tad bit longer.
The service at our table was just good; the waiting times were acceptable and our waiter checked on us repeatedly. However, near the end of the night, we thought there was some lack of professionalism at the bar area (right next to where we were seated), when the staff had a lady friend over and they were all chit-chatting, surfing the web on a laptop and watching a game on TV. This wouldn't have bothered us normally (we are Arabs after all), but you would expect better considering the price point and setting they are trying to achieve.
All-in-all, we enjoyed the food at Damas tonight, and it brings us pride as Syrians after seeing the rave reviews it got in the media and on blogs. Hopefully Montrealers will now know how Syrian cuisine really differs from its more common Lebanese counterpart. The restaurant still needs to work a bit on its service, but we will definitely be back.
tagged: DESERVES A RETRY
Price per person: $41.50
"I absolutely love Damas and especially the fattet!!!"
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.