522 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach; 561/865-5653; amardelray.com
After traveling the world working for prestigious companies such as Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Wynn Las Vegas and the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Nicolas Kurban returned to his Lebanese roots when he decided to open his own restaurant with his wife Susanna.
From the moment you walk in there is a feeling of family, a hidden gem that draws everyone in. The warmth of the wood-fired oven, mixed with the urban rustic decor and tantalizing aromas emanating from the kitchen, invites you to enter.
Amar is a quaint bistro in the middle of busy Atlantic Avenue serving Lebanese cuisine. But it’s not your typical hummus and pita joint. Kurban family recipes take center stage. Dishes his mother cooked for him after school in Lebanon are featured alongside Mediterranean favorites Kurban raised. Lebanese cuisine celebrates the camaraderie of sitting around a table to share a meal; so the plates here are made to be enjoyed in a group, with a wide choice of cold and hot mezes (or small dishes).
We started with the Lamb Hummus ($16); the tender, well-seasoned protein was a welcome addition to the creamy mashed chickpeas. I don’t know which was better, the hummus itself or the warm, puffy, straight out of the oven pitas we dipped in it. the Moudardara ($9), a lentil and rice dish, had a homey Latin feel, but the crunchy caramelized onions added an extra level to it. An unexpected favorite was the muhammara ($11), a creamy yet crunchy roasted red pepper and nut dip with a slight sweet finish. Growing up with Greek parents, I ate a lot of moussaka, so I was interested in trying the Lebanese moussaka ($12). The two biggest differences I saw were that this one didn’t have a creamy bechamel sauce and it was served cold. It’s topped with a slice of tomato under layers of eggplant, onion and chickpeas, all the flavors blending seamlessly into each bite.
For the main entries, we shared the Varied grills ($36), a wide variety of tender chicken, steak and kebab kafta (a mix of beef and lamb) with a side of almond rice. Garlic lovers will appreciate its powerful dip. I know I did. We also ordered the Sheikh El Mehchi ($29), a special dish from Kurban’s family history, a recipe from his mother that he now shares with all of us. Open roasted eggplant is stuffed with minced meat, baked with tomato sauce and topped with pine nuts.
Save room for dessert. Susanna makes them, and there’s something for everyone, from dark chocolate cake to baklava. If you like hot, cheesy goodness, order the Kanafeh for 2 ($18). I could probably eat it all myself, but I was sharing with the table. It is a semolina and melted cheese tart which is then dipped at the table in rose water and orange blossom syrup. Every bite is magical, believe me.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO:
CAR PARK: Street parking and garage along Atlantic Avenue
HOURS: Every day from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
PRICES: Appetizers $28-$36
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This restaurant review is from January 2022 issue of boca magazine. To learn more, click here to subscribe to the magazine.