Al Mayass is synonymous with Lebanese-Armenian cuisine and has in fact gained quite a sizable following in Beirut. Its Kuwaiti sister, one of numerous offshoots across the Middle East, is located in an inconspicuous corner in the Shik Resort, right next to Movenpick Hotel in Bida’a.
We arrive on a dusty evening, famished and eager to get away from the billowing sandstorm outside. It’s warm, inviting entrance was the exact remedy we needed. Looking in from the street, Al Mayass resembles an upmarket restaurant. Inside the red and white themed restaurant, there are certainly opulent touches, with intricately carved furniture, complete with starched white linen table cloths. Within its dim confines, warm incandescent set aglow diners, enjoying a tête-à-tête over cups of warm tea.
We all filed in eagerly and sat at a table right by one of its floor-to-ceiling windows. Immediately, one of several staff members bustling around rushed forward with hearty welcomes.
Our family-style meal began with the Sausage Hummus, Eggplant Musaka, Armenian salad, stuffed vine leaves, as well as the batataharra. The smooth creamy sausage hummus was of a luscious mousse-like consistency interspersed by chunks of juicy sausages. The eggplant Musaka on the other hand, was of a tender jelly-like quality, having been simmered on low heat for a long time.
The SalataArmaniye (Armenian Salad), a combination of cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, tossed with wesson oil and a squeeze of lemons was light and incredibly refreshing on a hot summer evening.
Their stuffed vine leaves, too, were especially memorable. The usual vine leaves we’ve had in other restaurants usually reek too strongly of acid, over-powering any flavors within. But the ones here were sweet, with subtle hints of lemon, an interplay which worked very well for me. However, most well-loved at our table, was the batataharra. It disappeared so quickly that we had to call for seconds.
To be honest, we were already stuffed to the brim by the time our mains arrived. But the fore-knowledge about their legendary grilled lamb with cherry sauce (kebab karaz) made us determined to push on. With such high hopes, we were a little cautious that we’d be disappointed. But that wasn’t the case. The grilled lamb was well-seasoned, fired to perfection and went surprisingly well with the sweet wild cherry sauce.
Mid-way through our main course, two of my dining mates broke into a friendly banter about how the kebab karaz was made. The maitre d' was able to clear our doubts by running through the steps required to make the dish. We were truly impressed, not just with the tender loving care that was dedicated to its making, but even more by a front-line staff’s knowledge of cooking.
In fact, the following series of mains, including the shish taouk and the chicken liver casserole were an invigorating show of one-upmanship over the other. In any case, we barely restrained ourselves from licking our plates.
After clearing away our jarringly empty dishes, our waiter looked at us and said “Please save room for desserts.” “They are very good.” He added as an afterthought.
We heeded his words and went for his recommendation of AyamZaman and Rose Ice Cream. The Rose Ice Cream was an artful display of exquisite workmanship, topped with two sugar-coated rose petals. For me though, the AyamZaman clearly stole the show: two generous scoops of uniquely-flavored ice-cream clapped between crispy wafers. The two ice creams together were a clever juxtaposition of sweet and savory, the sesame complementing the sweet molasses-flavored ice-cream. Indeed, a great way to round up an exceptional meal.
Al Mayass has truly lived up to its international fame. Teamed with top-notch service and a kitchen-full of exceedingly talented staff, Al Mayass turned our otherwise dreary day, into one that was full of marvel.