522 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach; 561/865-5653; amardelray.com
After traveling the world to work for distinguished companies like Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Wynn Las Vegas and the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Nicolas Kurban went back to his Lebanese roots when he decided to open his own restaurant with his wife Susanna.
From the moment you step inside, there’s a familial feeling, a hidden gem that everyone is drawn to. The wood-burning oven’s warmth, mixed with the urban rustic décor and mouth-watering aromas emanating from the kitchen, invite you in.
Amar is a quaint bistro amid buzzy Atlantic Avenue that serves Lebanese food. But this isn’t your typical hummus-and-pita joint. Kurban’s family recipes take center stage. Dishes his mother would make for him to enjoy after school in Lebanon are featured alongside Mediterranean favorites that Kurban has elevated. Lebanese food celebrates the camaraderie of sitting around a table to share a meal; thus plates here are made to be enjoyed as a group, with a wide selection of cold and hot mezze (or small dishes).
We started with the Hummus with Lamb ($16); the tender and well-seasoned protein was a welcome addition to the creamy chickpea puree. I’m not sure what was better, the hummus itself or the warm, puffy, straight-out-of-the-oven pitas that we dunked into it. The Moudardara ($9), a dish of lentils and rice, had a homey Latin feel, but the caramelized crunchy onions added an extra level to it. An unexpected favorite was the Muhammara ($11), a roasted red pepper and walnut dip that was both creamy and crunchy with a slight, sweet finish. Growing up with Greek relatives, I ate a lot of moussaka, so I was interested to try the Lebanese Moussaka ($12). The two biggest differences I saw were that this one didn’t have a creamy béchamel sauce, and it was served cold. It’s topped with a slice of tomato under layers of eggplant, onion and chickpeas, with all the flavors perfectly merging in each bite.
For main entrées we shared the Mixed Grill ($36), a sizable variety of tender chicken, steak and kafta kebab (a mixture of beef and lamb) with a side of almond rice. Garlic lovers will enjoy its potent dipping sauce. 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’s now sharing with all of us. The openface 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 warm, cheesy goodness, order the Kanafeh for 2 ($18). I could probably eat it all myself, but I shared with the table. It’s a semolina and melted cheese tart that’s then drenched at the table in rosewater and orange blossom syrup. Every bite is magical, trust me.
IF YOU GO:
PARKING: Street and garage parking along Atlantic Avenue
HOURS: Daily 5–10 p.m.
PRICES: Entrees $28-$36