A New Restaurant Brings Middle Eastern Flavors to the South End

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BOSTON — The South End in the past couple of decades has become a destination for fine dining. A new addition to the list of restaurants there will be Nina and Raffi Festekjian’s anoush’ella saj kitchen, launched by this month.

The “fine casual” restaurant, the name of which literally means “may it be sweet,” is located at 53 West Newton St. and offers traditional Lebanese foods.

The space is large and airy, with a long communal table as well as many other smaller tables and cozy nooks. The large table is covered with glass, under which there are spaces filled with many of the Middle Eastern spices that will be used in the recipes, such as za’atar and cardamom, explained Nina Festekjian.

Some of the food that will be welcomed by those from the Middle East or simply fans of food from the region includes sabich, a sandwich with hardboiled eggs and grilled eggplants, as well as shakshukah, eggs in a rich garlicky tomato sauce.

The centerpiece of the restaurant is the saj, a convex griddle for making Lebanese flat bread, manoush. That bread then is transformed into various yummy concoctions such as manaish (olive oil and za’atar) or lahme jun (meat and tomato sauce).

There is also a lounge seating area, complete with Middle Eastern rugs. The flooring aims to reproduce the cobble stone look of old streets and a small wagon will showcase some of the items on sale.

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The space is cozy and welcoming while embracing much of the current industrial-chic aesthetic. The restaurant has an upscale interior, with a focus on the saj.

Another feature will be a labne bar, featuring various mix-ins with the thick yogurt (technically cheese).

Nina Festekjian designed the space, noting that being an interior designer, she welcomed the challenge.

“I had a vision of my own space open for the public, with food and drinks, crafted from scratch, and a more personal touch and available for people to experience,” she said.

The walls will have some paintings available for sale. In addition, there will be spices and olive oil — primary ingredients for the food there — on sale.

She said that another special touch will be a custom-designed light fixture which has elements of a khatchkar or Armenian cross stone. It is a creation based on photographs by Hrair “Hawk” Khatcherian.

Topics: Food, Restaurants

The restaurant, which can seat 60, will offer beer and wine, and in a modern twist, offer wine on tap.

According to Raffi Festekjian, wine on tap is gaining in popularity.The restaurant will offer daily lunch and dinner as well as brunch on weekends and later offer breakfast was well. The cost is expected to average about $15 per customer, without an alcoholic beverage.

Nina Festekjian stressed that all the food will be made on site, and will be essentially homemade, with no ready-made elements brought in. The hummus will be made every two days to be fresh, she noted.

In addition to all the savory dishes, many Lebanese desserts will be served, including ashta and rice pudding.

Asked why the restaurant has come to be, she laughed and said, “It was Raffi’s crazy idea.”

Raffi Festekjian is executive chairman and managing partner of Empyrean and Nuarca.

She added, “We always thought we didn’t have the foods we grew up with.”

Raffi Festekjian added his two reasons for starting the restaurant: “Nina is such a great cook. And I was bored. I convinced her to do it.”

She concurred: “I cook a lot and entertain a lot. Now, I just make it for the public instead of friends and family.”

She developed all the recipes and they will be replicated by the kitchen team. The goal, her husband noted, is to program the mechanized devices so that the recipes can be replicated exactly, every single time.

The idea for the restaurant came about two years ago, and Raffi Festekjian said that they honed their recipes by hosting a lot of different people and getting feedback from informal focus groups.

The South End location opened up precipitously. The couple were looking for a site but it was hard to find a good location there. Then, this building opened up, owned by a non-profit organization, that was willing to give the space over.

If the restaurant is successful, the couple said, they might open multiple locations.

For more information on the restaurant, visit http://www.anoushella.com/