In comparison to the tapestry-laden walls you may expect of a Middle Eastern restaurant, Mamnoon’s urban chic interior might seem cold. But, there’s something decidedly comforting about their open kitchen. It greets you at the front door in the way your grandmother would. Or, in the way your grandmother would if she was the kind who baked fresh bread and smelled of toasted flour.
The dinning room is flanked by another open kitchen, effectively giving the appearance that you’re being graciously welcomed into someone’s home. In many ways that’s exactly what’s happening.
Husband-wife duo, Wassef and Racha Haroun, designed their Melrose restaurant to embody the vibrant cultural heritage of their Syrian and Lebanese homelands. It’s a heritage that adheres to the Arabic custom of gracious hospitality. Here kindness seems to infuse those who visit.
So if by chance, a blond woman next to you starts talking about Mamnoon’s use of za’atar, roll with it. She might just let you in on a secret: Mamanoon’s the only place she’s found from Seattle to Portland where za’atar actually tastes like what you’d get in the Middle East. You might just find that you’re suddenly comparing notes with her and getting the inside scoop about the shamndar bi tahini, a grated beet salad that’s so bright with flavor a bite of it makes you breathe a little deeper.
Lily, the our lovely blond neighbor, and her husband love the beet salad so much she took an order to go – all the way back to Portland! (Lily, my mom and I will forever be in debt to you. Our meal at Mamnoon would not have been the same without your insight. Thank you for your generosity.)
Our meal began with an order of the grated beet salad. It’s sweet-tartness was accented by garlic and nutty tahini. And the color, goodness me, it was out of this world. My three-year-old niece would kill for a dress died in such a bright magenta. For that matter, so would I.
In comparison, the baba ghanoush we ordered looked like more like sad stepchild. Luckily, its flavor was anything but. It rivaled the beets with a bold sense of I-don’t-need-dressing-up. Unlike it’s rather bland appearance, its complex flavors finished with a subtle smokiness. It’s the kind of touch that’s cavemanesc. It’s the kind that reminds you you’re human, that you can cook with fire – that the world is out there to be explored and nothing can contain if you just go.
Plus, the whole two-dip extravaganza – beets and baba ghanoush – was served with house made flatbreads, still warm from the oven. These spreads were so good one might go back just for them.
However, you’d be missing out. You want to be sure you order something that utilizes the za’atar mentioned above. The flavor of this spice blend isn’t one we get often in the states. (Thyme is mixed with sumac, lemon zest, and sesame seeds for a flavor that blurs the lines of acid and sweet.)
The oven-toasted sandwiches are the perfect vehicle to taste it. We opted for the Lahm Bi Ajine. While slightly on the greasy side (you’ll definitely be using your napkin), the combo of ground lamb, chili and parsley were accented with a sweet tang from pomegranate molasses. The flavor was so addicting it made eating slow nearly impossible.
Shamndar Bi Tahini: $7.00
Baba Ghanoush: $7.00
Lahm Bi Ajine: $9.00
1508 Melrose Ave.
Seattle, WA 98122
Lunch Daily: 11:30 – 2:30 PM
Dinner Sunday – Thursday: 5:30 – 9:30 PM
Dinner Friday & Saturday: 5:30 – 10:30 PM