I thought I'd report on my experience at Alep, the more formal restaurant in the Alep/Petit Alep duo. The menu is essentially the same as the menu at Le Petit Alep, as they share the same kitchen, but there are a few dishes listed on the Alep menu that are not listed on the Petit Alep menu, such as the divine Kibbe ne ya (Spelling is wrong I am sure), a spiced raw beef dish served with mint leaves, onions, olive oil and lettuce. Le Petit Alep is a popular favorite on our Quebec Board, and it is a fun place to grab lunch, it has a bistro like feel. But for a more formal dinner, with more subdued atmosphere, I have to strongly recommend Alep, in particular the degustation menu.
There are several choices for degustation, you can do a two course affair, a three course affair with meats but no fish, and a three course affair with meats and fish. The 3-course meat/fish choice is the most expensive, and comes to about $38 per person (before tax and tip). Food is served family style, and they tailor the amount of food for the size of the party. They are very generous with their portions, and you will leave very satiated. We of course went for the most expensive option, because we were a large company of gluttons (my favorite type of dinner companion).
The food is based on the cuisine of Aleppo, and is hybrid stemming from Syrian/Armenian cuisine. It is Middle Eastern food on Steroids. The spicing is much stronger and aggressive than most Middle Eastern cuisines, and the food packs a power punch. It is mind-blowing.
I will not be able to spell out everything we had. I did not even look at the menu, as we immediately jumped on the chance to have the degustation. We started with a selection of mezze. Our first course consisted of sea bass served with a compote of fennel, onions and spices, which was relatively delicate compared to the other dishes, but still delicious and intricate. Tabouli was fresh, and expertly spiced. We also had the Kibbe ne ya (described above), which had to be the most wonderful raw beef dish I have ever had. For those of you who are fans of raw beef (tartares/carpaccios/tataki dishes), this is a must-seek-out-and-eat dish. Smooth, soothing texture, spices that flirt with your tastebuds alternating between coy and assertive, contrasted with the fresh mint and crispy lettuce/onion, this dish is heavenly. Go. Eat this.
Our next course continued on the mezze theme, and consisted of seared tuna with olives and Zaatar spices, fattoushe (salad with mint, parsley, cucumber, tomato, lettuce and spices), hummus with mouhamarra dip, Alep-style spicy sausages, shrimp with terbialy sauce (a spicy red sauce), and another salad made with some kind of cheese amongst other items. Everything was wonderful, but the shrimp was the standout dish of the evening for the entire table. It was so good, we ordered an extra one.
Third course included: braised lamb served with spiced rice and yogurt, grilled chicken in a pomegranite marinade on toasted pita, and filet in terbialy sauce on toasted pita. All three meat dishes were perfectly prepared, the meats were tender and favourful, and so perfectly spiced. The grilled onions and pita was great foils for the meats. Again, the terbialy sauce has to be one of the most bewitching sauces you can put on food! The flavours are bright, complex, smoky, piquante, and very unique.
We were then served a surprise course of lemon granite with vodka. This was a very refreshing way to end the evening. (I could not have eaten another bite).
I eat a lot of Middle Eastern food, and I always enjoy it. But somehow, this restaurant makes you feel like you are trying this cuisine for the very first time. Tabouli, fattoushe, hummus, meh. Grilled meats, whatever. Yet at Alep, these were wildly exotic and exciting dishes worthy of obsession. So this is what it is supposed to taste like... I attribute the success of these dishes to the expert spicing.
Service was outstanding. The staff were informed, helpful, accommodating, efficient and very friendly. They are obviously very proud of their food, and rightly so. Atmosphere was subdued, classy, but still welcoming. Wine list is fairly priced, and very interesting. We were able to have two bottles for about $45 each, and the wines were really excellent, I was impressed by the selection and the reasonable prices. For the entire degustation menu and two glasses of wine each, the cost per person was approximately $75 per person. Our entire party is still raving about this meal. I think Alep would be a very nice alternative to the usual French-based restaurants we usually recommend as special nights out (like Club Chasse et Peche, Lemeac, Laloux, Toque, Chronique, etc.etc.etc.). Certainly it is a great value for the price.
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