Chef and owner Aboud Alhamid recently opened a second incarnation of his popular Syrian eatery, Ranoush, in Kirkwood, at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Kirkwood Road. His original restaurant in the U-City Loop has become a local bastion of Middle Eastern cuisine, and we were curious to see how the concept translated to the new location.
We have to admit, we were skeptical when we first heard Ranoush was headed to Kirkwood. We weren’t sure how receptive local diners would be to Ranoush’s offerings, but we’re happy to say our concerns seem to be unfounded. We visited in the middle of the week during some inclement weather—and during the Cardinals run for the championship—and the dining room was bustling.
The space at one time was a Velvet Freeze, among other business, but the current incarnation bears little resemblance to anything that came before it. The small parking lot in front of the building has been turned into outdoor seating, and the interior is resplendent with Middle Eastern wall hangings and light fixtures and other accoutrements. The décor, along with Alhamid personally greeting guests at the door and visiting tables, gives Ranoush the vibe of a cozy neighborhood bistro.
The menu at the new Ranoush was basically identical to that of the original, with many dishes made from Alhamid’s family recipes. The menu featured a wide variety of hot and cold mezza, small plates of various Middle Eastern delicacies, as well as a section with 10 traditional main courses, such as chicken and beef shawarmas, kebabs, and chicken and beef kaftas.
We started with an order of Batata Harra ($5) from the Hot Mezza list. These spicy potato cubes were tossed with coriander, garlic and red peppers, and reminded us of a warm and tangy potato salad, minus the heavy mayo.
We wanted to push on and sample a variety of the mezzas but just couldn’t make up our minds. Luckily for us undecided types, the menu offered a Traditional Mezza For Two ($28), a platter featuring a wide selection from both mezza sections. We got a sample of falafel, kibbeh, tabbouleh, fatayer, hummus, baba ganoush and warak intab. The hummus was heads and shoulders above what we’re used to. It wasn’t whipped into a light, bland spread but instead had a heavier consistency and a nice earthy flavor.
Likewise, the baba ganoush actually tasted like roasted eggplant instead of a flavorless paste. The kibbeh were a particular favorite: fried balls of burghal, a preparation of bulgur wheat, filled with spiced meat. They are deceptively simple on the plate, but take hours to prepare. We thought they were worth every minute it took! They sound heavy, but were surprisingly light.
We ended our Ranoush visit with Knafeh ($5), the restaurant’s signature desert. It was a sweet, delicious combination of baklava and cheesecake. The cheesecake was much lighter and not quite as dense as traditional American varieties. It was layered between birds’ nest phylo and topped with chopped pistachios. The phylo made for a crunchy counterpoint to the smooth, rich cheesecake.
From the looks of it, Alhamid has another success on his hands. We think Ranoush will become a go-to destination for interesting, flavorful international cuisine in Kirkwood.