Review: Modern Syrian-Lebanese restaurant Yasma is coming to Coal Harbor

Aleppo lamb and chicken skewers at Yasma restaurant in Vancouver.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Name: Yasma

Location: 550 Denman Street, Vancouver

Call: 604-566-0493


Kitchen: Upscale Syrian and Lebanese

Prices: Appetizers, $10 to $20; mains, $26 to $29; tasting menu, $89 per person

Further information: Open Wednesday to Sunday, 4:45 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.; reservations recommended; patio; Take-out and take-out available.

As a popular delivery service ghost kitchen that got its start during the pandemic, Yasma already had a loyal following loving its delicious food.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Has an old ghost kitchen finally lifted the charm of a cursed place in Coal Harbour? In Yasma’s eyes – vibrant with Middle Eastern flavors, festive with live music, and sold out almost every night since opening in March – that seems to be it.

Over the years, this bewitching jewelry box in a restaurant has drawn countless shipwrecks into its glittering lap. Perched on the sea wall at the foot of Denman Street, its waterfront views, sweeping glass walls, tranquil pond rippling to one side and swarms of summer tourists were too enchanting to resist.

When the rainy season came, they all fell like dominoes: Crime Lab, Bravo Bistro, Sol Sun Belt Cookery, The Change, Verre. Some, like Harbour550, came and went so fast you’d hardly know they were there.

Our tasting menu included Aleppo chicken and skewers, seen here cooked over charcoal.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Undeterred, Yasma owner and general manager Sami Moustattat began filling the room with handcrafted trellises, brass lanterns, walnut tables and copper plates. He admits to having doubts before opening when everyone, even its owner, told him that it would be closed within a year.

But unlike the others, Yasma had two crucial advantages. First, as an upscale Syrian and Lebanese restaurant, it offered something new to Vancouver, with the potential to become a sought-after destination less susceptible to the vagaries of weather and visitors.

Second, since its first incarnation as a popular delivery service ghost kitchen that debuted during the pandemic, it already had a loyal following loving its delicious food.

Yasma’s signature takeaways are still available in the new restaurant, now fleshed out with extremely warm and attentive service, an abundance of large parties celebrating special occasions and, on weekends, a gently back-strumming oud player. plan.

There’s the voluptuous muhammara, a smoky red pepper spread intricately constructed with pomegranate molasses, meaty walnuts, onions and mahlab (a wild cherry pit powder); silky-smooth hummus from a painstaking three-day process; and an incredibly moist, plump tabbouleh salad with well-cleaned, rested, destemmed and chopped parsley with a precise cutting technique that prevents moisture from escaping.

Yalanji (stuffed grape leaves), front right, tabbouleh salad, left, and Muhammara (red pepper dip).DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

But there’s so much more to enjoy, including an excellent beverage selection, a tasting menu, several new dishes, and a wider selection of kebabs, all delicately smoked over a charcoal grill.

You won’t go wrong with the succulent chicken breast shish tawook, tenderized with yogurt. But the Aleppo kabab is remarkable. Ground Lamb Skewers are made from four parts of halal-certified lamb, broken down in-house from whole animals. The neck, belly, shoulder and thigh are coarsely ground, then tossed with fat, pistachios, red peppers and spicy Aleppo pepper, all molded around the skewers into long, lightly charred flat patties. It’s subtly smoky, juicy, tender, chunky and absolutely delicious.

Another intriguing specialty is kibbeh nayeh, made with raw lamb, similar to tartare. Clean, lean thigh meat is finely chopped and tossed with bulgur, Aleppo pepper, basil and mint. The dough is shaped into small balls, crowned with plumes of cooler mint and meaty Chilean nuts and served in a pool of herb oil, juicy pomegranate seeds and slivered pistachios.

This kibbeh also comes in a grilled and fried version. The latter is coated in a mixture of cracked wheat and lamb which creates a nice contrast between the crispy shell and the crumbly center.

The tasting menu, an extravagant 14-course feast, is a great way to explore the menu. Ours included chicken and Aleppo skewers, kibbeh (raw and fried), lamb chops, pickles, hummus, tabbouleh, several dips, stuffed grape leaves and extremely spicy potatoes. addictive dishes that are double-fried and coated in a tangy, zesty garlic-lemon sauce.

Everything is vibrant, fresh and beautifully plated. But the tasting menu portions are so generous that you might need a digestive shot of arak, an aniseed spirit, halfway through.

An inspired drink menu also includes very good Lebanese and French wines and cocktails that feature more arak, cedar, juiced apricot fruit leather, saffron and yogurt.

Yasma’s signature takeaways are still available in the new restaurant, now enhanced with extremely warm and attentive service.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Try to leave room for dessert, which could include fluffy baklava, shipped weekly from famed Pâtisserie Mahrouse in Montreal. Or the excellent qatayef, a fried pancake stuffed with walnuts or homemade clotted cream, drizzled with rose water syrup and pistachio powder.

The only dishes I didn’t absolutely love were the sambousek, a fried dumpling stuffed with cheese (the dough was a little raw) and the fattoush salad (the cold cucumber and tomatoes had to be brought to room temperature).

But those are tiny quibbles for experiences that, along with the music, festive atmosphere, gracious service, and delicious food, were otherwise magically transporting.

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