Hill Tastes is a CHS essay series from a variety of Capitol Hill voices exploring the flavors of Capitol Hill restaurants, bars and more. Have a taste you’d like us to explore? Let us know.
When Mamnoon opens later this year on Melrose Avenue across from Terra Plata, the culinary experience will be a journey across the Middle East. A signature scent will waft from the ovens: freshly baked bread mixed with toasted thyme and sumac. It’s zaatar, the Lebanese equivalent of an American hot dog.
“This is the smell of Lebanon,” said Barbara Massaad, a Lebanese cookbook author and restaurant consultant working with Mamnoon’s owners to build a repertoire of Lebanese and Syrian dishes.
Much of the menu will derive from the manoushe, the ubiquitous baked good found on street corners throughout the diverse countryside of Massaad’s native home.
“Man’oushe” is also the name of her first cookbook — a gorgeous anthropological food lover’s journey across Lebanon. Her second book, “Mouneh,” explores the rich tradition of Lebanon’s preserved foods.
“The man’oushe is what you think of when you think of Beirut,” she said.
Massaad is scheduled to speak Saturday at Elliott Bay Book Company at 2p. She’ll talk about her experience collecting recipes, folk lore and beautiful photographs around Lebanon.
Massad is energetic and ebullient; she speaks intensely with dark eyes and flowing reddish tinted hair. Massaad is so focused on details of the Mamnoon venture that she has hunted down a spice provider in Lebanon. She said she’s overseeing the exact blends of native herbs to ship back to Seattle. It’s here that chef Garrett Melkonian will direct a kitchen to prepare a menu that’s new to Seattle eaters. Melkonian comes to Mamnoon via Café Juanita and the Inn at Langley and Spring Hill.
“We want to bring authenticity in a setting that’s very contemporary,” Wassef Haroun said.
The former Microsoft executive dreamed up the idea for the restaurant and sought out Massaad to join the team to get the restaurant opened. He and his wife, Racha, own the business.
“When people think about the food at Mamnoon, they should erase the standard that’s found at most other Middle Eastern places,” the owners said. “Don’t say the word ‘pita’ in your article. This isn’t falafel and gyros. This will be gourmet alchemy. The very best of Middle Eastern flavors and preparations,” Massaad said. Nothing will be vulgarized.”
“It’s like the food I make at home,” she said. ”Grilled meats, vegetables and fish. Kofta, spiced meats, homemade cheeses and wonderful desserts. What you’re going to see in our restaurant is going to be not what you’ve seen before.”
For the owners, food and generosity is part of the Middle Eastern culture. The restaurant will be contemporary and comfortable, to Middle Eastern food what Ba Bar is to Vietnamese.
“A big part of what we want to do is discovery,” Haroun said. “There will be a wide variety of flavors, mixing local ingredients with imported peppers and vinegars. It’s the kind of place where people could visit several nights a week.”
The restaurant will be the kind of place where people can come together to debate the best hummus, or argue over Middle Eastern politics.
“Food is an important element that brings people together,” Massad said. In Lebanon alone there are dozens of different communities including Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bedouin. And each village has its own identity, its own blend of zaatar.
The region’s history is stained by wars and bitter conflicts.
“At the dinner table, there’s hope for reconciliation,” Massad said. “There’s a saying that says, ‘Make food not war. People can look across the table and see each other for who they are instead of what they represent. Then, you have it made.”