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A labor of love
By Sauce Staff Writer ē Photos by Brian Fagnani
Posted On: 08/01/2009   


Love brought Aboud Alhamid to St. Louis. A native of Syria, Alhamid moved to St. Louis from London, where he managed Kaslik, a Lebanese restaurant. When his now-wife Ranya decided to attend Saint Louis University School of Law, he made the move with her. In fact, he named his restaurant after her. ďRanoush is my wifeís name,Ē Alhamid said. ďHer name is Ranya, but her nickname is Ranoush. My wife, she did a lot for me. Ö I put her name in the best area in The Loop. I feel I did something for her. I can give it to her as a gift.Ē

A lot of Middle Eastern cuisines overlap. You call this a Syrian experience but you mentioned that it has a lot in common with Lebanese food.

Itís absolutely the same kind of food. Lebanese food, Syrian food, Palestinian food. Itís similar to Jordanian as well. These four countries, a long time ago it was one country. But when the British people and the French people went [there], they divided it into four countries. We have the same kind of food, but why itís known as Lebanese food? Because Lebanese people, they start traveling before Syrian and Palestinian and Jordanian.

How did you put the menu together?

Letís talk about baba ghanoush. Itís known by everybody and really tasty. Itís mixed between grilled eggplant, tahini sauce and a bit of garlic. We put olive oil on the top. Itís something really amazing. And the cheese pie or the meat pie, this is absolutely traditional. Back home we call it sambousek. It comes from our small city, Deir El-Zor. Itís like tabbouleh. When we have something special like a birthday, we have to have tabbouleh.

One of the dishes on your menu that Iíd never had and just love is the muhammara.

This is mixed between pine nuts and walnuts. I mix it with red chile pepper, a little bit of olive oil, a touch of garlic, a touch of onion Ė and all these ingredients, when you mix it all together, it looks like hummus.

And you have to tell me about the rosewater tea you serve.

Actually, this is not tea. Itís a mix of flowers, rosewater, and I mix it with fresh mint and lemon. It tastes fresh. It feels like you are in a spring.

And itís like perfume.

To be honest, I was thinking I [could] take a shower with this.

I love Middle Eastern food; itís so fresh with varying textures and nuanced flavors.

Everything is fresh. If you look on our menu, thereís a lot of vegetarian stuff. I have meat as an entrťe, but our meat, itís not fatty. And thereís a difference in how we eat in Syria. Here, the lunch is not important. In our country, we have to sit all at home at lunch, like 2 oíclock. We have a lighter dinner, lighter breakfast.

So what would a typical lunch be?

Thatís what weíre planning to do with our specials. Every day weíre going to have the dish of the day and thatís going to be absolutely Middle Eastern. Itís like, my mom, what sheís cooking every day at home, Iím gonna cook it here. Itís not known by Western people. Ö Now I have the opportunity to say to people, ďThis is our food.Ē Iím gonna call my mom and ask, ďWhat are you cooking today?Ē and do it here.

When you were growing up, did you cook with your mom?

When I was 14 years old in Damascus, I went to the culinary school for two years. Iíd get the recipe that we tried at the school and Iíd go home and start doing it myself. My mom helped me a lot. Ö I finished my studies, I got my diploma from back home in hotel management and moved to England to improve my language. My dream was to be a general manager for a big hotel, a five-star hotel. This was my dream. But I couldnít get it because my English was really bad. I couldnít even say ďhelloĒ to you.

Well, thatís changed.

After I was in love with a half-American, half-Syrian woman Ė she couldnít speak Arabic, so the only way to speak with this woman is English!

Has she helped out at the restaurant?

Actually, she is doing for us the dessert. The knafeh and the baklava.

Your baklava doesnít have as much phyllo as others Ė itís dense with walnuts.

And what we do, at the top we put a bit of pistachio. And the knafeh is a mixture between cheesecake and baklava together Ė shredded phyllo on top and then our syrup. But if you taste it, itís not really sweet. If you try to eat a piece, you want another piece.

And when you say that at Ranoush you give people a ďSyrian experience,Ē what does that mean?

Syria is like the heart of the Middle East. So youíre going to find here everything in the Middle East. When I was saying about our specials, ... one day Iím going to do something special for Saudi people, for Gulf people. One day Iím gonna do specials for Algerian people. Moroccan people. Itís like The Loop. ďThe heart of St. Louis,Ē we can call it. You can find everything in The Loop. Syria is the same. Thatís what I want to do here.


Ranoush
6501 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis
314.726.6874



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DATE: 08/10/2010 07:20PM    POSTED BY: bonvivant
Try this place! Where the old Saleems was - - but the atmosphere is livelier now and the lunch specials, (were $7.95 as of August 2010) will really fill you up - - I had the sampler platter, served with plenty of pita (no extra charge!) The Arabian coffee was a treat. My goodness, I will be back with other friends...

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