A labor of love

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. “Ranoush is my wife’s name,” Alhamid said. “Her name is Ranya, but her nickname is Ranoush. My wife, she did a lot for me. … 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.”

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.

It’s absolutely the same kind of food. Lebanese food, Syrian food, Palestinian food. It’s 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 it’s known as Lebanese food? Because Lebanese people, they start traveling before Syrian and Palestinian and Jordanian.

How did you put the menu together?

Let’s talk about baba ghanoush. It’s known by everybody and really tasty. It’s mixed between grilled eggplant, tahini sauce and a bit of garlic. We put olive oil on the top. It’s 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. It’s like tabbouleh. When we have something special like a birthday, we have to have tabbouleh.

One of the dishes on your menu that I’d 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 – 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. It’s 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 it’s like perfume.

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

I love Middle Eastern food; it’s so fresh with varying textures and nuanced flavors.

Everything is fresh. If you look on our menu, there’s a lot of vegetarian stuff. I have meat as an entrée, but our meat, it’s not fatty. And there’s 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 o’clock. We have a lighter dinner, lighter breakfast.

So what would a typical lunch be?

That’s what we’re planning to do with our specials. Every day we’re going to have the dish of the day and that’s going to be absolutely Middle Eastern. It’s like, my mom, what she’s cooking every day at home, I’m gonna cook it here. It’s not known by Western people. … Now I have the opportunity to say to people, “This is our food.” I’m gonna call my mom and ask, “What are you cooking today?” 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. I’d get the recipe that we tried at the school and I’d go home and start doing it myself. My mom helped me a lot. … 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 couldn’t get it because my English was really bad. I couldn’t even say “hello” to you.

Well, that’s changed.

After I was in love with a half-American, half-Syrian woman – she couldn’t 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 doesn’t have as much phyllo as others – it’s 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 – shredded phyllo on top and then our syrup. But if you taste it, it’s 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 “Syrian experience,” what does that mean?

Syria is like the heart of the Middle East. So you’re going to find here everything in the Middle East. When I was saying about our specials, ... one day I’m going to do something special for Saudi people, for Gulf people. One day I’m gonna do specials for Algerian people. Moroccan people. It’s like The Loop. “The heart of St. Louis,” we can call it. You can find everything in The Loop. Syria is the same. That’s what I want to do here.

6501 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis