Anar: The Taste of Memory

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My first thought of Wassef Haroun? I want to be in his orbit. Kind and rooted in amiable, effortless hospitality. He is a high tech executive turned restaurateur, and those skills honed in tech have served him well. Systematic testing, calling in the best and the brightest to launch your project, and applying that to food? The results are transformative.

Syrian born, with a large portion of time spent in Lebanon, Haroun was raised on vivid flavors of the spice route. A cultural mingling that's been going on for centuries, the recipes can vary from city to city, house to house. But the arsenal of flavors--heat relieving souring agents, earthy caramelized vegetables, pops of freshness punctuated by raw or pickled vegetables. It's a beguiling, crave-worth mix, not easily satisfied in the Pacific Northwest.

Food like that is deeply personal and imbued with a sense of place. How do you recreate that in a new culture? With Haroun's first restaurant venture, the highly lauded Mamnoon, he tapped the sources he knows best, his mother and mother in law. The dream team was rounded out with a consultant from Beirut, cookbook author, Barbara Massaad. Using an approach from his high tech days, each dish underwent meticulous testing until finally, they narrowed down the best version. Before the restaurant launched, they created a binder full of curated recipes. And it worked, sort of.

The thing is, how do you develop a staff who understands food from a deeply rooted culture, one that is not their own? Sure, they can follow the recipe, but cooking, is also an art. So the tactic changed. Every new employee is encouraged to taste. The goal? Develop a food memory.

And taste.

Taste everything.

Once cooks understand the flavors they're aiming for, Haroun discovered, it's best to get out of the way. The creative process unfolds, and constraints are lifted. "They'll figure out how to get there."

And it is exactly those taste memories, formed years ago in Syria and Lebanon, that Haroun is chasing. His latest venture, anar, at the base of a new Amazon high rise, heralds another chapter. The all vegetarian menu is crafted by Shannon Smith, a former baker, who was so determined to work with Haroun, she originally took a job as a busboy. Baker. Busboy. Executive Chef. The trajectory may take a meandering curve, but Haroun's keen eye for attracting talent was not overlooked. Before long, she was embarking on a deeply nuanced journey of sumac, tahini, and pomegranate molasses.

At the root of it all, taste.

Taste everything.

With the launch of anar, there is no dumbing down the menu for a Western audience. A mezze plate of carrot bi tahini and muhammara, also includes a Persian hummus laden with herbs including anisey tarragon. And a sour juice with a decided funk is an acquired taste, blending tomato, bell pepper, cantaloupe, ginger, tarragon, and aleppo pepper.

My perfect meal at anar? Grab some friends and try fatteh (a yogurt based dish topped with a 'salad' of fresh & roasted vegetables--photo below), balila (a warm chickpea soup with cumin and lemon that had me swooning in my seat. Sadly, no photo.), mujadara (a lentil & rice based dish that is the backbone of Middle Eastern comfort food--photo below), a salad, and sesame honey bars.

Exciting and intriguing, it's a taste adventure. No passport required.

In an attempt to decode the depth of flavors at anar, I went home and laid out all my Middle Eastern cookbooks. I launched into a DYI bootcamp, sussing out techniques, ingredients, and culture by culture comparisons. In the warm, yogurt-based fatteh, for example, was it enriched with an egg? Or a roux? No. Haroun tells me, it's completely vegetarian and gluten-free.

I may never crack the code behind anar's most exquisite dishes, but my appreciation runs deep. More than a week later, the flavors haunt me still. I sincerely hope every meal lingers long in my mind, but they rarely do. At anar, I nearly wept, knowing I'll never be able to recreate that food. And really, isn't that the point? I'd gladly give them the reins.


Taste everything.

Will Moseley preparing a sample of house-blended juices. Take your juice straight up, or enrich it with yogurt or cashew milk.

For the preview, we sampled nearly everything. Turning the spotlight on juices, we have:

(Clockwise, starting at the top)
Refresh: cocnut water, carrot, ginger, orange, and orange blossom
"Red" is at 3 pm (and begging for a rename): roma tomato, red bell pepper, cantaloupe, ginger, tarragon, and aleppo
Green: lacinato kale, romaine, celery, fuji apple, lemon and parsley
Yellow Number 5: pineapple, yellow sweet pepper, lemon, and rosewater
In the center, is the anar signature drink: red beets, orange, and pomegranate

Quinoa and arugula salad with shamandar (the magenta-colored dip, made with beets), avocado, and an apple cider vinaigrette. The house made cracker is gluten-free and topped with a thyme-based Middle Eastern spice blend called za'atar.

The anar Mezze: (clockwise) Fresh vegetables, gluten-free housemade cracker topped with za'atar, a roasted pepper dip called muhammara, carrot bi tahini, and Persian green hummus made with blanched tarragon, cilantro, and parsley. PRO TIP: Chef Shannon Smith blanches the herbs to lock in the herbs vibrant colors.

Be still my heart! This dish will find me illegally parking, and is destination-worthy. Behold:  Fatteh. A garlic-infused yogurt base served warm (yes, warm!) topped with a 'salad' of caramelized cauliflower, creamy garbanzo beans, and finely sliced fresh cucumber.

Kale Avocado Salad with roasted sweet potato, sumac, and radish, served on top of a raw sunflower seed puree and dressed with a nutritional yeast vinaigrette (think: umami)

Mujadara is comfort food, and anar's version is the best I've had. Green lentils and brown rice, garnished with pickled turnips (pickled in beet juice for color), a dollop of Ellenos yogurt, cilantro, aleppo pepper, and spiced pepitas.

A breakfast options include sublimely rich Ellenos yogurt, with a variety of topping options. This is pistachio and date granola with fresh fruit.

Lebanese Sesame Seed Bars. I've had versions of this dish before, but in the hands of a well crafted chef determined to test until it's absolutely right? Anar's version is a game changer. Light and almost fluffy, sesame and honey are blended together for a snack that, honestly, if they could support the volume, I'd buy them by the box.

Anar's key players: Wassef Haroun (owner), Shannon Smith (Executive Chef), Racha Haroun (owner), and Will Moseley (Project Manager/Right Hand Man)

2040 6th Avenue*
Seattle, WA 98122

* In Amazon's new Doppler campus, next to the Denny Triangle