Damas (Montreal)

In my recent review of the South Indian restaurant, Thanjai I noted that Montreal is home to a large number of restaurants from non-Francophone immigrant communities. I may have given the impression that these restaurants are all relatively obscure. This is not true. Indeed, my review today is of a Syrian restaurant that is one of the city’s most popular: Damas. It has been open for about 10 years now (I think), moving into its new, expanded digs about five years ago. On my first and second trips to Montreal in 2015 and 2016 no one told me I had to eat there. But this time it was probably the place most people told me to go to. I was planning dinner with old graduate school friends who live in Montreal, and they who once had the (now closed) Hotel Herman as their favourite restaurant in the city now said Damas is now in that spot. And so that is where we ended up for dinner on a Wednesday night.

This was, in fact, my second dinner that night; or rather I’d eaten a large appetizer course at Agrikol before cabbing across town to Damas. And that was after a large lunch at Thanjai, and that had been after a very large dinner the evening before at Joe Beef. This is all to say that I did not arrive at Damas in an optimal state to take their full measure. Even though I’d walked 4-5 miles that day I was too bloated from all the eating to be able to countenance the braised meat dishes that they’re particularly renowned for. Some will say that I did not therefore have the full Damas experience. Maybe, but it turned out to be a very good meal anyway.

The restaurant was much larger than I was expecting. There are two large dining rooms on the inside—plus a bar—and an extended covered patio. The interior seems to have gone through a renovation since they first moved to this current space—at least it looks different now than in photos from reviews from that time. There’s a lot of dark wood and panelling and a lot of lamps (this last makes it hard to take any decent pictures of the interior in the evening). The kitchen is open though not very visible from all parts of the dining room and the general feel of the place is that of a pleasant bustle. There are a lot of staff and they’re all very friendly. By the way, though it was a Wednesday evening they were quite full.

We started with a couple of their cold mezzes— very good fattouch (just a touch too acidic on the dressing) and excellent labneh zeitoun. I can’t remember if the pita that was put down on the table comes with everything or if it came with the labneh but it was bloody good too. From the hot mezzes we got the borek jibne—lovely doughy cheese dumplings, perfectly fried—and the akhtabout—an excellent octopus salad. From there on to the shish taouk—excellent chicken kabab served with sumac fries and an excellent home-made ketchup—and then the samak meshwi—grilled loup de mer with more potatoes and a bloody good tahini. Though full by this point we were talked into an order of halawat el jibn, a sour-sweet cheesy dessert (I think I might have liked that one a bit more than my friends did—it reminded me of some north Indian sweets).

For a look at the space and the food, please launch the slideshow. I apologize in advance for the pics. Lighting, as I said, was not optimal for quick shots on my cheap dslr.

Ah yes, we got a bottle of red on advice from their personable sommelier: Rockaille Billy, a gamay from some part of France or the other; rather nice. They have a cocktail menu as well but I’d already had a cocktail at Agrikol and didn’t want to keel over. All of the food, wine, tax and tip came to about $130 CAD/head or just about $100 USD/head. Not a bargain but worth it in the abstract for very good food. By the way, though this is not clear on the restaurant’s website, they do offer a tasting menu for $95. It has to be ordered by the entire table and it isn’t entirely clear if you can get it if you’re eating solo. I forgot to ask but I think I’ve seen reports going both ways.

I think Damas is on my list now for a return visit on our/my next trip to Montreal (possibly later this year). If I do make it back I have to get some of their braised lamb and other heavier Syrian specialties for sure. In the meantime, I only have one report remaining from this Montreal trip—that of the aforementioned dinner at Joe Beef. Maybe next week.

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