Address: 1580 Bayview Ave. (at Belsize Dr.), 416-483-0922, mayrik.ca
Chef: Sebouh Yacoubian
Hours: Dinner, Tuesday to Sunday from 5 p.m. Brunch, Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Price: Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip: $150
Mayrik proves good food can come from bad events.
Mayrik is an Armenian restaurant, opened by two men affected by the Ottoman-led genocide that began in 1915, killing 1.5 million Armenians and forcing another half-million to flee.
Yacoubian’s forefathers escaped to Anjar village in Lebanon. Gabrielian’s family also fled, one half to Iraq, the other to Lebanon. The refugees assimilated somewhat before moving to Canada.
From that history of trauma comes Mayrik, a testament to Armenian resilience with its proud hospitality and confident Lebanese-influenced cooking.
“It’s like a funeral, sombre and happy at the same time,” says Gabrielian, 29.
Mayrik (“mother” in Armenian) is Toronto’s second Armenian restaurant. Open since last August, it feeds not only the Armenian community but also the young families of Leaside drawn to its modern looks and accessible menu.
With its low lighting and whitewashed walls, Mayrik feels serene. Armenia is subtly transmitted through a few hammered copper dishes, a hanging carpet, the alphabet graphic near the door. Since quality Armenian wines are hard to source, Greek vintages fill the list instead.
A server goes through the menu in a manner both helpful and tempting. Suddenly ordering something from every category — mezze, salads, khorovats (grilled), plevres (vegetables) and anoush (desserts) — seems necessary.
“We’re not trying to mimic our grandmother’s kitchens and comfort foods. We’re doing a twist,” says Gabrielian.
Hence, nicely pink lamb chops ($38) are paired with chermoula, a green North African herb sauce. Syrian muhamarra, a spicy walnut-and-pepper dip, goes with a well-timed 20-ounce rib eye ($60). The spectacular roast cauliflower ($16), showered in pine nuts and pomegranate seeds, should be familiar to Fat Pasha fans.
Chef Sebouh Yacoubian, son of owner Jack Yacoubian, uses loads of fresh mint, parsley, za’atar and sumac in his dishes, as influenced by his family’s time in Lebanon. He lays flame-licked chicken ($28) atop garlicky labneh and bakes puffy little pitas for scooping up Mediterranean dips ($8). Leftover pita is baked crisp for fattoush ($18) in a creamy yogurt dressing.
Yacoubian’s time cooking at Ossington Ave. Greek restaurant Mamakas Taverna shows in his spanikorizo ($14), the distinct basmati rice grains laced with both fresh and cooked spinach. In the same category as home-fried potatoes licked with spicy red pepper purée ($10), the rice shows consideration for nonmeat eaters.
When Mayrik steers closer to the Armenian canon, we get dishes such as manti ($14), dumplings made on site weekly by the owners’ mothers. These are stiff and baked, not boiled as at Turkish restaurants, with well-seasoned beef and a blanket of garlicky yogurt and dried mint.
Bardez ($14) is a salad of wild leeks with radishes and crunchy fried chickpeas that beautifully strips animal and milk fats from the palate. Su borek ($18) layers stretchy white akawi and halloumi cheeses between slippery sheets of homemade dough for a kind of Anatolian lasagna topped with a poached egg. Urfa beef kebab ($18) comes on bread hard to cut even with a serrated knife. The meat is almost as chewy.
Lately, for dessert, Yacoubian has been serving fluffy feta cheesecake ($16) with cinnamon stewed apples. It’s welcome and different, as his version of baklava ($14) touched with Thai chilies that produce a faint catch in the back of the throat.
At meal’s end, the bill arrives in a long-handled coffee pot. It looks Turkish, which turns out not to be a bad word at Mayrik.
“How can you hate someone for something their great-grandfather did?” Gabrielian asks.