Investigating The Suraya Hype

Ever since its opening in 2018, Surya seems to be plastered across every Philly foodie page and magazine. Named "Best New Restaurant of 2018" by Philadelphia Magazine, this restaurant has a lot to live up to.

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Located in rapidly growing Fishtown, Suraya has three parts to their establishment: the all-day market and cafe area, the main restaurant and bar, and a gorgeous outdoor garden.

The restaurant was created by La Maude’s Nathalie Richan and Roland Kassis and R&D’s Greg Root and Nick Kennedy.

Nathalie and Roland named Suraya after their beloved grandmother who raised them in Beirut, Lebanon. They try to capture a traditional Lebanese feel while still keeping the establishment modern and “cool” enough for the hipster-esque Fishtown.

I mean, seating for every occasion? Perfect location? AND a beautiful story? Come on…it must be too good to be true, right? Well, I wanted to find out.

Things to consider

Located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon is about 1/4 the size of Connecticut. Here is a visual:

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You can see that it borders Syria and Israel, with Beirut being right on the water.

You can see that it borders Syria and Israel, with Beirut being right on the water.

Lebanon has been ruled by foreign powers that have influenced the types of food the Lebanese ate, which include the Ottoman Turks. They introduced foods that are now a staple in the Lebanese diet such as olives, baklava, and their fresh bread. Bread is actually such a staple in Lebanon that some Arabic dialects refer to bread as “esh” meaning “life”.

(You’ll see some AWESOME pita below if you just stick through this info sess).

After the Ottoman Turks were defeated in World War I, France controlled Lebanon and brought some new flavors to the country with baked goods such as croissants and flan. This explains the European influence in some dishes.

Despite these heavy influences, Lebanese people have always loved fresh ingredients and spices with less focus on meat. Each region varies a little from what exactly you can expect, but chickpeas, lamb, and parsley are some classics you’ll find anywhere.

Eating at Suraya

So, back to Suraya!

Even though I knew how popular Suraya was, guess who didn’t make a reservation? me.

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So, I was put on the waitlist for a spot in the marketplace. After about a 30 minute wait, I was seated.

At first, I was nervous that by sitting in the marketplace I was going to miss out on the beauty and prestige of sitting in the main dining space, but the dim lighting and ambiance truly made it feel no different.

Side note: The staff was absolutely amazing and welcoming. I don’t know too much about Lebanese food and they were immensely helpful in explaining all that I needed to know.

I’ll let you know what I learned below so that you can enjoy a head start when you go!

 

The Marketplace

 

Here is everything that we got, learned, and thought. We got only mezza plates, which are sort of like hot and cold appetizers.

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The Nightingale

$12.50

Wanting to just truly experience this restaurant for what it is, I got experimental and got an arak cocktail.

What is an arak cocktail, you may ask? I had no idea, but the staff was great in explaining it to me!

It is a colorless, anise flavored drink which essentially means it tastes very strong of licorice. This is super traditional in Lebanon, and niche here in the states. The Nightingale was the lighter of the options with fruity notes.

Over all, it was a little intimidating for me and definitely a sipper. Would I get it again? Probably not, but I know that it’s just because I like things sweet.

 
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Hummous & Pita

$9.50

Obviously, we got the hummous and pita, and WOW did it rock my world.

Hummous and pita can be a fairly simple dish, but this was so well prepared and flavorful that it immediately got me on team Suraya.

The pita is all freshly baked. So fresh in fact that you can see them cooking it behind the bar. It was immensely fragrant, grainy, and (clearly) puffy.

The hummous was incredibly smooth. It was garnished with parsley and tahina (a puree of sesame seeds seasoned with lemon juice and garlic).

I loved the depth and savory aspects of it, but also appreciated the contrast of the fresh herb. This turned out to be a common theme throughout my plates!

 
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Sawdat Djej

$12.50

This dish is made up of sauteed chicken livers, sweet onion, a pomegranate molasses sauce, and a spritz of lemon.

I loved the balance here. The liver was cooked very well so that it maintained its softness, to the point that it almost felt like a patee in my mouth. It was very rich and- dare I say it- earthy. I know, I’m basically a food critic now.

The sauce was everything the liver needed. The lemon added an acidic brightness and the pomegranate seeds added a fun pops of texture to the smooth liver.

If you don’t like liver- then it’s not for you. But if you do…oh man.

 
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Warek Enab

$9.50

This is actually a strong contender for my favorite dish. I’m a die-hard dolmas fan so this was the first thing I knew I was going to order.

The menu description is: grape leaves stuffed with rice & pine nuts lightly grilled and served with lemon yogurt, crispy shallots & barberries.

The star here was without a doubt the lemon yogurt. It brought a tartness to the rich filling and complemented the vinegar in the leaves.

I absolutely loved the toppings here because (if you haven’t caught on) I love texture and this brought a great crunch to an otherwise predominantly smooth plate.

 
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Fried Kibbeh

$12.50

Just when I thought I was done…the fried kibbeh was calling my name. And luckily, it didn’t disappoint.

These are beef and bulgur (a type of whole grain) dumplings seasoned with raisins and pine nuts served on a smear of cucumber-mint yogurt.

THIS actually ended up being my favorite dish!

Again, the yogurt really stole the show because the fresh mint and cucumber really broke through the dense fried flavors of the dumpling.

The structure is a bit soft, so I recommend eating in one bite, but once you taste this you probably will do that anyway!

 
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Chai Latte

$5

And finally…the IG famous chai latte! You didn’t think I was going to go without this Instagrammable beauty- did you?

In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, this latte was also delicious! It was nice to drink a chai latte that is actually spiced and not just drowned in sugar (@Starbucks).

It was aromatic, foamy, and fun! A great way to wind down after a delicious dinner.

The only problem is I still don’t know if those flowers are edible or not…

 

Final Thoughts

Over all, I thought it was a bit pricey, but absolutely worth the money. It isn’t going to be a weekly stop for me, but as a special treat to enjoy with my friends? Absolutely.

The care in the service, the quality of the food, and the attention to detail really blew me away.

Then, of course, I ran around embarrassing myself taking lots of pictures of the space. You’re welcome:

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