Young Syrian Jewish restauranteur continues a family legacy

Click photo to download. Caption: Jewish students at the Maimonides school in Damascus, Syria, on Feb. 9, 1991. During a visit to Brooklyn in 1998, Reserve Cut owner Albert Allaham decided not to return to Damascus and remained with his older brother in the New York City borough’s close-knit Syrian Jewish community. Credit: Diaspora Museum Visual Documentation Archive, Tel Aviv.

By Maxine Dovere/JNS.org

At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. 

Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East Side, but rather a family-run butcher shop in Brooklyn.

Members of the Allaham family were among the last 600 Jews to live in Syria. Until 1998, good relations with influential citizens and officials provided an umbrella of protection for those Jews, but when former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad opened the door for them to emigrate, the Allahams realized it was time to leave. 

During a visit to Brooklyn in 1998, Albert decided not to return to Damascus and remained with his older brother in the New York City borough’s close-knit Syrian Jewish community.

“Allaham” means “butcher” in Arabic, making it an appropriate name for a family with more than 200 years of experience in the meat business. Indeed, the Allahams brought generations of industry secrets to America, but the “most precious thing we were able to take out of Syria was the family,” Albert says.

“I wanted to leave [Syria] earlier,” he says. “Even as a teenager, knew it was time to leave when I looked around and saw so few Jews left.”

Click photo to download. Caption: A steak at Reserve Cut. Credit: Doug Schneider Photography/Reserve Cut.

Now, Albert is making his mark in the world of fine kosher dining at Reserve Cut, the elegant restaurant he opened in lower Manhattan in the fall of 2013. 

Customers arrive by elevator at the second-floor establishment. Gracious host Ghandi tries to accommodate everyone, including walk-ins. Wall Street dealmakers, national and international visitors, and anyone seeking a fine steak that happens to be kosher are among the clientele. The amiable wait staff greets all diners with smiles, never leaves a glass empty, and brings each table baskets of warm bread. 

“The Reserve Cut,” says Albert, “features only quality products, exceptional preparation, and elegant presentation.” 

During a typical lunch, a prix fixe menu is offered at $40. The restaurant’s Asian-French fusion menu features 10 varieties of well-marbled steaks. Chops are thick and sumptuous. The venue at 40 Broad Street seats 300 in a contemporary setting that was formerly home to the award-winning Sho Shaun Hergatt restaurant. Six unique dining rooms can be accessed through a hallway lined with back-lit bottles of fine wine. The open kitchen in the central dining area invites diners to watch the preparation of creative cuisine in Executive Chef Hok Chin’s domain.

Click photo to download. Caption: Reserve Cut owner Albert Allaham. Credit: Doug Schneider Photography/Reserve Cut.

Appetizers include crispy rice, wagyu beef carpaccio, sliders, beef tacos, a sashimi special, a volcano roll (sushi), and salad. Meat, all USDA Prime, comes from the Allaham family’s Prime Cut butcher shop. Among the entrees are the wagyu beef rib steak, 12-ounce angus filet au champignon, wasabi-encrusted rack of lamb, short ribs, veal chops, prime-aged cote de boeuf, and a kosher version of filet mignon cut from prime-rib center cuts. Ten varieties of steak are available, all of which are dry-aged on site. 

“Aging,” Albert says, “results in a much more tender piece of meat… The kosher customer will finally get a really good steak.”  

Choosing a dessert may prove happily challenging: will it be flourless chocolate cake, peanut butter mousse, or a different sweet surprise?

Albert has become somewhat of a linguist. In addition to his native Arabic, he is fluent in English and is quite comfortable with Yiddish. 

“We Jews are all one people—Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Hassidim, secular, or religious,” says the young restauranteur. “Every customer at the Reserve Cut is unique and special.”  

That being said, Albert is targeting at least one particular customer.

“We want the Reserve Cut to be the place the president goes when he wants a great steak,” he says.

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Posted on July 21, 2014 and filed under Features, Food, U.S..