Amal opened in what I hope is the middle of this pandemic, in August, taking over the old La Société spot on Bloor Street. I was swooning already, a stunning new Yorkville spread, patio season in its prime, and the cushy vibes of an Charles Khabouth fronted exploit. The modern Lebanese restaurant pays tribute to Charles’ own upbringing- he’s from Lebanon originally, and traveled extensively in Beirut to find a Chef that could create authentic Middle Eastern dishes at Amal.

Executive Chef Rony Ghaleb was tapped to lead this new restaurant, and another one is already announced for Coconut Grove in Miami. Ambitious as ever, Charles is unrelenting, even in the face of phased-dining and global lockdowns. Opening two Amals is only part of his pandemic plans, according to the press release, there’s 5 more concepts in the works.

Crafted by Master Mixologist Nishan Nepulongoda, an absolute legend for carefully crafted concoctions at most of INK Entertainment’s restaurants, drinks are divine and weave in notes from the food menu. Nishan’s drinks are as complex as they are chuggable. Starting at $17 a pop, they’re not cheap, but with 2oz pours and in-house made tinctures, they shouldn’t be. Wines by the glass and bottle play heavily on French, Italian, Spain, with a few Ontario and California bottles standing out, like the Cabernet Sauvignon Tin Barn (fave!) or Metis Blanc from Pearl Morrissette in nearby Jordan. Lounge loving looks from long-time partner Studio Munge provide a backdrop of extravagance, and while I banished myself to the patio exclusively, the interior was swoosh, the people pretty, and the vibe exactly what you’ve come to expect from Charles and team.

As smooth as the interior is, there’s a few kinks to work out. Service was bumpy, and hot and cold at moments, which is right in-step with the Chicken Wings ($14), which were almost entirely eaten before noticing one larger piece could have spent more time in the fryer. Our server quickly dashed them away and apologized, and handled the situation like a pro. But then poof- disappeared for 1 hour and 40 mins while we languished for our mains. Pandemic protocols aside- I wasn’t looking for fast-casual sports bar dining, but I also wanted to limit my time in the restaurant, and also avoid going inside (bathroom) if possible. This sort of time stall worked against my plan, and let’s face it, bladder too. Quite a few Karen’s reminded me to be resolute, strutting in full speed with no mask on was a frequent display.

Karen’s aside, the food is stellar, particularly the silky Amal Hummus ($19), crowned with AAA Beef Tenderloin and flecks of juicy pomegranate. Billowy and puffed up pita shows up tableside still warm. Win. The Truffle Rakakat ($15) are crispy bundles with salty crushed pistachio and a lace of honey and the Sampler ($25) of dips are an obvious choice.

Mains offered meatier platters, we tucked into a Skewer Platter for 2 ($62) which comes decked out with piles of proteins, pita, vegetables and home fries.

Chef Rony was a good casting call, the dishes are a reminder that we’re lucky to live in a city so diverse you feel transported to another country with just a jaunt to another neighbourhood. And with all the extra layers that restauranteurs are facing, a few kinks are to be expected. Food and drinks are why we venture out, how we socialize. In the end, I’m glad to bank the extra hours with my tablemates, in 2020 it’s all about treasuring those times together.

All pics by Libby Roach.