Boutros, the first restaurant from chef Allen Dabagh, is named for his father. The earthy yet chic space houses half a greenhouse behind the bar and has been open for six months in Brooklyn Heights on Atlantic Avenue, right across the street from Yemen Café.
Dabagh, who originally studied to be an architect but quickly changed courses to attend the French Culinary Institute (now International Culinary Center), went on to work in Bay Ridge eateries and the Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges, where he quickly rose to the position of chef tournant.
Now in his own kitchen, he’s created a fluke tartare made with Urfa biber, pickled strawberry, spring onion and Fresno chile that stands out.
“I was looking to work with a local fish, and fluke came to mind. [It’s] sweet, tender and very receptive to seasoning; the seasoning had to be unique but not overpowering,” he says. “Urfa pepper had all the components that create a unique flavor unlike any other. Low heat, sweet smoke and mouth-watering flavor.”
The Urfa biber comes from Urfa, Turkey, a city just off the border of Syria, and is made from vine-ripened peppers that are dried in the sun during the day and wrapped in cloth at night. This allows them to develop smokiness without actual smoking and helps to retain the peppers’ natural oils.
“Urfa was a spice I discovered at Sahadi’s before I knew I would open next door. It was one of those ‘Why the hell haven’t I tried this before?’ moments,” he says. “It had just enough heat to surprise you at the end of each bite. It has such a unique flavor profile; just a few flakes create complexity in a dish that is ordinarily simple.”
He developed such a strong affinity for the pepper that he built the fluke dish around it.
“We needed acidity, but lemon or lime juice would overpower the pepper, so we decided to add a pickled component,” he explained. “With pickled unripe strawberries that create tang and texture, the acidity was contained into a bite, so it allowed the Urfa to still stand.”
Dabagh had bigger plans for red strawberries: strawberry water. “We wanted to go the ceviche route, create something like a beautiful broth,” he says. “We wanted just the juice from them, the simplest of components, so we allowed the strawberries to release the water but covered them with sugar and water.”
The longer the strawberries sat, the more the naturally colorful was the water they secreted. After that, roasted and softened spring onion is added to bring “earthiness to the dish,” slightly sweet but with a highly concentrated onion flavor. That Fresno chile provides additional heat.
Naturally, you’ll want to explore more than just this dish. When you stop into Boutros, also order the duck confit pizza, bulgar fried rice and pork chop, which is juicy and sweet in caramel sauce.