I HADN'T PLANNED to write about DarSalam Lazurdi, the larger, newer offshoot of NE Alberta's DarSalam. But as the friend who is always tasked with picking the restaurant, there was something about a warm pita that sounded so right on a recent Saturday night.

Turns out, DarSalam Lazurdi is a lot more than a spot for a hummus fix, as owners Ghaith and Tiffany Sahib have expanded their menu to include Middle Eastern-inspired cocktails and new specialties, making it arguably better than the original location.

Opened in August, the downtown dining room sits under a painstakingly tiled mural depicting the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. If you can, slide into the sole booth, sumptuously outfitted with colored fabrics and pillows—it's a place to linger for nutty baklava at the end of a meal.

The Middle Eastern staples are all there: hummus, a better-than-average baba ghanoush, and a dry chicken kebab that could use a bit more basting. Grab a mezza to start—go for the vegan platter ($11), which includes a brilliant pickled mango salad and three falafels, shaped like doughnuts to allow for more fried surface area.

But don't spend too much time on the standards—it's the ambitious Iraqi dishes that make Lazurdi worth the column inches. It's hard to skip a good grape leaf dolma, but make an exception to try the Iraqi onion dolmas ($11.50), filled with warm rice, tomatoes, and vegetables infused with pomegranate in a translucent onion wrapper. They pair well with an arak flight—on our visit, we got three from Lebanon and one from Greece ($14). Our server, unfailingly smiling and happy to share his culture with us, brought out four glasses of ice and a small carafe of water, instructing us to mix the strong anise-seed flavored liquor (similar to ouzo) with two parts water, one part arak. Otherwise, he warned, we were in for a headache the next day.

Of two lamb dishes, opt for the more complex lamb shank kuzi ($15), a heaping portion over rice and eggplant marga (Iraqi stew) with almonds and raisins a just-right counterpoint to the spices.

At the last minute, I ordered the curried cauliflower ($14), a splurge for what I presumed would be a basic vegetable dish. I was wrong. The second this puréed blend of cauliflower, yellow curry, lemon, and coconut milk arrived, I couldn't take my eyes of its vibrant daffodil color and the swirl of olive oil on top. The velvety texture clung to my spoon, and the citrus notes were a bright wake-up call among the rich Middle Eastern flavors. I've wanted to eat it every day since I tried it.

Lazurdi's lunch buffet is also a surprise; it's clean, well put together, and a great way to try the menu for $11.99. A recent Thursday trip included an intensely pungent garlic and eggplant dish with tahini, parsley, and lemon. (Apologies to coworkers who spoke to me later that day.) There's also an array of salads and multiple hot dishes, including a lackluster shrimp and tomatoes, a better lamb stew, and an apricot plum stew, a sleeper hit with a tart flavor.

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DarSalam Lazurdi opened with little fanfare. But it's slowly built up its menu to a point where it's just as impressive and ornate as the dining room itself, and can easily claim a spot in the top 10 Middle Eastern restaurants in town—especially if you remember to order that curry cauliflower.

Mon-Fri 11:30 am-9 pm; Sat 12:30-9 pm. Lunch buffet: Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm. Happy Hour: Mon-Fri 4-6 pm; Sat 2-5 pm. Full bar.

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