The new Café Beirut on the corner of Jasper Avenue and 112 St is a fine-dining endeavour of Sam Tabet, the man behind the Whyte Avenue location. The flavours may be similar, but the casual takeout-friendly affair south of the river has been replaced with a more sophisticated authentic Middle Eastern menu and decor in a more intimate setting.
I brought along my friend Kathy for my first Lebanese fine-dining experience, and we instantly agreed on the warmth and coziness of the traditional design of the ten-table restaurant. Worried that I may have issues ordering something gluten free, Sam went through the entire menu for us, offering elaborate descriptions of dishes that were new to me.
Excited to hear that they had a calamari dish that was baked instead deep fried, I convinced a leery Kathy to give it a try. Even though a few people had come in to pick up takeout, we couldn't help but notice it was taking a while for our order to arrive. We were both used to the quick takeout/late-night version of Lebanese food; we had no idea of what we were in for.
When our first plate arrived we were treated to a lovely display of three large portions of calamari stuffed with feta cheese, onion, chilli pepper and olive oil ($14.95). One bite and I felt that this unique treat had been handmade with attention, detail and love. With a slight kick to it, the dish was full of flavour and a delightful difference from the usual battered calamari.
We ordered the Moushakal Kabob ($44.95) which serves two and comes with five different kebabs, vegetables, dips, rice and salad. The giant bowl of Fatoush—romaine lettuce, parsley, radishes, onion, green peppers and tomatoes, tossed with dry mint, Sumac spice, olive oil and fresh lemon—had Kathy instantly smiling.
The platter that graced the table was a beautiful presentation of colours and textures. In one corner was a generous serving of hummus that tasted as good as any I had sampled on my travels through the Middle East. In the opposite corner was Baba Ghanouj. While Kathy isn't a fan of this roasted eggplant dip, I had no problem devouring her portion.
Of the four beef skewers, Kathy was taken with the subtle heat of the Halabi Kabob made from lean ground beef mixed with jalapeno jam, while my favourite was the Jalabi Kabob, made with cashews, pistachios and pine nuts.
We both loved the barbecued cubed chicken-breast kebab which was tender and served with a mystery white sauce. Sam explained that he crushes the garlic, slowly adds olive oil and from the addition of vinegar, a delicious garlic sauce with a smooth texture is created.
The rice was surprisingly full of flavour. Sam shared that he first boils raisins, and then used the raisin water to cook the rice. Topped with pistachios, almonds and juicy raisins, and accented with what tasted like saffron, it was a wonderful accompaniment to the meal.
Not surprisingly, we couldn't finish the platter; the copious serving had us stuffed. I had Kathy in stitches when I gave her a toothy smile to check if there was anything in my teeth. You have to feel pretty comfortable with your dining companion if you're going to embark on an evening of authentic Lebanese food packed with garlic and parsley, but my taste buds sure thought it was worth it.
Sam shook our hands on the way out and as he gave his farewell and said, “Tell your friends.” I smiled because we were both excited to share this place with others. Only months into operation, I believe that this intimate setting and flavourful menu will attract more than just the takeout crowd.
10058 – 112 St