Friday, January 16, 2015

Byblos: Eastern Mediterranean in King West

One of my favourite spots right now, one that I can't wait to go back to, is Byblos (Facebook: Byblos, Twitter: @ByblosToronto). Serving Eastern Mediterranean cuisine in the heart of Toronto's Entertainment District, the upscale 120-seat Mediterranean restaurant by Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji of Icon Legacy Hospitality and Ink Entertainment was recently ranked #5 in Globe & Mail's list of "Top 10 new Toronto Restaurants of 2014" (the restaurateurs also own NAO Steakhouse, Weslodge, and another one of my favourites - Patria). Byblos' Executive Chef Stuart Cameron (@chef_stucameron) focuses on making ingredients in-house and sourcing as many products as he can from the Middle East. 

"Using time-honored classic cooking techniques and modern methods, Executive Chef Stuart Cameron has created dishes that showcase the regionally-specific spices and flavours of the Eastern Mediterranean seaboard. The menu is a true coastal and cultural mosaic, served family style in a convivial atmosphere."- Byblos

The 2,000 sq. ft restaurant opened its doors in March of last year in the 170-year-old Storys Building. I was eager to sit in the main floor dining room (which I heard is gorgeous) but unfortunately, the main floor was closed off. Upstairs, the large dining room has shiny gold and copper panels, aged white walls, and oiled wooden floors flanked by Persian style rugs.

The large bar area.

The Byblos menu is divided into "small", "large", "sides" and "rice", and they are all meant to be shared family-style. The four of us shared five small plates, two large plates, one rice dish and five desserts:

Tahini Aioli + Bayildi Sauce + Basturma

Turkish Spoon Salad + Pomegranate

Chili Paste + Mint + Yogurt + Olive Oil + Barbari Bread

Fel fel 

Pistachio + Caraway + Lebneh + Barbari Bread

Smokey Eggplant + Yogurt Sauce + Molasses

Toasted Bread Crumbs + Walnuts + Brown Butter

Mushrooms + Fried Chickpeas + Australian Truffles


Fig Caramel‏ + Honey Cream

Ashta Cream‏ + Honey Syrup+ Sumac Muddled Strawberry

Broken Baklava + Labneh

Pistachio Cake + Orange Blossom Water+ Pomegranate Molasses + Flower Jam

Prepared to order in a traditional cezve using organic coffee, served sweetened

Ridiculous. It was absolutely ridiculous how great this dinner was. Chef Cameron is able to expertly combine exotic spices and flavour profiles from Morocco, Jordan, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and Lebanon on his plates, enticing diners to want more and more. Cameron makes it look so easy yet we know it's anything but. The beautiful colours and the intriguing flavours from the seasonings, spices and ingredients were unlike anything I've tasted before in the city (note that I've never traveled to the Middle East.) So, can you blame me for having many "mindblown" moments during my meal?! It was all so wonderful. There wasn't a dish that I disliked and that speaks volumes considering how many dishes we had. If I had to choose, here are the ones I enjoyed the most: 

CRISPY EGGPLANT  - Basturma is a Turkish air-dried cured beef. Even if you don't like fried eggplant order it for the basturma (I'm sure someone at the table loves eggplant)
SPANISH OCTOPUS - The octopus was tasty but what I loved even more was the refreshing salad underneath with tomatoes, mint, pomegranate seeds and olive oil.
ROASTED RED BEETS - The house-made labneh (or strained yogurt) is thick, rich, and had a consistency somewhere between yogurt and cheese. I guarantee you'll love it. The labneh goes hand-in-hand with the golden brown barbari bread, a type of Persian flatbread. The barbari is also made in house and it's served lightly drizzled with olive oil and dusted with dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend. Oh yeah, the beets. Those were great too.
TURKISH MANTI DUMPLINGS - Turkish manti dumplings is believed to be originated by Uyghur Turks living in China. They closely resemble the Chinese steamed buns ("饅頭") and the Korean mandu. These ones at Byblos have a smoky eggplant filling and are baked in yogurt sauce.
TARTUFATA BASMATI RICE - So fragant! I could smell the truffles and the basmati rice before the pot made it to the table. All the rice dishes at Byblos is cooked to order.
BURNT HONEY ICE CREAM - No explanation needed. It tastes exactly like how you think it would.
BRIK PASTRY CIGAR - Brik is a Tunisian dish consisting of thin pastry around a filling, and the whole thing is usually deep fried. These ones are filled with a sweet honey cream and topped with a delicious fig caramel compote.
YOGURT MOUSSE - I love anything pistachio and this cake was no exception. The perfumed orange blossom water really comes through (orange blossom water is often used in Moroccan cooking). A very unique combination of flavours.
CRISPY QATAYEF - The qatayef had a nice ashta cream filling inside (ashta is a Lebanese cream) with an incredibly crispy shell. The honey syrup and the tangy spiced strawberries were excellent compliments to the sweet dumplings.
TURKISH COFFEE - The roasted coffee grinds have already been boiled in the cezve with sugar. All you have to do is pour the coffee into the cup in one swift movement. Make sure you let the fine grounds settle (they will sink to the bottom) and sip on the coffee slowly. Enjoy and savour it.

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