By Laine Doss
By Ily Goyanes
By Camille Lamb
By Laine Doss
By David Minsky
By Emily Codik
By Zachary Fagenson
By Laine Doss
Hot starters were lovingly prepared as well. Four kibbeh miklieh -- ground beef and crushed wheat shaped into shells and fried, then stuffed with ground lamb, onions, and pine nuts -- were wonderful, given a slightly fruity taste from the occasional raisin. Falafel was fantastic, possibly the best I've had. Husseini combines minced chickpeas with pureed fava beans for an exceptionally creamy texture. He then deep-fries the four patties to a golden brown and serves them (like the kibbeh) over a shredded lettuce and chopped tomato mattress. These greaseless nuggets were so flavorful they didn't even require the tahini sauce, which came on the side.
Tahini napped a traditional entree of kaftah. Three long "rolls" were formed from ground lamb and beef, spiced with onions and parsley, shaped around skewers, and grilled. Served sans skewer, the slightly chewy results were neither pasty and dry nor jellied and wet, but dwelt nicely in between the two extremes. Shawarma, a well-known marinated meat dish, was also excellent. Shaved tenderloin of beef, rather than the compressed lamb and filler we Americans are too used to, this heap of tidbits was perfect accented by tahini.
One page of the menu is devoted to main courses that are more Continental, ranging from veal scaloppine to steak Diane (called Diana here, though not in honor of the departed princess). Some of the fish -- sea bass topped with tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, and onions, for instance, and grilled or fried whole yellowtail -- sounded interesting but weren't available. We decided on an eponymous chicken dish: dajaj Al Amir, two skinless, boneless breast halves stuffed with a minced mixture of cilantro, onions, and chopped garlic. Pan-frying sealed in the juices, providing the poultry with a crisp exterior and a juicy succulence. A subtle garlic, butter, and white wine sauce completed the delectable chicken, which was enhanced, as are most of the main courses, by simple but ample side dishes: sauteed shredded carrots and snow peas, a scoop of long-grain rice, and a pile of shredded raw white onions garnished with minced parsley.
Stuffed courgettes (zucchini), also called kousa mashi, might sound like a vegetarian meal, but don't be fooled -- they're stuffed with ground lamb and rice. A special tool called a munara cores the squash, which is then filled and braised in a beef or lamb stock. These supple vegetable rolls were at once mellow and vibrant, perked up by mint, garlic, and a host of Lebanese spices -- allspice, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, and cardamom. Grape leaves, cooked with the squash and stuffed similarly, were an unexpected side dish, and were complemented by another side serving of homemade yogurt.
Desserts may be superfluous if you get carried away during the appetizer course, but have one anyway. Aside from the requisite baklava, Husseini composes a special dessert every night. An upside-down cheesecake made from labneh (yogurt cheese) and semolina was impressive, flavored with orange-blossom water and doused with a honeyed syrup -- a garden for the palate.
Good thing no busy bees were around. Just busybodies, and eavesdroppers, and the garden-variety yentas. Tell your friends, we were urged on the way out. Well, I have. But I'm not bringing them back with me. I'll just make new ones while I'm there.
I'd rather spend hours waiting for Husseini's wonderful creations than be quickly served an indifferently prepared meal.
12953 Biscayne Blvd, North Miami; 892-6500. Lunch Monday -- Friday from noon to 3:30 p.m. Dinner nightly from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 11:00.
Dajaj Al Amir