Come March, the Toronto-based, new-age Mediterranean restaurant Byblos will open its first U.S. outpost at the James Royal Palm, filling the former Catch space.
The brainchild of Toronto nightlife king Charles Khabouth and partner Harif Harji, Byblos is the duo's most upscale concept. They have a string of bars and restaurants in Canada. "I've been coming to Miami since I was 22 when I first started in the nightlife industry," Khabouth says. "When it came time to expand, South Beach was a natural move for our concept." It was such a good fit that plans for a location in Dubai were put on hold to bring Byblos to the Magic City.
New Times was invited to an exclusive preview of executive chef Stuart Cameron's menu.
"Our concept is Mediterranean, but with a twist," Khabouth says. "You won't find hummus or baba ghanouj on our menu. We're a little more adventurous." To adapt to the opposite end of the weather spectrum, Byblos will import about 40 percent of its tried-and-true Toronto menu but make the other 60 percent Miami-appropriate. "We're so excited to have access to all these local fisherman and fresh seafood year-round. In Canada, fish isn't as great."
"Everything we do is in-house. We don't buy anything." The menu takes cues from Greece, Lebanon, Israel, and Morocco, but the experience begins with a puffed-up version of Persian flatbread called barbari bread.
Maltese spiced olives and marcona almonds covered in lime and paprika.
Diamond-shaped red beets, which might very well be the prettiest ever, are served on a bed of labneh with pistachio and caraway. Be prepared to eat a ton of things (mostly spices) you'd probably never heard of before Byblos' opening.
Steak tartare is not what you're accustomed to. This rendition forgoes the egg for chili paste, mint, yogurt, and olive oil. The correct way to nosh on this is to sop some up with the barbari bread.
Eggplant kibbeh is fried using a chickpea batter and is made from zucchini flower.
Lamb ribs with dukkah (an Egyptian condiment), buttermilk, carob molasses (another Middle Eastern invention), and red chili skhug.
Get ready to crave yogurt and fish after having a single bite of the yogurt-baked fluke with toasted breadcrumbs, walnuts, and brown butter.
Apparently the Brussels sprouts trend is still going strong in 2015. Byblos' version of the greens comes roasted with Halloumi (a cheese that has the taste and texture of a potato), tahini, and yogurt. Yogurt is a big thing across the menu at Byblos.
"This is or signature dish," Harji says of the sweet bejeweled basmati rice, which is cooked à la minute and studded with carrots, saffron, barberries, and almonds.
Slow-braised Ontario lamb leg could easily feed an entire family. It's served with pickles, radishes, toum (an Egyptian garlicky aioli), and lavash flatbreads so you can make little lamb pockets.
Turkish manti, or dumplings, contain smoky eggplant and sit in a pool of yogurt and molasses.
Crisp qatayef is a typical Arab dessert. Some call it a sweet dumpling, while others refer to it an an Arabic pancake. Draw your own conclusion when you try the ashta cream fried half-moons topped with muddled strawberries and honey syrup.
Turkish apricot ice cream gets a kick with cardamom and pistachio pashmak, which is a type of Persian cotton candy made from sesame sugar. You'll be able to see (and taste) it for yourself when Byblos brings its unorthodox Mediterranean cuisine to South Beach in March.
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