First Bites

Middleterranean Eatery Byblos Opens Tomorrow in South Beach

After plenty of anticipation and even more delays in construction, the Toronto-based "Middleterranean" hot spot Byblos will finally open for dinner tomorrow at the Royal Palm South Beach.  

Helmed by executive chef Stuart Cameron, it's the brainchild of Toronto nightlife king Charles Khabouth and business partner Harif Harji. The new-age Mediterranean restaurant is the brand's first foray into the American market. "I've been coming to Miami since I was 22, when I first started in the nightlife industry," Khabouth tells New Times. "When it came time to expand, South Beach was a natural move for our concept."

And now Byblos is shining brightly on Collins Avenue. Taking over the former Catch space, the bilevel venue features a bar and lounge area downstairs with colorful plush couches and live shrubs. A Mad Men-style whitewashed-oak bar is the center of the downstairs action. There, you can sip a few handcrafted cocktails and nosh on mezzes.

Upstairs, 17-foot ceilings, geometric mirrors, and accordion-fabric-wrapped art panels telling some type of Egyptian tale make the intimate space feel grandiose and mythical. A somewhat-open kitchen (depending upon where you sit) lets you see the action in the kitchen, and a large vintage piece of furniture acts as the mezze bar. 

For the menu, Cameron has brought over many of the staples from Toronto but also incorporated Miami-centric dishes that cater to our sunny and warm city, as well as to appeal to health-conscious locals via Spanish octopus with petit potato and biber chili vinaigrette;
Gulf shrimp güveç in a clay pot with haloumi and chili; midye tava with crispy mussels, spiced tarator, and preserved lemon; and roasted halibut with chraimeh sauce and house yogurt. If some of those ingredients sound intimidating and you have no idea what they are, rest assured they are Middleterranean.

Wondering what "Middleterranean" means? "It's Mediterranean but with a twist," Khabouth says. "So not just Mediterranean." As our server best explained it: "We draw influences from Greece but also from Levantine culture." That means the type of herb-and-spice-heavy dishes and cooking you'd find in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and parts of southern Turkey, as well as Morocco, Egypt, and Persia. And though they import myriad ingredients from all of the aforementioned locales, Byblos also works with local farms to keep things unique to the 305. Take, for example, the signature à la minute bejeweled basmati rice, which is studded with carrots, saffron, barberries, and almonds and crowned with flowers from Paradise Farms.

New Times was invited for a taste of Byblos before officially opening to the public. Here's what to expect:

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Byblos is its spiked cold-infused tea service. (Disclaimer: The effects of these deliciously subtle and aromatic but boozy libations will totally creep up on you.) They serve either two ($40) or four ($75) people, so expect that each person will get at least two glass pours of whatever the tea choice may be. We first tried the Edgware Road, with Moroccan mint, lemongrass, citron vert, and London Dry gin. It was dry yet refreshing, minty yet citrusy, and gentle yet potent.

Mixologist Clayton Cooper demanded we keep our tea party going with the Habibi Marguerite. The chili-spiced strawberry tea spiked with tequila reposado and finished off with cilantro and lime is about the best Mediterranean twist on a margarita you'll probably ever try and for sure the best tequila spiked tea you'll ever have.

Citrus-mixed olives with chili, preserved lemon, and cilantro ($6).

Smoked eggplant Turkish manti dumplings with yogurt sauce and molasses ($11).

Lamb ribs with dukkah, buttermilk sauce, carob molasses, and red chili schug ($16). 

Grass-fed steak tartare with roasted red chili, mint, and labneh, served with freshly baked barbari bread ($17). 

Crispy eggplant with tahini aioli, bayildi sauce, and basturma ($14).

Fig salad with orange blossom vinaigrette, ackawi cheese, kohlrabi, and pistachio ($14) is unlike any other salad in town. 

Byblos proffers several pides, all of which are unique to Miami. We tried the black truffle pide crowned with buffalo Mozzarella, halloumi, and tartufata ($24). This is one dish you won't want to share. 

Beautifully cooked crispy squid is spiced with bandari and finished with schug and toum ($13). 

À la minute Persian fried rice, with sujuk, Key West shrimp, and green peas, was delicate and fragrant ($21). 

Cauliflower seared in duck fat and drizzled with tahini sauce, then topped with sesame and coriander, was a fulfilling side ($9).

Carnivores will be heavily satisfied with the 20-ounce, dry-aged rib eye slathered in za’atar butter and served with creamed moutabel ($60). Pro tip: Order the meat medium rare. 

Cap off your meal with this Miami-specific menu item, the oh-so-sweet pizzelle baklava, which packs ice cream, salted caramel, and couscous praline all in one ($10). 

Also Miami-specific is the apple kanafi with labneh ice cream, barberries, and sumac ($10). 

Chocolate mousse and broken pine-nut baklava with whipped labneh, date molasses, and pomegranate ($10).

Yogurt mousse pistachio cake, with orange blossom water, pomegranate molasses, and Paradise Farms flower jam, has some local flair ($13).

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Carla Torres found her inner gourmand voice while writing for Miami New Times in 2012. She has also worked with Travel & Leisure and Ocean Drive. She balances passions for wine, sweets, yoga, and kayaking.