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Published: Friday, 1/24/2003

Mideastern fare and more

Something tickles the imagination about eating “upstairs,” possibly because in the arrangement of the typical two-story home the dining room is on the first floor. That makes Byblos, the popular Lebanese restaurant, a little different, for it's on the upper of two stories.

Downtown we have or have had notable restaurants 'way up atop some of our tall office buildings. A clutch of upstairs dining rooms, including the Maumee Bay Brewing Company, are embedded in the restored Oliver House. Some solidly planted on the earth have an upstairs banquet or party room above the day-in-day-out dining. Out on the edge of Maumee Bay there's the Flying Bridge, a fairly lofty perch overlooking waterways and docks. So Byblos, one story above busy, noisy Reynolds Road, isn't altogether idiosyncratic.

Some of the others are well or ill advisedly open to the view from their lofty perch. From the windows of the short-lived restaurant on the uppermost or almost uppermost floor of One SeaGate one could easily see the Maumee River open to bay and lake, and even, on a very clear day, it was said, the Peace Monument on South Bass Island. Byblos, wisely, is insulated from the view and the noise of restless traffic by windows that could be opened but are instead covered.

The exterior of the building, which also harbors an office or two, is singularly unattractive, dark brown, set back beyond roadside parking. For many years, sliding into a shady entrance and turning onto a narrow, precipitous stairway used to make me think how it must have been to enter a speakeasy during the Prohibition years. Now, a glassed-in entrance, elegant but for a coin-operated candy dispenser, opens into a vestibule and thence by elevator or stairs to the dining room.

Like its sister restaurant, the Beirut, Byblos is focused on Lebanese and Italian dining, and, indeed, if you like middle eastern cuisine, it is a standing invitation to a table of delights, very well prepared and served.

In contrast to the Beirut menu, the Byblos kitchen offers a more extensive list of typical Mid-American choices, from burgers to a baked pickerel fillet. However, Mediterranean cuisine is something Americans ought to like: meaty, fresh salad makings, good cuts of beef and lamb, (the Byblos lamb shanks are the stuff of treasured memories and dreams to come), and piquant seasonings, some familiar, some not.

If you're going to have an appetizer, take a step beyond grape leaves, hot or cold. We know and like them. But have you ever shut your eyes and taken a bite of an ara-yes? - delicious! (I pronounce it the way it's spelled, and the servers seem to understand.) And it would be strange if you didn't like baba-ghanoush (I say “gannouge,” rhyming with rouge, and that works), a slice of mild, baked eggplant mixed with tahini. Tahini sauce is a pride of Mideastern cooking, and every chef has his own formula; the real thing is a variation or two that's more or less garlicky and a little bit lemony.

Late one evening, when business was slow, a small strip steak was thoroughly overdone - that was a bad week for me. But I can vouch for two entrees with enthusiasm. One is on the list of Italian specialties, brachioli, thin slices of tenderloin wrapping slices of ham and cheese, baked and finished in the saute pan. The other is chicken cordon bleu, again a familiar meat, boneless breast of chicken, stuffed with ham and cheese.

There are other entrees I like - those roast lamb shanks, for instance - but I find it hard not to go for one or the other of the cordon bleu dishes.

A bar, only partly enclosed, is the focal point of the one dining room open to smokers; another more formal, no-smoking room is on the other side of the restaurant.

The restaurant, with a conspicuous lighted sign, is on the west side of Reynolds Road, about a quarter-mile north of Airport Highway, and there is ample parking.



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