Sunday night after a 5-1/2 hour opera marathon of Gotterdammerung, I had the pleasure of taking friends and clients to BYBLOS (byblostoronto.com) just a few blocks from my hotel and the Four Seasons Centre (where the Canadian Opera performs). We arrived around 8pm and all of us looked at the menu and I declared jokingly, one of each. We actually entered through a doorway, wind reflector (they have these inside many places in Canada to keep out the drafts), descended several step to a bar and small room, but were quickly escorted up a flight to an elegant almost casbah-like upper floor where we were able to relax is a very quiet and cozy atmosphere.
We perused the drink menu and I ordered up The Fox: Tequila Tromba Blanco, Fino Sherry, Watermelon, Coriander, Line & Cucumber which was a tart treat that I loved. Our server, Maggie, tried to help us with choices from the very varied and large menu, explaining that everything was for sharing; we were game and kind of shouted out of choices randomly and all agreed!
Duck Kibbeh(confit) was first with Dried Fig(many pictures on FB!!) and a thick Date Molasses sauce and Tahini drizzle to cut the slight sweetness that we all oohed and aahed (sp?) over. Steak Tartare was gorgeous with a hint of mint and Middle Eastern spices with chilis as well as a gob of Labneh on top, which was indeed a big signature to many of the dishes. It was so great to have homemade Labneh since we haven't had it since Israel last August where I gobbled it down on bread with za'atar each morning. This was exceptional, but created a small problem for one of the lactose-intolerant guests. Barbari bread comes with many of the dishes and it is like a thick cigar shaped bread cut up and doused with olive oil and seeds and spices that we could not resist.
I was thrilled with the wine list and many options for Canadian wine and chose a Pearl Morisette Cuvee d'Une Nuit Chardonnay from Niagara which everyone declared a revelation with its minerality and lack of oak (it gets a hint of French oak) again resembling the super Chards of France or even Oregon. YUM. The red was even better as I love British Columbia's Burrowing Owl but had never had their Malbec 2012 from the Osoyoos region (I never even heard of it!). This was a huge full bodied red but with just enough tannins to stand up to some of the big meat we ordered.
Roasted Beets arrived with Pistachio, Caraway and a ton of that awesome Labneh, but I think the most mouthful was in the Pide, a flatbread here with intense Black Truffle, Buffalo Mozzarella, Hallumi Cheese, and Tartufata(truffled) Creme Fraiche that disappeared in seconds.
One of our starters, the Crispy Baby Artichokes arrived after even the main courses, but was superb with Preserved Lemon that was almost overwhelming (I needed more Chardonnay), and of course more Labneh!
The main courses were even more amazing with Spanish Octopus with Fingerling Potatoes, Biber Chili Vinaigrette & Preserved Lemon bursting with flavor that we really wanted more!
We chose two vegetable sides both of which were superb and spiced to perfection: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Halloumi, Tahini & Yogurt, but it was the Seared Cauliflower in Duck Fat with Tahini Sauce, Sesame, Coriander that got me so excited.
We chose two meat dishes both of which were superb:
Wagyu Striploin came perfectly rare with five large slices in Cauliflower Hommus, Amlou Dressing(Moroccan dip made from toasted almonds, argan oil, and honey) & Veal Jus that was as tender and scrumptious as could be.
Slow Braised(12 hours) Ontario Lamb Shoulder with Pickles, multiple sauces (garlic, spicy, and more) and House "Lavash" which was like a wonton wrapper to put the lamb, pickles and sauce in. The portion was huge and could have fed all of us for just one main course, so there was takeaway left for sure! The meat fell off the bone and was so scrumptious it was hard not to have several little wraps, but there was more.
At first, we decided that rice was too much to add, but then I saw the Rice made with Persian Kale, Saffron, Aleppo Pepper and topped with Crispy Lentils, Black Beans, Labneh & Persian Lime. You have never had rice until you eat this memorable dish which comes in a huge cast iron pan with top and is truly a revelation and so aromatic as you pull off the pan cover!
Dessert seemed an indulgence so the four of us settled on two choices based on Maggie's suggestions:
Crispy Qatayef(dumplings) with Ashta Cream, Turkish Delight, Honey Syrup, Sumac & Strawberry was my favorite of the two with small sugary dumpling-like treats filled with Turkish delight (almost in liquid form).
Turkish Coffee Bombe was a Coffee Cardamom Mousse covered in Chocolate with Cherry Confit, Hazelnut Dacquoise and Borek(phyllo-like crumbles).
I desperately wanted a glass of Icewine, but alas they were out and settled for a yummy glass of Hidden Bench (Ontario) Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer and we all stumbled back down the stairs to head home.
This trip certainly gave me so many new amazing Toronto dining options on top of all the others I have enjoyed!