Monday, April 25, 2016

Byblos: Stylish Eastern Mediterranean Cuisine

Byblos is an homage to Eastern Mediterranean cuisine from night-life king Charles Khabouth, restauranteur Hanif Harji and Australian-born executive chef Stuart Cameron with the chef de cuisine Jennifer Nickel. Spanning two floors in an historic 170 year old brick and beam building on Duncan Street in the heart of Toronto’s Entertainment District, it's hard to resist Byblos' charm. Drawing on Turkish, Moroccan, Israeli, Lebanese and Greek cuisine to create an upscale Eastern Mediterranean menu, Cameron creates dishes that showcase the regionally-specific spices and flavours of the Eastern Mediterranean to craft a menu that's a coastal and cultural culinary mosaic. For authenticity, Byblos' creative team traveled the eastern Mediterranean coast to source flavours and spices, argan and olive oils, traditional dinner and tea wares, and a crop of local and regional Mediterranean beers, wines, and spirits. “We take great inspiration from the different culinary regions we explore, immersing ourselves entirely and sourcing the finest and most humble ingredients that truly represent the cuisine,” says Hanif Harji. 

The dishes at Byblos are designed to be shared, and include mezze such as Roasted Red Beets with house-made labneh and served with barbari bread that's baked each morning in a wood-fired oven, Duck Kibbeh with dried figs, date molasses and tahini, Turkish Manti Dumplings and piquant Tuna Ceviche with green schug, crème fraîche buttermilk and squid ink chips. Larger shared plates range from Spanish Octopus, Grilled Whole Branzino and Char-Grilled Cornish Hen to an intoxicating selection of cooked-to-order rice dishes served in dark lidded pots including classic Mejadra with lentils, yogurt and fried shallots, and Persian Fried Rice with sujuk, laughing bird shrimp and green peas. The dessert menu should not be missed, nor the authentic Turkish Coffee with requisite thick grounds and poured from brass cezve. Dark, stylish and absolutely buzzing the night we dined at Byblos, the creative menu, beautifully prepared dishes and superb service made our evening one we won't soon forget.

The dark and clubby upstairs interior of Byblos features supple leather banquettes for cozy intimate dining

The menu with wire mesh cover detail

Our server David recommended this frothy Nightingale Sour made with Absolut peach, 
Lillet blanc, galliano, lemon and egg whites

Marcona Almonds finished with lime zest and paprika

Roasted Beets with creamy Organic House Labneh, pistachios, caraway and sorrel leaves served with Barbari Bread 

Barbary Bread garnished with Dukkah

Duck Kibbeh with Dried Fig, Date Molasses and Tahini

Tuna Ceviche with Green Schug, Crème Fraîche Buttermilk and Squid Ink Chips

Fig Salad with Orange Blossom Vinaigrette, Ackawi Cheese, Kohlrabi and Pistachios

Spanish Octopus with Fingerling Potatos, Biber Chili Vinaigrette and Preserved Lemon

Turkish Manti Dumplings with Smokey Eggplant, Yogurt Sauce and Molasses

Black Truffle Rice with Truffle Paste, Foraged Mushrooms, Crème Fraîche and Crisp Fried Chickpeas

Chargrilled Cornish Hen with Sabri Sauce, Toum and Fried Leeks

House-Made Pistachio Ice Cream

Greek Loukoumades with Attiki Honey, Walnut Praline, Burnt Honey Ice Cream and Halva

Traditional Turkish Coffee served in a traditional cezve 

Roasted Carrots With Za’atar & Molasses
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy Chef Stuart Cameron, Byblos

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, and more as needed
1 large red onion, halved, thinly sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 lb thin baby carrots, tops trimmed, peeled or scrubbed
Kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt, stirred
3 tbsp date molasses or pomegranate molasses
2 tsp za’atar spice blend, or to taste

In large, ovenproof skillet, heat 2 tbsp of oil over medium. Add the onions and thyme and cook, stirring until soft and translucent, about 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add some oil until the bottom of the skillet is lightly covered and heat over medium-high. When the oil is shimmering, add the carrots. Cook, turning with tongs, until lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes. Then return the onions to the pan. Transfer the pan to preheated 400°F oven and roast, turning the vegetables every 5 minutes, until cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Place the carrots and onions on a serving platter or in serving bowl and drizzle with yogurt, pomegranate molasses and sprinkle with za’atar.

Seared Cauliflower With Tahini Sauce, Sesame & Coriander
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy Chef Stuart Cameron, Byblos

Cameron cooks his cauliflower in decadent duck fat, but suggests olive oil at home. Toast sesame and coriander seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat. If possible, crush them with a mortar and pestle. If you don’t want the fuss (and extra oil) of pan-searing, spread the cauliflower on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with a little oil and roast at 425F (220C) to desired doneness, 30 to 45 minutes.

Tahini Sauce:
1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
1/4 cup water, plus more if needed
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
1-1/2 tsp Asian sesame oil
Kosher salt

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large head of cauliflower, about 3-pounds, cut into medium florets
Kosher salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted, lightly crushed
1-1/2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted, lightly crushed
Chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves for garnish

In a medium bowl, combine the tahini, 1/4 cup of water, lemon juice, oil and salt to taste. Whisk until smooth. Taste, adjust the lemon, water or salt if needed. This makes about 1/2 cup.

For the cauliflower, heat a large, ovenproof skillet with oil over medium-high until the oil starts to shimmer — don’t let it start smoking! Gently add the cauliflower and cook, turning often with tongs, until dark brown, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the pan to preheated 400°F oven. Roast until the cauliflower is tender, crisp and lightly charred, about 8 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Using tongs, transfer the cauliflower to paper towels to drain, discarding the oil left in pan.

In a serving bowl, combine the cauliflower and some or all of tahini sauce to taste. Toss well. The cauliflower should be well-coated but not too wet. Spread on a serving platter, and sprinkle with sesame, coriander and parsley.

Rib-Eye Steaks With Za’atar Butter & Smoky Eggplant Purée
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy Chef Stuart Cameron, Byblos

Za’atar Butter:
4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp za’atar spice blend
1/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3/4 tsp argan oil, optional

Smoky Eggplant:
1 large Italian eggplant, about 1-1/2-pounds, pricked all over with a fork
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp finely minced shallot
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup whipping cream
Leaves from 2 sprigs thyme
Kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely grated aged white cheddar

4 rib-eye or other steaks, at least 1-inch thick
Za’atar dried spice blend
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Argan oil for drizzling, optional

For the Za’atar Butter, combine the butter, za’atar, zest and oil if using in a medium bowl, and mash well with fork until smooth and creamy.

For the Smoky Eggplant, prick the eggplant all over with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and roast in preheated 400°F oven until the outside is charred and the eggplant collapses, about 1 hour. Note: You can also do this on a barbecue or by placing directly on the burner of a gas stove and cooking until skin is burnt and crispy. When cool enough to handle, discard the skin and chop up the flesh and seeds. This should make about 1-1/4 cups.

In a medium, non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium. Cook the minced shallots and garlic until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped eggplant and cook, stirring, to get rid of most of the moisture, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cream and thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes until thick. Transfer the eggplant mixture to food processor, add the cheese and purée.

Bring the steaks to room temperature and season to taste with za’atar, salt and pepper, then rub all over with olive oil. Cook for 5 minutes in preheated skillet until a crust forms on the bottom. Flip with tongs and cook about 4 minutes for medium rare, or to desired doneness depending on thickness of steak. Transfer steaks to cutting board. Let stand 5 minutes.

To serve, divide the Smoky Eggplant among 4 plates, then top each with 1 steak, sliced or unsliced, as desired. Melt the Za’atar Butter in microwave or in small skillet over medium-low, then drizzle over the steaks. Drizzle argan oil over each portion, if desired.

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