Byblos and Miami Food Pug have a history. We’ve been following this popular Toronto restaurant for months now; when we first found out a Miami outpost was coming, the place was scheduled to open in March. So yeah, we’ve been waiting a while.
A few weeks back, the media invite arrived and we found ourselves in the former Catch space at 1545 Collins Avenue. Would Byblos’s Eastern Mediterranean fare impress us after all these months?
Hell yes. Pardon our mild French, but Byblos is much more than just a restaurant. It’s an experience.
From the second you walk in, you’re transported to another continent — no plane ticket required. Gorgeous blues, greens and golds color everything from the walls to the seats and tables in the upstairs dining room. The downstairs lounge is equally impressive, and perfect for enjoying one of Byblos’s many tasty libations (more on those later).
The menu marries Middle East and Mediterranean influences (“Middleterranean” as our good friend Sara Liss calls it), of which there’s been an influx in Miami lately. Byblos easily sets itself apart from the pack with varied offerings that won’t break the bank in a luxurious setting that might make you think otherwise.
What we had that night was just a taste of the full menu, which features everything from mezze and pide to large plates, rice and sorbets. There’s several other sections to the current menu, but we won’t bore you with those details: See it for yourself on the official website.
Where to start? With the drinks, of course. On the cocktail menu, you’ll find some unique concoctions alongside classic cocktails with a Middle Eastern twist. Two of our faves: the Gulab and the Byblos Old Fashioned. The former traditionally involves rose-infused Absolut Elyx Vodka, pomegranate syrup, fresh lemon and rose water. The description — floral, tart and beautiful — fits it to a T. The scent and taste go together beautifully. Full disclosure: We ordered a non-alcoholic version, but we’re sure both versions are lipsmackingly good.
The Byblos Old Fashioned with its Bulleit Bourbon doesn’t seem like anything special but oh it is. Turkish bitters and orange oil round out the drink recipe and liven up this already great drink. It’s elevated but retains its simplicity.
Foodwise, we got the palette party started with some Turkish Manti Dumplings and their waves of flavors. Smokey eggplant, yogurt sauce and molasses create the taste rollercoaster, which hits you with smokiness, saltiness and sweetness.
On the other side of the flavor spectrum was the tuna ceviche, whose acidity provided a nice counterbalance to the dumplings. Considering there’s a Peruvian place on every corner of Miami, we’re getting kinda tired of traditional ceviche. But this one was different — and welcome.
In this dish, there’s green schug, house buttermilk and squid ink, which result in something magical when you combine all the elements. After we ran out of chips, we just tore into the ceviche straight out of the dish.
Speaking of delicious surprises: When we read Vine-Ripened Tomato Salad on the menu, we expected your typical salad. Nope, Byblos clearly has its own delectable definition; Webster needs to update his dictionary with this reinvention that includes pomegranate, Persian feta and pickled red onion. It was divine; the tomatoes were sweet and had the right amount of firmness — picked at the height of ripeness. The firm yet smooth feel of the tomatoes, along with the crumbly saltiness of the feta cheese and the crunch of the pomegranate seeds touched on all the different textures.
Our two mains — roasted halibut and chargrilled cornish hen — stood out albeit for very different reasons. The roasted halibut came with chraimeh sauce and house yoghurt; the sauce was overwhelming and unnecessary. The fish could have and should have stood on its own. Fortunately, the cornish hen was perfectly balanced with sabzi sauce, toum and fried leek; we especially liked the taste of the grill on the chicken.
A lot of thought was put into the sides, which we would happily eat by themselves. Do not leave without one of the rices, which are all musts. Our pick: Persian fried rice with sujuk and Key West shrimp. Crunchy and soft rice meshed well with the shrimp and sausage to create one of the night’s highlights. The hand-rolled couscous — a much simpler plate — also stood out and was a nice, lighter side to our generous mains.
At this point in the meal, we needed something else to wash all the food down. Our awesome server Alex recommended the cold tea service. Due to this suggestion, Alex is our new best friend. He and mixologist Clayton Cooper brought out an epic Persian-inspired tea set filled with Habibi Marguerite (chili-spiced strawberry tea, cilantro, lime and Avion Silver Tequila). This and the other three teas available — all of which contain alcohol — might just have you trading your usual happy hour for afternoon tea.
To cap the night, we each got our own desserts: the Pizzelle Baklava (ice cream, salted caramel and couscous praline) and the Loukoumades. The Pizzelle Baklava is your Eastern Mediterranean version of an ice cream sandwich. We couldn’t get enough of that crispy praline.
As for the Loukoumades: To call them just donut holes would be an injustice. These tiny balls with attiki honey, walnut praline, burnt honey ice cream and halva are next-level donut holes. We’ve run out of adjectives — just trust us on this one.
Needless to say, we left Byblos full. We also left Byblos with plans to come back ASAP. This long-awaited restaurant met and exceeded our expectations. If you need even more reason to check them out, their Miami Spice menu will definitely sell you. Why are you still reading this? Go make your reservation and then come back to tell us what you think.