In 1990, Chef Sabeh Kouchou and his wife Sonia opened Byblos, where they served happy customers for about twenty years in Murray Hill. Unfortunately, in 2010 a fire decimated their original restaurant location. Taking time to regroup, Sabeh and Sonia revived and relocated, bringing Byblos to Midtown in 2012.
Byblos’ name comes from a Lebanese resort town on the coast that in turn shares an etymology root with the word Bible. It’s a name that conveys history and tradition, all the more fitting when one considers Sabeh’s use of his own family’s recipes. Sabeh and Sonia are both natives of Lebanon, though New York is where they met and where have made a home for themselves.
Byblos’ interior doesn’t try to live up to its Lebanese namesake. You’ll find know coast-inspired decorations or nautical imagery adorning the white walls here, though a few plants and red lighting go far in making an unpretentious oasis-like space. The restaurant is also unbelievably spacious. I’d imagine that even at maximum capacity, it wouldn’t feel too crowded. Making use of this wide, open space, Byblos features live music and belly dancers on Saturdays!
Before Byblos, I’d never experienced Lebanese cuisine before. I found plenty of Mediterranean staples here alongside other treats. Lebanese cuisine focuses heavily on Meze (think Mediterranean style snacks/ tapas).
Out of all the meze, the Hummus impressed me the most, which surprised me as it is a dish that I encounter often, and one I do not typically enjoy. Byblos’ hummus is wonderfully light and creamy with a smooth texture that floats off the palette. Despite lacking the chunkiness I normally expect, it manages to be full of savory of the chickpeas mingling with the tang of lemon and nuttiness of the tahini. If you’re craving a little bit more firmness, you’ll enjoy the roasted chickpeas that garnish the top of the spread.
Of the spreads, I also sampled the baba ghanouj and the muhammara. The baba ghanouj is heartier and heavier in flavor than the hummus as it utilizes charcoal-grilled eggplant as its core while the muhammara’s red peppers conjured some VERY strong, spicy notes.
Caked with herbs, the Zataar Pies were bites of flat bread that just exploded with zestiness. There was so much thyme, that I felt like I was literally grazing on an herb garden with a warm veil of olive oil around each slice grounding the storm of spices. Despite the wide array of powerful flavors, I found myself popping slice after invigorating slice into my mouth.
I also tried the stuffed grape leaves, which were filled with more chickpeas, spices, and rice. They were soft yet full and quite sour. Another dish to wake you up lest you fall into a meze-induced coma!
The last meze I tasted was the Fattoush Salad topped with grilled chicken. It was just an all-around, delicious and satisfying salad. The chicken was charred and juicy and there was plenty of it. Sweet citrus dressing and crunchy pita bits made for a varied range of flavors and textures. This salad could easily be served as a main dish and leave a party stuffed!
For the first main course, Sabeh served Kibee with Laban, Ground Lamb Meatball in Hot Yogurt Sauce. The meatball was a perfect dollop of spiced and marinated lamb with the yogurt sauce elevating the dish to new heights of decadence. I never thought a yogurt-based dish could achieve such a warm, velvety Alfredo-like texture. Definitely worth an order!
The second main course consisted of a mixed grill of beef and lamb. The meats are juicy and dressed up rather nicely, and they come on a bed of veggies with rice on a very large platter.
For dessert we had the classic baklava and the Byblos “cheesecake,” which was literally a cake of baked cheese. Both were crunchy, flaky, savory, and drizzled with a lovely mixture of honey and rosewater. The cheesecake reminded me of a sweeter, more syrupy version of Greek Saganaki.
Byblos is a great spot to dive into Lebanese cuisine–something that too many New Yorkers never experience or taste. Additionally, Sabeh and his team offer catering and delivery services, and a bar stocked with rare Lebanese wines!
Address: 80 Madison Avenue Between 28th and 29th
Phone Number: 212 687 0808
Hours: 11:30-3:00 PM for Lunch and 3:00 PM to 11 PM for Dinner.
Live Music on Belly Dancing on Saturday nights from 9:30 PM to 1:00 AM.