I admittedly am ignorant when it comes to geography, a fact that was pointed out by my partner, and one that I am trying to improve on though travel and trying new things. Which brings me to “Lebanese Cuisine” the Lebanese restaurant serving Lebanese cuisine, in case you have missed that. The name on the awning is “Lebanese Cuisine”, but online they are referred to as “Tibisti Grill”. I have limited experience in this cuisine type. This would be only my third time trying Lebanese food, and only the second Lebanese specialty restaurant I have visited.
According to Wikipedia, “Lebanese cuisine includes an abundance of starches, whole grain, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and seafood… Fats are consumed sparingly and poultry is eaten more often than red meat. When red meat is eaten it is usually as lamb or goat’s meat. Cooking is done with copious amounts of garlic and olive oil, with lemon juice as a popular seasoning. Olive oil, herbs, garlic and lemon are typical flavours found in the Lebanese diet. It is similar to the diets of most Mediterranean countries”. It sounded delicious and I figured a buffet would be the best way to dabble in all of the above. Though they also offer an a la carte menu as well.
I found the name of the restaurant direct and to the point, much like the exterior and interior of the building. On the outside coloured posters depicted dishes served and listed their names in red. Maui ribs and roast lamb meals, souvlaki in beef or chicken, NY steak; wraps in chicken, beef, or lamb; and sides like baba ganoush, garlic sauce, hummus, tabbouleh, and baked potatoes.
“Baba ghanoush” is a dish of cooked eggplant mixed with onions, tomatoes, olive oil and various seasonings. “Tabbouleh” is a Arabian vegetarian dish traditionally made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur and onion. It is seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.
Inside the restaurant it was just a seating area and a buffet line. There were no decorations, no need for art or for objects to fill up the space. They gave you only what you needed to enjoy a quick meal with. A clean restaurant, with sturdy furniture, and an assortment of pre-made dishes to help yourself to. The only thing I can say, is that with so much of its space left empty and un-used, it seems like the restaurant was designed and chosen with the possibility of expansion in mind. The back of the restaurant was cleverly hidden behind cubicle-like barriers; a freestanding wall separating seat from sight. They hid the unused space. Empty refrigeration units, empty racks, and permits to operate in sheet protectors. It wasn’t the most appealing view, but we only had to see it when we paid, and by that time it was too late to change our mind about staying for dinner.
Smaller buffets get a bad rep. The thinking is that less business means more food left over and more food going to waste. So to cut costs and to reduce waste they may either reuse leftovers or prepare smaller portions, meaning you are skeptical of how fresh things actually are. And then there is the understanding that buffet food will always be a little over cooked, as it is steeping in the heated dish. Though not every one is so particular about eating over cooked food. You really have to consider, what you are getting for the price you are paying. We were here for their lunch buffet, which gave less variety at $3 less per person, when compared to the dinner buffet. $11.95 for lunch, $14.99 per person for dinner.
All that some need is a cheap and easy lunch or dinner. Food available right away, a hassle free system; and good selection of meat, veggies, and carbs. So the question is do you tip? And how much do you tip for a buffet where you are literally doing some of the service leg work for yourself. I will let you all simmer on that one.
We went in with open minds, and the reassurance that if we didn’t like what we saw, we could easily walk out. Though once we were through the door, we were immediately greeted by the owner. He was most helpful and most convincing in why we should stay for lunch. We ended up taking a seat upon his suggestion. After hearing our want to check things out before committing, he took the time to give us a walking tour of the buffet. The owner was very friendly, and to him everything was “amazing”. There were no names to any of the trays, no list of ingredients under each tub, no way to ensure dietary restrictions would be met. But he did point to each one and list their main ingredients for us verbally. Luckily neither of us had any dietary restrictions to consider and can actually enjoy the assembly a buffet provides.
The buffet line was divided between cold and hot foods, appetizers and entrees. The former includes salads and spreads to start. A green salad, a Greek salad, dolmades, hummus, tzatziki, and a garlic butter to go with room temperature pitas.
The latter buffet trays were all yellow, orange, or brown. Roasted potatoes stewing in butter and herbs, yellow rice seasoned heavily in spices, meatballs in a tomato paste, sausages in a tomato sauce, chicken legs done two ways, and roasted lamb.
On their secondary line was a serving of fried chicken wings and mixed stewed vegetables. The rest of the trays were empty in anticipation of the larger dinner service line up. The vegetables were actually brought out after our first go at the line. I appreciated that despite it being late lunch, early afternoon, nothing looked too sold down. I mean they even put in the effort into preparing and offering up a new dish. And that it wasn’t just a top up.
As our plates were varied and was composed of a little of everything, I will be simply listing notes of the dishes tried.
The garlic butter was good, but would have been better on something crispy, instead of the available room temperature pita bread. I wish there was a way to warm the pitas up, they were hard and chewy, almost stale. Actually I wish they made the pitas from scratch, you could tell this was store bought. Although I still found them one of the better items when paired with tzatziki and hummus. Though the hummus was a little on the bland side. It was easily perked up by stirring in a scoop of the garlic butter adjacent.
I am not a big fans of Dolmades, the peppery leaves are not to my liking. And even if I unwrap them from the little bundles, the soggy paste-like filling isn’t any better. It was too tart and too acidic for me. “Dolmades” are delicate parcels made from grape leaves stuffed with long-grain rice, toasted pine nuts, fresh herbs and seasonings.
There were two different types of chicken, both dark meat and both only leg pieces. One was a spicy chilli, the other more like a mild bbq. You could tell them apart by the colour of the sauce and the presence of red flakes. I liked both for their juicy meat, that soaked up all the flavouring of the broth they sat in.
The lamb was hit or miss. A few pieces were fall off the bone tender like the owner promised. Others got too much heat, and as a result dried out. Luckily with a buffet, you don’t have to finish what you don’t like and get to go back for what you do. I passed on the dry pieces and fished around for the ones that were more tender.
The meat balls were actually more flattened meat patties. And like the sausage they were both just meat in tomato stew. They tasted as you expected them to: ground beef and spicy pork sausage.
Similarly, the Greek and garden vegetable salad was nothing special. Greek salad seasoned in olive oil and feta and garden salad dressed in a salty tangy vinaigrette
Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Overall the food was nothing unique, it tasted good, but nothing very memorable. The flavours were similar to Greek cuisine. We tried a little of everything and went back for seconds, so I will deem the price for the food worth what we paid. However I am not a fan of most buffets in general. I don’t like the presentation or the selection. I don’t like the service model and miss the excitement of seeing a dish set before me. Though here, at $14.99 for the the price of one entree, you are better off paying that price for the buffet, and to be able to try more for less. Also this buffet was missing a dessert component, where most do consider something sweet to end the meal on. Don’t deny your cravings.