At Getzville's Byblos, Lebanese Dishes Vary Widely In Appeal

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Byblos Authentic Lebanese
270 Campbell Blvd., Getzville, NY 14068
Phone: 716.636.3102
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"We were all set to order a variety of hand-selected items until our server proposed the Mezza, a $32 sampler-based dinner for two consisting of 12 different dishes."

By and large, Mediterranean restaurants in Western New York - even the really good ones - used to be smaller, nothing special places where the food made far more of an impact than the venue. There were exceptions, of course, and at some point, the chances of finding a nice-looking place with good food were roughly 50/50: Pano's, the Towne Restaurant, and Spilio's are just a few Greek restaurants that range from nice to really nice inside. Byblos Authentic Lebanese in Getzville is another looker, occupying a building that looks like a cozy, converted house, complete with an almost fancy entry and a sitting room that hint at more than just a casual dining experience.

Nice Place, Relaxed Attitude. Though it might look upscale at first, Byblos isn't any more formal than any of the aforementioned restaurants; the first time we dropped in for lunch, we left after finding someone asleep in the sitting room and no one in the dining room; on our second visit at dinner, we stayed, and only two other tables were filled. No one - including us - was especially dressed up. But the crowd did seem to skew older and quieter, as distinguished from the sometimes noisy dining rooms of the Sheridan Family Restaurant, Wehrle Family Restaurant, and other "bring the kids" places with Mediterranean menus.

Good Choices. Though Byblos serves Lebanese food, the menu choices will be familiar enough to fans of Greek and broader Mediterranean restaurants: a list of 12 roughly $5 to $7 appetizers includes tabouli, grape leaves, hummus, and baba ganoush, all with slightly different Lebanese spellings, plus Lebanese fatayer spinach pies, feta cheese, and kabobs. A separate section called "plates" offers sliced, marinated beef and chicken schwarma dishes, plus falafel, each for under $9 per dish. Entrees in the $12-$18 range include various kabobs and lamb; several American choices, such as fish, shrimp, and steak, are also offered for those who may want them. Finally, four types of baklava, listed here as "baklawa," are offered alongside rice pudding and a fudge brownie sundae, with Turkish coffee and a juice drink called "Energizer" as the only real beverage standouts.

An Impressive Sampler Option. We were all set to order a variety of different hand-selected items until our server proposed an even more appealing alternative: the Mezza, a $32 sampler-based dinner for two consisting of 12 different dishes. Though our views on the quality of the individual items varied as discussed below, we loved the fact that Byblos offers this option to customers - it's an opportunity to try a wide variety of different dishes, and feels overwhelming, as the collection of items arrives all at once on dishes that are just large enough for two people to actually share. We arrived hungry, and after making our way through these dishes, had no reason - other than our standard curiosity - to order desserts.

The Less Cooking, the Better. The strongest Byblos dishes were ones that received little or no time on a stove or in an oven: we really enjoyed the parsley-based salad Tabouli and lettuce/crispy pita-packed Fatoush salads, which were typically lemony and surprisingly light, both amongst better versions we've had locally. Also good were the fresh pureed eggplant Baba Ghanouj and creamy Hoummos dips, both topped with dashes of paprika and sprigs of parsley; they were undercut a little by the fact that Byblos doesn't make its own pitas, which weren't great, though the strong flavors of the dips masked the pitas enough that we didn't mind much. Additionally, a plate of Seasoned Feta arrived with herbs mixed in and chopped tomatoes on top, collectively milder than we might have expected, but nicely dressing up what could otherwise be a plain plate of cheese. All of these plates were judiciously laced with olive oil, and we'd gladly order any of them again.

Overbaking or Broiling. We were nowhere near as impressed with Byblos's hot items, which almost invariably showed signs of having been cooked just a little too long. One of the two Fatayer, triangular Lebanese spinach pies, was almost as dark brown as the same plate's baked, egg-shaped Kibbie, semi-hard biscuit-like mixes of cracked wheat with beef, onions, and spices. Even where we tried to look past the tastes of their overcooked outer shells, neither had much real flavor inside, and we found ourselves not wanting to finish them. The same was true of a plate of Falafel, three dark brown chickpea patties that arrived only a touch above room temperature on a plate of salad, drizzled with a yogurt sauce; we really liked the sauce and the fresh salad, but the Falafel had too little taste and almost no warmth or moisture. A third plate of Makali Vegetables, half cauliflower and half thin-sliced eggplant, was also helped by the yogurt sauce but arrived charred; we ate everything, but wished that the veggies hadn't been so dry and browned. They were edible, but not great.

Other Items On The Upswing. Thankfully, there were some redeeming cooked dishes, including the Grape Leaves - three green, rice-stuffed rolls with lemon, mint, and vegetable accents, nicely sized and warmed - and both the Beef and Chicken Schwarmas, which had been marinated, yogurt sauced, and offset with enough fresh, lemony salad to offset their slightly overcooked and dried meat. Though the Schwarma dishes could have stood to be more moist, the Grape Leaves were spot on, and led us to wonder whether the demands of serving all twelve items at once were too much for the kitchen. Though Byblos is ultimately responsible for ensuring the quality of whatever foods it offers, and shouldn't serve a bunch of plates at once if half are going to taste off, it's entirely possible that the items receive better attention when ordered individually. But perhaps not.

Mixed Desserts. Every once in a while, we get the opportunity to re-enact the old Monty Python Meaning of Life segment where we order "one of everything," and Byblos's short dessert menu offered this opportunity. We skipped only the fudge brownie sundae, ordering a plate with all four types of baklava, listed here as Baklawa: Basma ($1.25), Burma ($1.50), Lady Fingers ($1.50), and Traditional Baklawa ($1.25), collectively served for $5 on a single plate. The small portions turned out to be right-sized for our appetites at the end of the substantial meal: best were the square of Traditional Baklawa and the two long Lady Fingers, both made from amazingly delicate phyllo dough with honey and nuts - we both felt that they were a little too dry, and the traditional Baklawa was notably lacking for dripping honey, but we otherwise liked them. The Burma, typically twisted phyllo dough, was served here as twisted and browned shredded wheat with a filling of pistachios - one of us liked it, the other found it overcooked - and the Basma, a cube of hard semolina and nut cake that was sweet and dense, but not particularly enjoyable for either of us.

We were both disappointed with the other dessert, Rice Pudding ($2.75), which arrived in a dish that had clearly been sitting in the restaurant's front refrigerated display case for too long. In a trick we never recall being able to pull off with a bowl of rice pudding before, we were able to literally divide the all but dry pudding into two halves using a spoon, such that the second half preserved the dividing line and its original shape when the first half had been removed. Less a pudding than a stiffened puree, there were no full grains of rice left to be found in the bowl, only broken pieces and a thickened body; it was sweet enough not to be awful, but due more to the texture and lack of moisture than the flavor, it wasn't very good, either. Had we to do the dessert course over again, we'd stick with the two phyllo dough Baklawas and skip the rice pudding altogether.

Overall, we came away from our visit to Byblos with mixed feelings: we found a number of the fresh dishes to be good enough to order again, and the venue and table service were both well above average for this type of restaurant. However, the cooked dishes and desserts were a real mixed bag, and hard to recommend or even consider trying again. There's little doubt in our minds that there are more impressive Lebanese and highly similar Mediterranean restaurants in the area - Natalie's is just one example of a place with comparatively little cosmetic charm but considerably stronger renditions of identical dishes - but, that said, we've decided to hold off on issuing a rating for Byblos until we've had a chance to try more of the items; we'll update this article when we have more to share.

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