I had it on good authority that there was amazing Lebanese food in Cincinnati. Yes, I was shocked too. But like most of our delicious ethnic restaurants, the best Lebanese food was to be found about 25 minutes away in the suburbs. So one night, a group of friends and I soldiered up and headed over to the Phoenician Taverna in Mason. I had heard rave reviews about this restaurant from Lebanese and non-Lebanese people alike, so I was excited to try it out.
The restaurant itself is located in a small strip mall; but don’t let that deter you. The inside is clean, simple and open. There’s a large bar area and an open kitchen, both adding to the welcoming feeling of the restaurant. The staff, including the owners, bartenders and servers could not have been kinder or more accommodating. It’s a casual, cozy kind of atmosphere.
After our table of 8 was seated, we all happily perused the menu. Another Middle Eastern friend and I decided to
be bossy graciously order for the able, so we could all try several of the dishes.This is a typical way to eat in Lebanese restaurants; lots of small plates to share.
Round one….such deliciousness to be had here! We enjoyed their homemade Zaa’tar, a savory blend of sumac (the citrusy, savory herb NOT the poisonous plant), sesame seeds and olive oil. Tabbouleh and Fattoush salads, both of which were fresh and crisp. A Hommus Special was hommus topped with spiced beef and lamb, which took regular hommus to another level….mmmm, meat hommus. Lahm Bel Ajin, was a chewy, thin-crust flatbread with a sprinkling of beef and lamb on top (a Lebanese-style pizza). Fool, which is a rough mix of fava beans, spices and lemon was a refreshing change from the other meat-heavy apps. Finally, my favorite app was the Kibbe Nayeh with whipped garlic. Drool. Kibbe Nayeh is not typically seen on restaurant menus, as its a raw lamb dish mixed with burgher wheat and spices. It is however often served in people’s homes. I knew that the restaurant had an excellent reputation and could I try their raw dish (you want to be careful ordering raw anything!)
It was positively excellent. I could have made my meal just eating that.
One of my many small plates; a heap of the fattoush salad scooped up with Syrian bread. Oh, the Syrian bread. These fabulous people bake their own Syrian bread daily. Swoon. The bread was soft, warm and perfect for all the dips and spreads on the table. Worth the trip to the ‘burbs just for that. Real talk.
Round 2…… We enjoyed the Spinach Fatayer, a homemade spinach pie served cold; this is one of my favorites from home. Often purchased at Lebanese bakeries, it makes a perfect quick lunch. We also tried this gorgeous chicken and yogurt dish called….Fatteh Bel Djaj; this was not a dish I was familiar with; but I loved every bite. The yogurt makes the chicken exceedingly tender and the pop of the pomegranates was just right.
Finally (oh yes, there was more, we were 8 people!) we ordered the Mixed Grille of meats, including Kofta (a sort of lamb hamburger), spiced grilled lamb, chicken and vegetables. The verdant green herb sauce on the side along with more whipped garlic made this incredibly hard to stop eating.
Believe it or not; there was room for sweets and Turkish coffee. As tradition, once you finish your coffee down to the grounds, you flip your cup over on the saucer and let the grounds settle, then you flip it back over and “read” your grounds.
Plenty of aunties and cousins are very skilled at this; but I’m not – so we took a guess at this one….I say a smiling lady? I’ll take it because after this incredible feast and taste of home, I was one smiling lady for sure.
You will be a smiling lady.