Restaurant Review - Smokin' Middle Eastern

Byblos writes the book on authentic Lebanese in Roswell

We sit on the patio at Byblos because it's a cool evening, one of those few respites before humidity and mosquitoes choke all enjoyment from the outdoors. But most people are sitting outside to suck on their argylee.

The argylee water pipe is an exotic hookah-like gadget: It has a bulbous base filled with water, a long stem outfitted with a brightly colored hose with a mouthpiece at the end and a red-hot coal smoldering on top. At least a half-dozen people peacefully suck and puff the aromatic smoke from the device — an intoxicating apple scent that soon wafts throughout the patio.

But it's more than smoke that everyone is enjoying. The cozy, spotless Lebanese restaurant tucked away in a strip mall in Roswell offers a menu of authentic mezza and mashawis (skewered meat kebabs).

Standards like tabbouleh ($5.45), hummus (4.75) and baba ghanoush ($5.45) are present as well as more out-of-the-ordinary habra nayyeh (raw beef with garlic, $6.95) and basterma (thin slices of spicy fillet, $6.25).

Our server, an affable young man, takes our order without any assumptions and answers questions we have about specials with ease. Our mezza, or appetizers, arrive in a few minutes and crowd the table. Instead of ordering chicken or beef shawarma skewers ($12.95-$13.95), we load up on plates of sweet, sour and spicy goodies.

Baba ghanoush is drenched with a layer of olive oil and the fresh-made pita is warm and ready for scooping. The eggplant in the ghanoush is not ground completely smooth and has a gritty quality. It's an interesting smoky derivation of the popular staple.

I love Greek dolmades so I tried the stuffed grape leaves, or warak aarish ($5.45). They come several to a plate, stuffed with pine nuts, rice and tomatoes, and doused, once again, with lots of olive oil. A slight squirt of fresh lemon juice and they were perfect.

The olive oil was abundant in the bowl of labneh ($3.50). The soft cheese, which resembles cream cheese, had a layer of oil riding atop and was just the thing for the pita and other dipping items. We used it to add a little flavor to the spinach pies ($4.75), which were pretty bland on their own.

A plate of makanek, small lamb and beef sausages ($6.45), was also oily and not as spicy as was claimed. There also seemed to be a sweet undercurrent of nutmeg. We rounded the dish out with an order of assorted pickles ($6.50): crunchy pickled beets, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and peppers.

As we filled up, others around us continued to puff the argylee, enjoying it so much, we didn't want to pass up the opportunity. I don't smoke, but we ordered our own apple tobacco for the table, eschewing the mint, honey and cappuccino. The server explained how we should breathe in deep and hold the smoke in our lungs. Hmmm ... I remembered those instructions from smoking something else in my past. But unlike other tokes, this one didn't burn. We passed the smoking apparatus between us, watching out of the corner of our eyes to see how the cool kids were doing it. And ended up taking hit after pleasurable hit.

Smoking friends tell me the best cigarette is the one after dinner. Now I understand. We ordered up a serving of kenafe, sweet cheese and semolina drizzled with honey ($5.95). The sweet honey. The apple smoke escaping from my lungs. The spring air. Aaah. Now I understand.

Department of Corrections
?We screwed up. "Sushi Yoshi takes Atlanta," which appeared May 8, actually was a review of Sushi Yoko, not Sushi Yoshi. The correct information for this excellent Japanese restaurant is Sushi Yoko, 7124 Peachtree Industrial, Norcross. 770-903-9348. Sumimasen.