1385 Robert Street
West Saint Paul, MN 55118
Disclaimer: I forgot my camera at home. Jill was kind enough to lend me her camera, of which I had difficulty operating. Hence, the fuzzier pictures.
On Saturday evening, Jake and I met my college friend at Beirut Restaurant in West Saint Paul.
Jill and I trace our love of Lebanese food to college. During my senior year, I lived with Jill and a friend L, of Lebanese heritage. We were spoiled with the homemade, baked and raw kibbee, pungeunt garlic sauce, and sheets of flatbread L brought from home. Our friend also made the most delicious salads with romaine and tiny cucumbers, dressed in dried mint, olive oil, lemon juice, and minced garlic. Post-graduation, we feasted on triangles of baked kibbee, flatbread, and garlic sauce. My garlic-loathing mother experienced a surprise when she mistook the garlic sauce for mayonnaise. I have never eaten a Lebanese garlic sauce as spicy or pungent as L's, and have never found an equivalent flatbread to her family's which was as thin as parchment and punctuated with golden bubbles.
Once, I spent a whole afternoon attempting to create a baked-stuffed kibbee, using a recipe from the Ethnic Paris Cookbook. My homemade kibbee was overly crumbly and overwhelmingly gamy. L's family did not season their kibbeh with cinnamon, hence, her aversion to Emily's Lebanese Deli. I happen to enjoy Emily's, despite what I perceive to be a regional difference in seasoning. Shish Cafe on Grand Avenue in St. Paul does not season their kibbee with cinnamon, however, I recall disappointment when my order consisted of two, tiny cubes of of kibbee. The only baked kibbee that reminded me of our friend's was served at a Lebanese festival we attended at a church in West St. Paul.
For $18 each, we ordered the Mezza sampler which includes tabbouli, hummus, cabbage rolls, falafel, baked or raw kibbee, baba ghannooj, grape leaves, shawirma, olives & pepperocini, and a two freshly grilled kabobs per person. I chose a lamb and kafta kabob.
To prevent this post from becoming unwieldy long, I may use Homer Simpson/Anthony Bourdain-inspired summarizations. Sometimes less is more. . .
Before dinner, I ordered Arak, $7, described as the national drink of Lebanon.
Holy Anise Batman. According to my favorite scholarly, peer-reviewed source of information known as Wikepedia, Arak is an unsweetened anise liquor. The milky appearance results when Arak is diluted with water. Arak is also traditionally served with mezza and the only flavor that could cut through Beirut's garlic sauce.
Although I have a high tolerance for black liquorice-flavored foods such as jelly beans or absinthe, I was overwhelmed by Arak which wafted from my every pore. Arak doesn't make my list of favorite beverages but has the potential to become an acquired taste.
Jake adores garlic sauce and ordered Beirut's appetizer of Garlic and Bread, $5.75.
Beirut's bread is soft and thinner than typical pita bread. Unlike L's flatbread, this double-layered version wasn't paper thin or bubbly.
Mmmmm. . . garlic. We scraped up every corner of this garlic sauce with bread. The garlic sauce was thick like mashed potatoes and pleasingly pungent. Although the flavor was strong enough to repel pretty, sparkly vampires (although, I would't even if I could), it was mellowly round.
Must. dip. everything. into. this. garlic. sauce.
Pepperocini and black olives: Mmmm. . . briny.
These tender cabbage rolls were filled with a mixture of meat and rice. The grape leaf rolls were filled with a similar mixture but tasted more lemony.
This is a fuzzy photograph of falafel covered in tomatoes, parsley, and tahini sauce. The falafel remained crispy underneath the tahini. Unlike ubiquitously unpleasant versions of bland, mealy falafel, Beirut's were moist and flavorful. I would rate these falafel at the top of my list along with Foxy Falafel's.
Tabouli: Mmmm . . . lemony. The parsley-bulgar balance was perfectly proportioned, fresh, and lacking sogginess.
Silky Baba Ghannooj: Mmmm. . . smoky.
Shawirma meat covered in tomatoes, red onion, and tahini sauce: Mmmm. . . gyro-y
MMMM. . . KIBBEE.
I could have easily consumed this entire dish of raw kibbee and plan to order my own, entree-sized portion when I return. The texture of the raw kibbee is smooth and slightly chewy due to the bulgher wheat. The flavor is mild and nicely salted. I scooped up bites of kibbee with flatbread and dipped them into garlic sauce.
My lamb kabob was tender, juicy, and seasoned well. I thought I was mistakenly given a beef kabob since it lacked lamb's slightly gamy flavor. The kafta was made from a seasoned mixture of ground lamb and beef. Unfortunately, I felt the kafta's meat was on the dry side. As positives, the kabobs were nicely charred and caramelized.
To be frank, I was stuffed before the kabobs arrived, and distracted by my longing for more kibbee.
Jeni's takeaway thought from this post: Do not fear raw kibbee.
Times Jeni mentioned the word kibbee: 14