Middleterranean hits Miami! Vv Magazine’s travel correspondent Si Si Penaloza takes a closer look at Toronto export Byblos Miami.
Like a Broadway impresario on opening night, Charles Khabouth stands on a chair manually dimming a light bulb. The Byblos Miami show must go on. The dimmer switch went bust after manic manipulation during an exhaustive photoshoot earlier today. It’s clear the inaccuracy of Khabouth’s carefully orchestrated lighting design is driving him nuts. I see the ire in his eyes; a splinter lodged in the lion’s paw. Lighting is a key ingredient to resto hedonism for Khabouth, who boasts Toronto’s top snuggle spots in his trophy case (NAO and Patria are hot picks for date night).
“Light creates the theatre of the room,” Khabouth tells me, once he’s gotten the lighting to his liking. It’s this devilish devotion to details that has set him apart from his outsourcing peers. As the tide of craft cocktails and farm to city takes over Toronto, Khabouth has had to delve deeper to deliver the authenticity audiences now crave.
I’ve checked into the James Royal Palm Hotel for the grand opening week of Byblos Miami, steps from South Beach standbys like The Raleigh and The Delano. The new venue certainly adds splashy curb appeal to the historic Shorecrest Building on the Royal Palms’ oceanfront property. Who can resist a few days of seaside play, balmy breezes and hanging with sommeliers and chefs? The team at Byblos Miami is making waves on Collins Avenue.
Perhaps the best decision Khabouth and collaborator Hanif Harji of Icon Legacy ever made was recruiting Executive Chef Stuart Cameron and keeping him happy and emotionally invested. Initially trained in classic Italian, Cameron is a culinary chameleon who has shown deft mastery for nailing the brief – whether it be Spanish (for Patria), Mediterranean (for Byblos) or Asian (for NAO Steakhouse). His intrepid travel intelligence, research aptitude and bold experimentation has clearly hit a home run more than once.
As a company, Khabouth’s INK Entertainment is a bit like Larry Ellison’s Oracle. They have their hand in everything – from real estate development with Bisha Hotel and Residences to Cabana Pool Club (Toronto’s Answer to Wet Republic) to collaborations with Cirque De Soleil on the Beatles Revolution nightclub in Las Vegas.
At last month’s Taste of Toronto Food Festival, the plot thickened on the main demonstration stage. An ardent crowd fawned over Chef Masaharu Morimoto fileting a massive 250-pound tuna as effortlessly as if it were made out of jello. While all eyes fixed on Morimoto, I noticed Khabouth drinking in the crowd’s reaction as much as he was enjoying the killer knife skills. He must harness this force of nature in chef whites. Taste of Toronto proved a great curtain raiser to celebrate INK and Icon Legacy’s latest coup, a partnership with the world-renowned Iron Chef to open the first-ever Morimoto restaurant in Canada. Morimoto will be located in the core of Toronto’s Entertainment District in the newly built Theatre Park building at 224 King Street West.
But back to South Beach. The spotlight at Byblos Miami is keenly focused on Middleterranean cuisine, with Levantine mezze (small plates), spiced lamb, duck, fish and a beet course to die for. The dish that steals my heart is the Lamb Ribs with Egyptian dukkah, sticky carob molasses, buttermilk and red chili skhug. I take a bite and delicately lick my fingers. Every part of my hard and soft palate is engaged, all cylinders firing – like a pilates class for the mouth. Cameron has balanced this dish perfectly, achieving a texture and juice factor that is simply over the top. It’s the best mezze value for money in South Beach at $16 for four unbelievably gorgeous, meaty lamb ribs. Nothing is prefab here; everything is made in house, right down to the tahini.
At the next table, the NFL is having a tea party. New England Patriot Jabaal Sheard, Tom Brady’s staunch defensive end, gets a kick out of Byblos’ spirit-spiked tea service delivered via trolley. It’s the most tasteful way to get your Grey Goose on this side of Soho House Beach House. Who needs vodka RedBull when you can sip a chilled spiked brew, catch a buzz and natural good-for-you caffeine? Make it a white tea and you get skin beautifying properties to boot. This concept is ideal for the local sultry weather. I notice Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch going for thirds of Thrice-Cooked Chips. He stares at each perfectly crisp spud like he’s wondering if he could hawk these on the telly like Carmen Electra did Doritos.
On to the seafood, the Roasted Halibut in Chraimeh Sauce and House Yogurt is devoured by my table as I am way too focused on the 18 oz Bone In Prime Ribeye with Za’atar Butter and Creamed Moutabel. Kissed by the prized wood oven flame that the Toronto location lacks, this ribeye is tender, tantric and pungent in ways that can only be described as obscene. In my family, I’m the alpha of cooking and tasting Tomahawk ribeye and consider myself rather jaded when it comes to this particular cut. At Byblos Miami, I unabashedly want more – so much so that I hurt the Halibut’s feelings. By the time I had the bandwidth for the fish, it was cold and didn’t stand a chance.
Considering the obscene price tag it cost Khabouth to install a wood oven in this historic 1940 building, I can attest that it was well worth it, as I dab dribbling juices from the corner of my lips. The menu takes cues from Greece, Lebanon, Israel, and Morocco, all rich in wood oven traditions. To adapt to Florida’s climate and specific ingredient advantages, this Byblos imports Toronto’s “greatest hits” playlist but the rest of the menu is Miami-appropriate. Expect adventurous seasonal seafood at this location.
But enough about carnivores. Byblos Miami could easily establish itself as the “mother of all cheat nights” for vegetarians. I have never seen vegetables shine like this on a Middleterranean menu. Fresh produce is respected by Cameron in such creative ways, lighting a fire and loyalty in the heart of herbivores. The sexiest beets in SoBe live at Byblos Miami. Think deep, diamond cut beets, served on a bed of thickened labneh (yogurt strained to remove its whey) sprinkled with pistachio and caraway. Sweet beets paired with Cameron’s distinctive, sour whip of dairy was a smash hit in the 6ix and continues to win points in Miami. The pièce de résistance? Sweet Bejeweled Basmati Rice, cooked à la minute and sparkling with emerald cut carrots, saffron, barberries, and toasted almonds.
Toronto has seen its fair share of culinary colonization from the likes of New York dining institutions – the ill-fated Scarpetta, Momofuku, and now-revamped Cafe Boulud. There hasn’t been much of the reverse with the exception of Terroni and Susur’s strategic, creative exports. The bold export of Byblos strikes the right city at the right time. It’s a sign of Toronto’s culinary rise and deep multi-cultural roots, taking up prime real estate in one of America’s most diverse cities.
This soaring space, with its stunning lenticular murals, fabric-wrapped panels and terrazzo tile patio, is bound to be sought out after this December’s Art Basel Miami Beach. Paging Jeffrey Deitch and Miley Cyrus!
Are you excited for the launch of Byblos Miami? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.