Walking through Times Square on a muggy summer day is one of my least favorite things to do. That said, if there is food at the end of my journey, I'll stick it out. I attended the grand opening of L'ybane restaurant and wine bar last night, and considering the touristy location, I was pleasantly surprised. L'ybane used to reside on the UES, but they have moved to 709 Eigth Ave between 44th and 45th streets. I spoke to the owner, Al, who told me they also have another location in the South of France. Well then. NOW who wants to complain about location? It's either this or the South of France, people. You decide. The cuisine, he told me, is a mixture of French and Lebanese, so expect things like hummus AND French caviar.
The interior is pretty much what you would expect from a wine bar – exposed brick, dim lighting and enough mahogany furniture to fill a Pottery Barn showroom. It might not have been anything new or groundbreaking, but it was a nice space, both in size and decor. The waitresses passed around hors d'oeuvres including feta cheese cubes with a cherry tomato on top, olive tapenade on toasted bread, grape leaves stuffed with rice, kibbeh (ground beef and cracked wheat "torpedos"), and of course, what would a Lebanese restaurant be without some falafel and hummus? I love hummus, and I've eaten so many different kinds I consider myself a pretty good judge on the stuff. L'ybane's hummus was a little bit loose in my opinion; it tasted fresh and lemony, but I thought it should have had a slightly thicker consistency. That could just be my preference, but I like a hummus that can hold itself on a spoon when turned upside down. The falafel, on the other hand, was hot and crispy, just the way Grandma used to make it. The kibbeh, as my Lebanese friend Nick pointed out, was too greasy, and I thought the olive tapenade was delicious.
L'ybane has a plentiful selection of wines as well (I had a nice glass or two of Cabernet), along with a full dinner menu, so whether you want an aperitif or an entree, they'll have something to please your palate. While there were a couple of misses on opening night, I haven't had a full meal there yet, so until then, I say try it out for yourself.