What's a good way to experience Lebanese food for the first time? Bring a Lebanese person with you. I attended the preview party for Balade two nights ago with my friend Nick, and thank god he was there or I would not be able to say or spell anything you're about to read.
Brought to you by childhood pals Roland Semaan and Joseph Said, Balade is a charming Lebanese restaurant in the East Village that's true to it's roots; the staff made sure that I knew that everything we ate was homemade and representative of the food you would actually eat in Beirut. I looked at Nick (who just came back from Beirut not long ago), and he gave the nod of approval. Good sign. So we started with some wine and hors d'ouevres; kebbeh, fatayir, sfiha, hummus, baba ghanouj, tabouleh, and fattoush salad lightly dressed with pomegranate molasses sumac and extra virgin olive oil. The mediterranean flavors were not so unfamiliar to me, being half-Greek, I am used to things comprised of meat (lamb mostly), olive oil, lemon, garlic and herbs. The Lebanese might have a heavier hand with the spices (see pic for proof), but it's a great thing actually, as it creates a whole new flavor out of something otherwise predictable.
Kebbeh, I discovered, is sort of like a dry, fried meatball in the shape of a torpedo (forgive the lack of pictures in this post, I was sick and didn't feel like my camera-nazi self). It's made of bulgur wheat, minced meat, onions and spices. It was good, but a little meat-heavy for me. I really liked the fatayir, which are similar to Greek Spanakopita (spinach pies) only the dough is much more dense. In fact, the one thing I noticed about all of the hors d'oeuvres was the dough they used - it was chewy and tasty, but it was definitely heavy. I only had one of each and I was feeling kind of full. The Sfiha was a nice surprise - a miniature square of pastry dough filled with lamb, beef and spices. These were not as dry as the kebbeh, and the dough had a nice sweetness to it; they also had these filled with just cheese. Honestly, everything I tried was good and it really tasted homemade. Call me boring, but my favorite thing was the hummus, fattoush salad and pita bread; Za'atar spiced pita bread to be exact..
I would love to go back to Balade for a sit-down dinner and try out some of their pizzas or "pitzas" as they like to call them, which are pizzas made on pita bread and topped with things like lamb, tahini and even falafel! Two of my favorite things combined? Really?? Pizza and falafel? Dream come true…
Peep the menu here