Saturday, March 23, 2013

Le Pine: Great Lebanese in Bay Harbor

It's hard to find good Middle-Eastern food in Miami. So I was excited to find Le Pine, an elegant and upscale neighborhood spot tucked away on the otherwise sleepy Kane Concourse in Bay Harbor Islands. Since it opened last year I've been there half a dozen times for lunch and dinner. Since I rarely have time to dine in my own neighborhood, that's saying a lot. This place is good. This is proprietor Hassib El Zein’s first restaurant and it is neatly outfitted with maroon couches, tables bedecked in white linens and a roaring brick oven from which fluffy homemade pita bread and crispy baklava emerge. There’s also a handful of sidewalk tables that provide a pleasant outdoor option. The name refers to the ubiquitous pine nut that shows up in many dishes on the menu and the pine trees of Lebanon.
Chef Fayssal Karout is from Beirut (by way of Michigan) and helms a kitchen that marries the predictable (hummus, kabobs) with the exotic (stuffed pickled eggplants, raw kibbie). All sauces are made from scratch – the tahini, hummus, babganoush and garlic aioli that flank the kabob platters. Prices are reasonable with small plates ranging $6-$8 and mains averaging $20. There’s Lebanese wine on hand - Chateau Kefraya and Chateau Kasara – both from the Bikaa Valley as well as Lebanese and Moroccan beer.
Dinner starts with house made pita bread and a small dish of olive oil mixed with za’atar, the herbaceous blend of wild thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds. The mezze sampler is a great way to enjoy a bit of everything – with small bowls of homemade hummus, babaganoush, falafel and stuffed grape leaves. The “bakery” section includes empanada-like “pies” stuffed with spinach, cheese or ground meat. The house made Labneh, is a thick and tangy yogurt easily scooped up with wedges of pita. Specialties of the house include the Makanic, a ground beef and lamb sausage and the Arayes, a toasted pita stuffed with ground beef, onions and pine nuts. All entrees are served with either couscous or Mediterranean “pilaf” rice and include colorful platters of shish kabob made with tender hunks of lamb, moist chicken and “kofte,” ground beef mixed with parsley and onions. Side salads of tomatoes and onions dusted with sumac round out the fragrant dishes. Dessert is a simple affair – a glass of tea and a small plate of baklava served two ways, the traditional wedge or the “round” cookie-like sweet made with walnuts and pistachios.

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