The offer was irresistible; a chance to eat at Bayroot, a recently opened Lebanese restaurant in Shrewsbury, with friends who were experts on this cuisine, having enjoyed it both here in the states and in the Middle East. The opportunity to navigate the menu with these tour guides made choosing dishes and learning the nuances of the cooking a very pleasurable experience. This family-owned and -run establishment offered us gracious and welcoming service, with an obvious desire to please.
The location is modest, a storefront in the Shrewsbury Village Mall; the room simple and functional. A small number of tables in the front, with shelves along one wall, laden with colorful and exotic Lebanese staples and delicacies to purchase, made for a feeling of authenticity and unpretentiousness. Indeed, that was how we found the food – unfussy, eye-catching, sparkling fresh and very tasty.
Within a few minutes of entering, our table was laden with an array of appetizers. Baba Ghanouj ($5.95), a puree of smoky roasted eggplant and tahini (toasted ground hulled sesame seeds made into a paste). Served with warm sections of pita bread, the artfully plated dish highlighted the tahini element rather than the usual eggplant component, and was both appealing and delicious.
Labne Garlic Dip ($6.95), strained yogurt, garlic, mint and olive oil, was soothing and creamy; light and cooling.
One taste of the Hummus Dip ($6.95), tahini, chickpea puree, lemon, garlic and olive oil, made it quite apparent that the quality of the silky smooth, richly flavored tahini used here, was so far beyond the commercial supermarket brands, that it made even thinking about ever eating those again, impossible. Yes, garlic is a
frequent component of this cuisine, but done in a balanced and unobtrusive way, it is never harsh or overbearing.
Tabbouleh ($7.95), a generous amount of chopped parsley, tomatoes, green onions, mint, cracked wheat, olive oil, and lemon, was a variation of the usual grain-dominant style from many other countries, parsley being the star of this dish. Much lighter and more refreshing than other versions, I really liked this.
A classic Lebanese salad, Fattoush ($7.95), married crisp lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, green onions, green peppers, and a sumac lemon vinaigrette, with thin strips of fried pita bread. It was a nice interplay of cool, crunch, and acidity.
An unassuming sounding Lentil Soup ($4.95), proved to be one of the dishes of the night. Lentils, carrots, onions, and potatoes, with a touch of cumin and turmeric, were pureed into a thick broth, which had wonderful texture and mouthfeel, and was worthy of a return visit.
One lone disappointment was the Spinach Pies ($5.95), the thick, soft, baked triangular dough shells, overwhelming a meager filling of spinach and onions.
I tried to stop eating the Foul Bayroot Style ($6.95), a warm dish of fava beans, chickpeas, garlic, lemon and olive oil, served with more hot pita bread, but I could not.
Shish Taouk Platter ($15.95), marinated chicken medallions, a savory house-made garlic sauce, yellow rice with browned vermicelli and excellent grilled zucchini, yellow squash, green and red peppers, and onions, was juicy and flavorful.
One well-traveled companion deemed the Kafta Kebab ($16.95), a long cylindrical mix of ground lamb and beef, onions and parsley with a tahini dressing, as good as any she has had overseas.
Bayroot is BYO, which gave us freedom to arrive with a couple of different wines, since it was unclear to me as to what the best pairings would be until I sampled the food. A 2013 Boulay Sancerre Monte Dammes, with crisp, lemon-like acidity, worked well as a harmonious white wine. I did not get to open a highly regarded 1978 Chateau Musar, a Bordeaux/Rhone-type blend from Lebanon, which I will try next time. It would be fun to experiment, so a French rose, Assyrtico, Barbera or even a Rioja, all feel like they would work with the food here.
It was foolhardy to think that we had room for dessert, but we opted to split a single order of Kanafe ($5.95) anyway; a slab of baked, sweetened cheese, rosewater, crunchy toasted cracked semolina and a crumble of pistachio nuts, made for a rich mouthful of flavors and textures.
Dining here with seasoned travelers enabled us to explore the broad, descriptive menu in depth. I suggest adventurous diners try Bayroot, allowing the friendly and experienced staff to offer guidance. You won’t be disappointed.
555 Shrewsbury Ave.
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here.
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