I noticed little here on Balade, the Lebanese "pitza" joint in the East Village, so I wanted to give an update on a recent meal. We had lunch on a Saturday afternoon and ours was one of three occupied tables. I did not take that as a good sign. My experiences of Middle Eastern-ish food in the East Village have generally been negative so I would have demurred had my dining companions not been so intent on Lebanese.
Fortunately Balade proved to be a surprise. "Balade" might be a misnomer, I wouldn't characterize any place serving pitza to be as authentic to its roots as the name implies, but they manage to translate Lebanese flavors into a new Arab-American concept.
We decided to dine mezze style and split a bunch of plates. In all we had:
Tabbouleh - Bulgur wheat salad. Very nicely done, particularly as it leaned more heavily on the mint than the parsley, which is my personal preference. Vegetables tasted vibrant and were complimented by a few grains of wheat, rather than being dominated by them.
Fattoush - Lebanese salad with pita chips. By far the best fattoush I've had. The liberal hand they had with the sumac made the salad mouthwateringly juicy. Very fresh and tasty, particularly on a warm weekend.
Baba ghannouj - Smoked eggplant dip. This was rather middling. They smoky flavor was subtle and somewhat overshadowed by the mushy, out of season tomatoes that were added to the dip. I would skip next time.
Loubia bil zeit - Olive oil stewed green beans. When done properly, long-stewed oil-cooked green beans just barely straddle the line between soft and firm and take on a very springy sweetness. Balade did these just right.
Kibbeh krass - Fried lamb and bulgur croquettes. Arguably Lebanon's favorite dish, these were just okay. Everyone at my table, except for me, loved them, but I thought the seasoning was a little bit on the weak side and I would've preferred some nuts in the filling to add contrast. This was one dish where people might take issue with "authenticity" or staying true to the way grandma used to do things. I have one way of making kibbeh, Balade obviously had their way.
Sfiha - Lamb pies. I love sfiha. I could eat it every day. This was a solid rendition of the dish, though I wish the bottoms were firmer and perhaps there was a little more acid in the dish, though the pies were served with lemon wedges to season at the table.
Manakeesh - We ordered the ham and cheese and the za’atar. While the meal is accompanied by za’atar and fresh, albeit rather limp, pita, we couldn’t help but also order a za’atar manoushe because the mixture was so good. The ham and cheese was also a winning combination with thinly sliced ham paired with stringy Armenian cheese. The dough was, like the sfiha, a little to soft for my liking, but the flavors were there.
At about $20 a head with a few Lebanese beers to go around, I think we made out very well. While it might not be native Lebanese, it is still a good concept that turns out some respectable treats.
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