Restaurant review reborn byblos south tampa bake bacon oven

2832 S. MacDill ave., tampa. Appetizers: $5-$14; entrees: $14-$42.50; desserts: $8-$10; wines by the glass: $8-$16. 813-805-7977; bybloscafe.Com.

Being a restaurant owner must sometimes feel like driving NASCAR, only without sponsors. Things move very fast, there’s lot of competition, and it’s dangerous to move ahead. Every time you make a change, you may crash and burn. Risk is the name of the game.

And the culinary racetrack that is macdill avenue in tampa keeps adding fast cars. Heading south toward byblos at bay to bay boulevard, you see the lure, flames indian cuisine, the intimidating teammates datz and dough, and a beef O’ brady’s chain.

Last year, the estephan brothers, ziad and roger, decided to overhaul the look of byblos, their popular palma ceia haven, and expand the reach of the menu. I raved about the traditional lebanese fare in my 2013 review and named the restaurant one of tampa bay’s best bargains two years later in the annual CL food issue.Pork belly

so I enter really curious about the results of the update.

First off, the physical renovation is beautiful; there’s a very mediterranean resort feel. It’s sleek, white, modern and appealing. At night, the lighting makes the building simply glow. The space is somewhere you’re happy to be. Since my last review centered on the lebanese cuisine, we focus on items new executive chef david puatu brings to the table as byblos seeks to widen its appeal.

Cheese and charcuterie plates are now seen all over town, and the reborn restaurant’s variety is standard — perfectly fine, yet without major innovations or personal imprints to make it stand out.

More inspired is the compressed watermelon and pork belly, sprinkled with bits of goat cheese and a few leafy greens in a light, smoky bacon vinaigrette. Commercial modernist cuisine vacuum chambers have a lot more suction than the food saver you might use to try sous-vide cooking at home. Professional kitchens have discovered that it’s possible to compress melon to the density of sushi.Pork belly in fact, this watermelon resembles ahi tuna. Slices of seared pork belly — which, at first glance in the dim, atmospheric glow, resemble eggplant — are a delicious match. It’s a great addition to the race. Let’s hope the entrees provide the same supercharged fuel.

Two enormous, thick-cut lamb chops are flavorful, but a little too charred and slightly dry. The fregola risotto lacks lushness and allure, and the salsa verde and dots of crumbled feta cheese aren’t enough of a boost for this to be a truly memorable dish.

The shrimp rigatoni is also underwhelming and has me wondering why they do pasta at all. There are few shrimp, plus a very light sauce laced with calabria chile, cherry tomatoes and bits of basil. I know there’s a desire to expand the offerings to embrace more of the mediterranean, but why add ho-hum dishes to a lineup that plays a delightful tune with the magnificent “taste of lebanon”?

While the octopus tentacle is tender and matches well with dollops of saffron rouille, the so-called patatas bravas are mislabeled imitation.Pork belly instead of crispy, twice-fried cubes with a spicy pimentón sauce, we’ve got fingerlings split lengthwise with an unremarkable marinara. Perhaps if the menu didn’t build up our expectation for a specific crunchy potato and distinctive spicy sauce, we might not’ve noticed. But one taster had recently experienced the real deal with me at soho’s bulla gastrobar and was bummed out.

Our tastiest entree is the chicken kebab. The huge, grilled chunks of garlicky breast meat are moist and bursting with flavor. Sitting on top of a soft sauté of seasonal veggies, they come with a side of the restaurant’s superb, tangy hummus. It’s what they do best.

We also order a side of brussels sprouts, a formerly loathed veggie that’s now having a heyday as chefs unlock the key to finding ways to tame the sulfur by not cooking them to death. Here, they’re prepared till nearly soft, but they have a mild flavor enhanced by the crunch of sliced almonds, sweet caramelized onions, and a touch of tahini (sesame paste).Pork belly the addition is a nice touch.

Budino seems to be the dessert of the moment. It’s popping up everywhere, which makes sense because it’s easy to do ahead of time in a glass or mason jar — and who doesn’t like butterscotch custard? This version has an unusual gossamer lightness with a drizzled cap of thick caramel. The accompanying round tahini cookies are a pleasant twist on shortbread. It works.

The lebanese ice cream, however, is the real treat. Three big, creamy scoops deliver intense sweet pistachio flavor, and an ample crumbled baklava garnish adds the perfect texture and sweet honey notes. The whole table makes short work of our bowl.

In a winning race, the servers are akin to the pit crew. They’ve got to be on top of their game to keep the pace of the meal flowing. Sadly, this is where our visit to byblos falters. The service is not attentive to small details. We need to ask for water refills, then again to order dessert, and, finally, to get our check.Pork belly too many stops for a smooth trip.

CL food critic jon palmer claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system, or email him at food@creativeloafing.Com.