"We treat everybody like family," says Saliba, who named his businesses after his hometown. "I know almost everybody by their first name; I'm here every day. Some of the customers have gotten to know each other because they eat here so much." Some of his regulars show up twice a day for Mediterranean repasts, he says. "Some of them eat here more than I do; I only have one meal here a day," he says with a laugh.
It took patience to establish a steady customer base when he first opened Byblos on Metairie Road nine years ago, but its popularity has grown steadily, spawning a deli and market on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie three years ago, and a new and larger eatery on Magazine Street a year ago that features belly dancers on Thursdays and flamenco dancing every month. That location also has an upstairs that can handle private parties of up to 150 people.
"It took a while for people to get to know Lebanese food," Saliba says. "They were scared of it in the beginning. Once they came and tried it, though, many became regular customers."
Many of the dishes are based on traditional Old World Lebanese recipes, but have been modified to accommodate local tastes and make use of the freshest ingredients available. Diners will find Mediterranean staples such as hummus, baba ghanuj, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, tabouleh, cheese or spinach pies, chicken and beef shawarma, and kabobs of all types. They'll also find lots of other dishes with fish, lamb, pork, veal, chicken and shrimp as well as mujadarah (lentil stew), stuffed kibbeh, and the restaurant's signature dessert Ashta, which wraps an "Old World filling" in phyllo dough, bakes it, then tops it with orange blossom rosewater syrup and chopped pistachio nuts. In addition, customers will find lunch sandwiches on pita bread as well as a well-stocked bar and varied wine list.
The cuisine also is healthy, with 15-20 vegetarian dishes available as well as low-fat charbroiled meats. Plus, people who want a quick lunch or Mediterranean groceries can stop by the 6,500-square-foot Byblos deli and grocery on Veterans Memorial Boulevard and pick up sandwiches to eat in or take out as well as almost any imported foodstuff they can think of. "We import items from all over the world," Saliba says.
A Dome of Spring Magic
Gardeners and home improvement enthusiasts won't want to miss the expert advice, ideas and products offered by the 700 exhibitors at the 49th annual New Orleans Home & Garden Show at the Louisiana Superdome April 16 through 20, or the chance to meet TV's Trading Spaces designer Laurie Smith.
The "Spring Magic" garden show, touted as the largest consumer home show in the southeast, offers exhibits, seminars, demonstrations, a Big Backyard Barbecue Bash staged in a professionally landscaped and outfitted area with a gazebo, cooking equipment and sound system, and more.
There also will be a Kid's Wall to Wall Wonder performance and activity area, mini-performances hosted by Children's Castle, Easter-related activities and more.
Admission is $9 for adults, $3 for children 6 to 12 and free for ages 5 and younger. Tickets are available at the Superdome box office, by calling (800) 469-0990, or log onto www.neworleanshomeshow.com. The show is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. April 16, noon to 9 p.m. April 17, noon to 10 p.m. April 18, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 19, and noon to 6 p.m. April 20.
Service Fit for a King
John R. Rolfs, recently named area general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Hotels of New Orleans, knows something about giving guests the royal treatment. He learned the skills as manager of King Hussein of Jordan's royal palaces before he entered hotel management in the 1990s.
"What it first taught me is to listen to what a guest wants and give it to him," says Rolfs, who now manages Ritz-Carlton New Orleans (921 Canal St., 524-1331, www.ritzcarlton.com) and the company's other local properties, The Maison Orleans and The Iberville Suites. "You don't say 'No' to a king or queen. ... If you just say 'Yes, I'd be happy to do that' to a guest, I think it's a great philosophy in the hotel world. It is a philosophy of service."
Prior to New Orleans, Rolfs worked for 13 years for Ritz-Carlton hotels in Boston, Osaka, Aspen, Phoenix, Houston and California.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. manages 48 luxury hotels in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.