NIAGARA FALLS – Fusion, according to the folks who would know, is defined as the process of combining two or more distinct entities into a new whole. The latest such effort locally involves a new restaurant in the City Market that combines Lebanese with Italian-American cuisine to form – what, Italebacan?
Technically, The 755 Restaurant and Lounge doesn’t so much “fuse’’ those distinct ethnic flavors as it combines them ... as in, on the same menu. There are no weird Italian-Lebanese blends, no pita parmigiana or anything like that. But there are plenty of Mediterranean-style favorites, complemented by a classic American section of burgers and steaks and such, as well as a scattering of pasta dishes. I’m not sure where those came from, but I suppose it’s a logical extension of the Mediterranean theme.
The good news: most of it is excellent, really top-notch. It’s affordable, the staff is friendly and the place itself (once known as Macri’s Palace, and in a later incarnation a Jamaican place called Island Style) is a joy to behold, a three-level drinking and dining experience that can accommodate anything from couples to conventions.
There’s a dining room on the ground floor, another larger and fancier one a level up, and a nice bar/lounge area downstairs that also doubles as the stage for open mic comedy and poetry reading nights, karaoke and local bands.
There’s 1960s music on the sound system, it’s cozy and comfy and a great place to take in a game or get a late-night snack. You make the call.
Anyway, the reason we visited was to sample the food that we had heard so much about from friends who raved about the place. We came away with a healthy appreciation, as well.
First, let me tell you about the “Two can eat for $30’’ special. It allows you to sample virtually all the tempting Mediterranean-style dishes in one fell swoop, offering hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, beef kafta, grilled chicken, spinach pastry, cauliflower, eggplant and pickled vegetables, tahini sauce, pita, your choice of fries or rice and your choice of tabouli or fatoush. There was enough of each for both my daughter and her boyfriend (not to mention myself) to sample everything, and while they both walked away more than satisfied, they also took a significant amount home.
The best components were the hummus, the falafel, the spinach pastry and the rice. The hummus, finished with extra virgin olive oil, paprika and mint, was super-fresh and extremely tasty. It may have been the best hummus I’ve ever sampled. Ditto for the falafel, a crunchy fried vegetarian patty of ground chickpeas, fava beans and spices.
The spinach pastry (along the lines of a spanakopita) was a tender and flaky phyllo pastry filled with spinach, kalamata olives and feta cheese. The flavors melded wonderfully and subtly, the cheese just barely noticeable. Absolutely wonderful.
I’m not certain what type of rice it was (I asked the waiter, and he assured me it was “very good,’’ a rice mixed with “something like an angel hair pasta’’) but I am positive that it was exceptionally good. Served in ample portions, it did, indeed, feature something looking like longer pieces of angel-hair pasta (vermicelli?). It was topped with a dash of seasoning (paprika?) that just gave it a very nice flavor.
Stef and Gene opted for the rice and the fatoush, a fresh salad made with parsley, cucumber, tomato, radish and romaine lettuce. It came as a huge, teeming bowl of fresh garden goodness, dressed with tangy sumac, lemon juice and olive oil. The blending of tastes was tremendous, the crunch ensuring only the freshest of ingredients were used.
Unfortunately, they were out of baba ganoush on this particularly chilly, rainy afternoon, so they subbed in extra amounts of the hummus. Stef was a little bummed, but more than happy about the extra hummus after sampling it. And the eggplant dish that did come with the meal was superb, as well, So no big deal not having the baba.
We’d been told that the fish fries here are wonderful, but we weren’t able to sample for ourselves, as they are limited to Wednesdays and Fridays. There is also a grilled salmon on the menu ($16), for those who might be interested.
The American section was represented by a selection of burgers, along with such choices as steak and meatball sandwiches, strip and ribeye steaks and a four-cheese mac ’n cheese dish. The Italian section featured spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmigiana ($12.95). Meagan tried that and was served a huge chunk of seasoned and breaded chicken breast that must have come from an extremely healthy chicken. It was covered with tomato sauce and mozzarella and served over spaghetti.
The sauce was not her favorite, being decidedly on the sweet side. She gave me a sample and the sweetness was the first thing you noticed, followed quickly by an overabundance of oregano that imparted an almost sour aftertaste. I’m a fan of oregano, but in carefully doled-out amounts -- and this definitely exceeded my capacity for the spice.
Teresa and I both went Mediterranean, she opting for the shawarma grilled chicken platter ($9.95) and I for the grilled beef kafta platter ($10.95). Both were served with the tahini dressing, a creamy, sesame-seed dip that was a little on the bitter side. She loved her shawarma, tender chunks of chicken that are spit-grilled and served on a skewer. She opted for the hand-cut fries, an excellent choice. Her platter also came with a side of hummus and some pickled veggies. Very good.
The beef kafta (long meatloaf-like “logs” consisting of ground beef and onion mixed with spices like parsley, allspice and pepper) also had the fresh-grilled taste. They weren’t extremely flavorful, but got better with a sprinkling of salt.
To top things off we sampled one of the house special desserts, a baklava cheesecake ($7). The serving was enough to pass around between the five of us, with multiple samples for each.
It looked like baklava on top, and cheesecake on the bottom, and appeared to be drizzled with a sweet rosewater concoction. Heavenly! Everything you would expect out of a fusion (there it is!) of two of your favorite desserts, and that rosewater drizzle just complemented it beautifully. Well done!
I almost forgot to mention the Turkish coffee – Gene and Stef tried it out and really liked it, although it is one of those “acquired” tastes that is not for every coffee lover. It bordered on an espresso, Stef said, very dark and strong.
We all enjoyed our visit and plan to stop back again – if for no other reason than to see what awesome desserts they come up with next time.