The menu at the 755 Restaurant & Lounge is split between past and present. Half is American and Italian standards that seem almost inevitable, considering the space’s 35-year history as Macri’s Palace in the Niagara Falls City Market at the center of Niagara Falls. The other half is Lebanese dishes. ¶ A few months after the restaurant opened last October, the original Italian-skilled chef left. That is when the restaurant’s Lebanese owners turned to what they know best. The results are outstanding. The Merhi family fed us the best Lebanese cuisine I’ve had in Western New York, from meze to dessert. ¶ The Italian-American stuff might be good too, but I can’t tell you for sure. When the flaky spinach pies ($7.95 for three) stuffed with tender, tangy greenery arrived, my eyes widened.
When the rich, suave yogurt spread called labne ($4.95) arrived, dusted with cayenne and aromatic dried mint, followed by assorted olives ($3.95 small) smoky and warm from a saute with fennel seed, I lost interest in the other side of the menu.
Having been fed by Lebanese grandmothers, I am hard to please with Lebanese. The sort of basic Lebanese cuisine the Merhis offer is built on simple things done precisely.
Tabouli is a good example. Most restaurant tabouli I’ve had lacked the proper balance of cracked wheat to tomato to chopped curly parsley, leaving one dominant. Most were a sodden mess, because once its components are dressed in the classic lemon juice and olive oil, water starts to leach out of the tomatoes. That’s why tabouli should have a sell-by date denominated in minutes.
The version at 755 ($10.95 large) had fluffy, cubes of tomato and onion and flecks of wheat suspended in lightly dressed curly parsley, with no liquid at the bottom of the bowl. The combination of airiness and juiciness brought to mind a cloud just before it rains.
Chatting with our personable server Hana Merhi after dinner, we praised the tabouli. “My mother won’t let anybody else chop the parsley,” she said. Aha.
The fattoush ($10.95 large), with a combination of chopped romaine lettuce, cucumber, radish, parsley, tomato, onion and mint topped with a heap of crunchy fried pita chips, also was outstanding. The toasty pita crunch makes for a satisfying salad that is relatively healthy. It was almost as good as Mouna Kabalan’s.
The Lebanese menu has a strong suit in vegan and vegetarian dishes that satisfy meat-eaters, too. Moujadara ($4.95) is a lentil dish that’s like refried beans but more interesting, with caramelized onions and lemon, served with herbed yogurt. Falafel ($4.95), the fried ground chickpea patties, were light inside an emphatically browned crust. The hummus ($5.95 large), chickpea puree enriched with tahini, was hearty, with clean notes of lemon, garlic and olive oil. I liked the babaganoush ($5.95 large), smoky, tangy eggplant puree with tahini, even better.
So here’s what you want to do: order a couple of meze, appetizer dishes, then order a platter. The platters come in chicken ($9.95) and lamb ($15.95) kabobs, which are two skewers of marinated chunks, or beef kafta ($10.95), seasoned ground beef. I couldn’t tell you which meat I liked best, as they were all solid, charred at the extremities and moist at heart. There’s also the vegan platter ($8.95) with lightly fried cauliflower and eggplant, hummus, babaganoush, falafel, house pickles, and pita bread.
Platters all come with hummus, pickles, tahini sauce and excellent house-cut fries. The fries plus various sauces and mezes make for satisfying dipping action.
Whatever you do, save room for dessert. The baklava ($6) is buttery, loaded with pistachios and less sticky-sweet than most Greek versions. The flan ($6) has an exotic note of orange blossom water, hearkening back to Basma Merhi’s Venezuelan roots. The contender for crossover classic dessert of the year, though, is the baklava cheesecake ($7). Flaky phyllo, layer of cinnamon walnuts, creamy baked cheesecake comparable to New York style, except better, because of the baklava.
Besides a chewy kafta, I can’t complain about the food I had. The rooms are plain but serviceable, the location almost hidden. Having enjoyed the Lebanese staples, I left wishing I could skip forward a year and see what 755 could do with deeper, more intricate cuts from the Lebanese playbook. But that’s not how restaurants work.
So I will be patient, and return. 755 Restaurant is not only a welcome addition to Western New York’s menu, its presence in Niagara Falls gives me another reason to go back besides that waterfall everyone keeps talking about. I know where to find chicken parm. Tabouli like that is another story.
755 Restaurant & Lounge - 8
City Market place bucks Italian tradition by serving tastiest Lebanese cuisine in Western New York.
WHERE: 755 W. Market St., Niagara Falls (205-8969)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Monday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $5.95-$7.95; sandwiches, $5.95-$9.95; entrees, $8.95-$21.95.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, with assistance.
Story topics: 755 Restaurant/ Andrew Galarneau/ Dining out/ fattoush/ kabobs/ labne/ lebanese food/ Lebanese restaurants/ niagara falls/ Niagara Falls restaurants/ restaurant reviews/ tabouli/ West Market