Cedars Tapas Bar had its soft opening last Friday, which five days later wasn't hard to tell.
While much of the interior was finished at the Montrose restaurant helmed by the Cedars Bakery team, the faint smell of paint lingered in the air. There was a limited wine list (though wines from Lebanon, the country that inspired Cedars' menu, were offered), and it was deceptively quiet inside the contemporary gray dining room, fitted with a few tufted banquets.
But one can imagine how the space will fill up during busy dinner services. The gray will fade far into the background as vibrantly dressed diners share small Mediterranean plates, spastic Eurodance will fill the air, and the overwhelming scent will be of cumin and cardamom, catching everyone’s attention as the eyes drift toward a crackling bowl of sujuk.
To be sure, fans of Cedars Bakery and the wizardry it produces on pitas should be excited for Cedars Tapas Bar, which early on is presenting crowd-pleasers and old bakery friends enhanced for the dinner crowd.
One old friend that bakery fans know well is the shawarma sandwich, in which thin-sliced beef is seasoned and wrapped in a pita. Onions, pickles, and tomatoes are provided, along with a pasty tahini sauce that adds just enough bite and acidity. Cut into sections (called “sushi style” by Cedars), and complemented with a balanced coleslaw, the sandwich will likely be the popularity contest favorite here.
Cousin to the shawarma sandwich are a trio of Lebanese sliders and a trio of tacos, in which shawarma beef rests beside pico de gallo and tahini sauce. They will surely have their fans, too.
More easily shareable dishes include fried goat cheese balls, whose rich creaminess played well against a paired sweet chili sauce, and the fried kibbeh, a traditional dish to the northern reaches of Lebanon and current-day Syria. Egg-shaped croquettes made of bulgur, ground beef, onion, and pine nuts are first crunchy but have the tendency to crumble. They are slightly heavy on the bulgur but still quite good.
But you’ll want to order a sujuk plate, which is a bowl filled with nuggets of the dry sausage common to much of the Mediterranean and Middle East. A party of peppery spices brighten the meat, which is flavored with lemon juice and left to bask in an oily pool where lemon, garlic, and other tangy flavors pervade. Cooked to a beautiful red velvet, the sujuk is hard to deny.
Cedars is also showcasing fried calamari and coconut shrimp, along with a host of typical Mediterranean dips and street favorites (hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, grape leaves). Kabobs are available as entrees, and salads include tabouli and a Greek salad (though the kind with lettuce). There seems to be something for everyone here, but as long as you’re adventurous, you’ll want to trust Cedars here and go in on the tapas.