It was a warm evening on July 22, 2013 when the Cincinnati Baillage was whisked to the Middle East by the wonderful staff and beautiful decor of the Phoenician Taverna. Located in a small shopping area in the city of Mason, just north of Cincinnati, this authentic Lebanese restaurant is owned by Wassim Matar. Formerly the manager of the Lebanese Taverna in Washington D.C., Mr. Matar opened the Phoenician Taverna in mid-2012. The elegant dining area with its open kitchen and marble tables surrounded by brightly colored wall fabrics gave the restaurant a warm, inviting feel. Since this event was a Dine-Around, where attendees each brought a bottle of wine, the elegant bar served as a self-serve counter for guests to sample the wide variety of wines presented to share.
Upon entering the restaurant, we were met by servers passing trays laden with sumptuous appetizers. Later, we were seated at tables covered with more enticing offerings, including warm, soft pillows of pita bread, yogurt and tahini sauces, stuffed grape leaves, and kibbeh. As the evening progressed, we sampled imaginative small plates with dishes ranging from traditional kebabs and falafel to grilled vegetables and shankleesh, accompanied by more dipping sauces, olive oils, and a whipped garlic sauce. The meal ended with a plate of not-too-sweet pistachio and walnut baklava, and a warm cheese tart incrusted with semolina. It was obvious to all in attendance that Mr Matar pulled out all of the stops to make our evening a memorable event.
Along with the opportunity to try inumerable traditional Middle Eastern dishes accompanied by our members’ favorite wine offerings, we enjoyed the friendly competition of a silent wine auction. Bailli George Elliott encouraged bidding on 83 surplus bottles of wine from the previous year’s Chaine dinners which were expertly grouped by Vice Echanson Michael Monnin into auction lots. Proceeds from the auction benefit the Irwin and Barbara Weinberg Culinary Scholarship Fund, which helps deserving students of the culinary arts at the Cincinnati State Midwest Culinary Institute. Some of the wines in this outstanding auction included Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Louis Latour Volnay En Chevret 2009, Neyers El Novillero Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, and Paul Hobbs Russian River Pinot Noir 2009. When the bidding ended, over $3000 had been raised to benefit the Weinberg Fund.
By the end of the evening, we were all extremely grateful that Professionnel du Vin Carmen Parks found this hidden gem of a restaurant which gave us a deeper appreciation for the depth and complexity of Lebanese cuisine. Moreover, it was satisfying to be able to participate in a local cultural event while contributing to a worthy culinary cause.
Graig Smith, Vice Chargé de Presse