Sam Tabet, the flamboyant owner of Café Beirut, seats me next to a 250-year-old Iraqi tea tray. “I’ll just be five minutes because I promised I was going to play them one piece of music.”
He steps up to a keyboard beside a family of six (who occupy a fifth of the available seating) and plays a dramatic Middle Eastern tune that could be the intro to a Syrian soap opera.
And his food’s not so bad either.
Start with makanek, a link of miniature spicy sausages similar to chorizo but sweetened with a white wine and apple vinegar reduction. If you’re looking for a larger version of that, his Jabali kabob is almost sausage-like in density and quite spicy with diced jalapenos, but has an earthy mix of pistachio and pine nuts.
Served with buttery homemade humus, fattouch (a zesty salad with pita crisps), pickled beets and barbecued vegetables, it’s hefty to say the least. So, cut through it with Chateua Cabernet Ksara, a sweet red from Tabet’s Bekaa Valley home.
There’s also a large vegetarian menu showing the many ways Lebanese work with eggplant and lentils, and rosy baklava courtesy of his wife, Mona, who runs the tinier, take-out location on Whyte Ave.
And, once a month, Tabet covers a single Arabic artist’s classics and translates the lyrics for English audiences.
Call ahead for the full Emir treatment: An evening of off-menu samplings called taszka. It’s named after the act of sipping arack, the milky, licorice-like and highly alcoholic (53 per cent) aperitif of the Arab world, which Café Beirut also serves.