This is where you get Beirut-style grilled fish in Scarborough
Ghadir Fish Restaurant is located at 1846 Lawrence Ave E. in Scarborough
Over the last 74 columns, I've toured through many parts of the GTA and beyond, but this week I want to revisit one of my favourite places in this series and share one of its new ventures.
Ghadir Meat & Restaurant is one of the original butcher shops on Shawarma Row, aka Lawrence Avenue East, which became a hub for newcomers. The butcher shop moved across the street two years ago and expanded into what is now a convenience store, meat counter and shawarma stop.
Since opening Ghadir Meat & Restaurant, owner Ali Dbouk expanded and opened a Beirut-style seafood restaurant called Ghadir Fish Restaurant. He jumped at the opportunity when a space became available in the plaza where his meat shop is located.
"Eating seafood is very common back home in Beirut. Especially along the coast, you have many seafood restaurants where you go for simple plates of grilled or fried fish," Dbouk explained.
His new venture immediately looks and feels different to his tightly-packed meat emporium. A bright cerulean-coloured dining room is designed with families and groups in mind, and the centrepiece is an ice counter featuring a dozen fresh fish arriving daily from B.C, parts of the U.S. and Europe.
While choose-your-catch seafood restaurants are fairly common, there are a number of details that set Ghadir apart.
First, what you don't see when you're sitting in the restaurant is that Dbouk now has a bread program for both stores. Every morning two employees at the back of the restaurant make fresh marqooq, a paper-thin bread.
"I like to say that this is a charcoal restaurant. We try to cook everything over thick charcoal. Also the difference here is the spicing that we use, which is similar to what you find in Beirut."
Dbouk imports Quebracho charcoal from Paraguay. It is made from South American Ironwood, and the large, thick pieces allow for a slow and long burn. If you order grilled fish, that's what it will be cooked over.
"It takes a while to heat up but once you get it going, it gives a very long burn and beautiful smoke flavor. This is similar to what you find in towns and villages in Lebanon at people's homes."
For the grilled items, the fish is cleaned and then thickly coated in a spice mix that includes cumin, black pepper, paprika and a few secret ingredients.
The fish is then placed in a grill basket and placed over the thick hot coals. The heat bubbles and crisps up the skin while preserving the juices inside the fish.
What stands out to me about this process is how pronounced the smoke flavours are in the fish, similar to what you'd experience when eating Central Texas-style beef brisket barbecue.
You can also choose to have your fish fried, in which case its dunked in a mixture of paprika, cumin and flour and then flash fried. While it is great, the grilled-over-charcoal version wins for me.
The charcoal grill serves another purpose; it is also used to make the house side dishes, including baba ghanoush. Dbouk's cooks fire up the grill each morning before service and to cook whole eggplants.
The aubergine comes off the grill when the skin is pitch black. After it's cooled, it's mixed with tahini, garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice to produce some of the most memorable baba ghanoush I have had in the city.
When it arrives at your table it is sprinkled with sumac and decorated with a spherical pool of saturated green olive oil, the same olive oil Dbouk brings in every year from southern Lebanon.
"This comes from southern Lebanon from a small olive farm. They press it during harvest and I get the pure product in April. We use it to finish many of our dishes because it has a very sharp and beautiful taste."
Tear off a piece of marqooq bread to scoop the baba ghanoush. When paired, it gives off pronounced nutty and smoky flavours, with a slightly bitter and fruity accent.