Bibi’z Restaurant I Lounge, the three month old “Global American” 210 seat restaurant that opened in the space formerly occupied by Mountain House Pizza, offers diners an array of wallet-friendly, palate-pleasing options. Owner Ida Assaf, whose restaurant experience includes former GM posts at Napa Grille in Paramus and 90 Grand in Englewood, brings her parents’ Lebanese and Jordanian background into play and allows 26 year old Paramus-native executive chef Bill Kang to freely interpret. Kang hails, according to Assaf, from NYC’s Gramercy Tavern, where he was lead line cook. Assaf makes dining room rounds, greeting regulars and introducing herself to diners — a welcome touch.
Look for the unexpected at Bibi’z, from the name, which stems from Assaf’s young nephew’s version of sweetie blended with “z” (symbol for the “ohm” symbol, to corn dogs (more on this later), to organic and locally sourced ingredients to an extensive wine by the glass list which emphasizes alternative grapes and smaller wine houses. It’s all part of the plan for Assaf, who already has plenty of regulars who enjoy the dimly lit, modernist ambience, which has been “refreshed” sparingly from the former tenant’s space, conveying a hip, adult vibe. The diverse, versatile menu which freely blends Nibbles ($5 each, ranging from hot kettle chips, minty yogurt dip and chickpea masala to cauli fries), with moderately priced appetizers like steamed mussels with Palestinian sausage and T-Bone lamb chops, ranging from $11-$16. This is where the corndogs come in. Don’t think this is kid stuff: Assaf is a big fan of franks and she challenged Kang to come up with something adults would dig, the latter using corn bread batter dipped fried beef wieners. Corn dogs are almost as popular, Assaf says, as Grilled Garlic Shrimp or Wild Mushroom flat bread personal pies.
Bibi’z menu encompasses brunch options on Sundays, although it remains the same for lunch and dinner. This makes low-fare options like salads, from a sumac and lemon-tangy dressed chopped version to fork-n-knife Caesar attractive. All can be topped with grilled proteins like chicken (add $5) or shrimp, salmon or skirt steak (add $8). The Classic Hamburger ($11), weighing in at 8 oz. includes addictive hand-cut canola fried fries, plenty of toppings and housemade steak sauce. It’s a more traditional sandwich compared to lamb sliders ($9) or Spicy Korean Pulled Beef ($11) served with kimchi, coleslaw and cucumber. Pastas can be order in half ($10) or whole ($18) portions and include vegetarian, whole wheat offerings along with protein-imbued options like meat lasagna and chipotle chicken penne.
The Grill portion of the menu devotes itself to fresh, sustainable fish ranging from swordfish over spring peas, arugula, Sojuk, figs and orange ($29) to pan-seared scallops with mushroom polenta and brussel sprouts ($25.) Poultry items include organic pan-seared duck breast served with a duck filled egg roll alongside baby bok choy ($25) and free range roasted chicken ($18).
My companion and I, both meat eaters, opted for the New Jersey grown lamb shank ($19) which was intensely flavored and succulent, served atop buttery mashed potatoes and plenty of nicely reduced pan-jus. The skirt steak (10 oz.) was full of flavor and nicely crusted, was served with fries and brussel sprouts and a sassy housemade chimichurri sauce. Veggie sides ($6) are abundant in variety, from sautéed beet greens to grilled asparagus, so patrons can easily mix them with Nibble items if they want to keep things in the small plate mode and vary tastes and textures.
We started with the appetizer special of potato pancake topped with crème fraiche, smoked salmon, nicely oily and chive topped. The crab cake didn’t disappoint, with a crusty exterior, tasty watercress salad and chipotle mayo for dipping.
Things I love about Bibi’z? The fact that they filter their water and provide in still or bubbly varieties, so trucked in bottles aren’t necessary. The coffee service ($3.75) is well thought out, an intensely flavored American brew presented with little dishes of shaved chocolate, lump brown sugar and whipped cream, a trio of pleasures. Desserts, ranging from $7-9, are locally sourced as well, if not prepared on premises. Ice cream from Conrad’s of Westwood is offered, along with a buttery, not overly sweet apple tart tatin and lovely flourless chocolate cake. The patio overlooking the parking lot will eventually feature outdoor seating, making it a relaxed place to spend an afternoon or balmy evening. Local emphasis on provisions, whether from a Paterson Lebanese bakery or butcher shop, area farms and meat producers or sandwiches prepared on Trader Joe’s bread, make Bibi’z a place worth visiting, whether you are local to Bergen or visiting from out of town.
Heidi Raker Goldstein is our Bergen county regional editor. A locavore, cooking enthusiast, publicist and mother of three junior gourmands, Heidi is equally comfy in greasy spoons and high-end restaurants. When not visiting local farmers markets and farm stands in Bergen and Rockland counties, this New England native, former Manhattanite and Bergen county resident is busy running her PR and green marketing agency, Raker Goldstein & Co., buying food, planning menus, cooking food, writing about food or simply eating. To reach Heidi, email her at [email protected].