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All the Lebanese restaurants I've visited over the years promised true Lebanese fare, but most hardly delivered even a soupcon of the Mediterranean flavor. But on a recent trip up north, I discovered Ktze Hanahal, a modest eatery at the entrance to Kibbutz Ginosar, a skip away from Tiberias, that serves authentic Lebanese cuisine.
The genius of Lebanese food is in its simplicity. The cuisine incorporates all aspects of the Mediterranean diet, such as starches, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and other seafood, with poultry eaten more often than red meat - and when meat is eaten, it's usually lamb. Lebanese cooking also includes good amounts of garlic and olive oil.
Usually the food is grilled, baked or sauteed in olive oil, while vegetables are often eaten raw or pickled, as well as cooked. Lebanese cuisine doesn't boast an extensive repertoire of sauces but focuses on herbs, spices and the freshness of the ingredients.
Once we were seated at Ktze Hanahal, the feast began with the mezze - an impressive parade of small dishes brought to our table by friendly and attentive staff.
One of the entertaining aspects of Lebanese cuisine is the manner in which food is served. The assortments and combinations of the mezze were almost endless, creating an enticing array of color, flavor, texture and aroma.
The origin of the word "mezze" is unclear. It may be derived from the Persian maza, meaning "taste, relish," or from the Arabic mazmiz, which means to nibble. Either way, it certainly involves the pleasure of savoring little pieces of food.
Our mezze included a basket of warm pita with za'atar (hyssop); a plate of fresh herbs, another of feta cheese; a dish of olives; and some dips and salads. We also had Beirut humous, which was one of the milder versions I've tasted; fattoush, a salad of green vegetables mixed with pieces of pita; Bathenjan Rahib, grilled eggplant drenched in a velvety tehina sauce; and, of course - since it's the national dish of Lebanon - tabouli salad, made from burghul, onion, lemon juice and tomatoes and huge amounts of chopped parsley, which gives the popular salad its signature fresh taste.
For the main courses we tried Galilean-style lamb chops, which turned out to be perfect for sharing. They were cooked to the point where the bones pulled away with a gentle touch. It was served with hashwa, a pungent Lebanese rice with meat and pine nuts.
Another outstanding dish was the grilled St. Peter's fish, soaked in a special marinade and stuffed with rice and the house's unique seasoning.
The Antabli kebab, though, was my favorite. Each rack was big and meaty - big enough, in fact, to satisfy almost any appetite. It was served with pita bread and freshly grated tomatoes mashed into a tasty puree - quite spicy, yet not burning.
Desserts were a pleasure as well, with malabi, kadaif and atayef - half-moon shaped cheese-filled fried pancakes, which are traditionally eaten in Lebanon and Syria to break the Ramadan fast.
Ktze Hanahal, at the entrance to Kibbutz Ginosar (Road #90); (04) 671-7776. (not kosher)