You know that hour before people show up for a dinner party where you think, "Holy smokes, I'll never be ready in time. What was I thinking?"
Nearly every restaurant opening, or reopening, is like that. I scooted by Byblos, a long-standing South Tampa go-to for Lebanese/Mediterranean fare, in advance of its friends-and-family reopening Thursday. Whoa, still a lot to finish. But it's going to be gorgeous.
Owners, and brothers, Roger and Ziad Estephan, right, have been in the contractor business, so it shouldn't be a surprise that this massive overhaul is ambitious. Opened in 2001, Byblos made a name for itself for kebabs, hummus, falafel and weekly belly dancing. This new design broadens the culinary scope with a more modern look including high-back leather banquettes, floor-to-ceiling windows and an open-air seating area accented by a water fountain bordering the patio and a built-in fireplace.
With the new launch, the Estephans want to remove that veto option if someone says, "Hmm, I don't know if I like Lebanese food." Spreading more broadly through the sunny climes of the Mediterranean, executive chef David Puatu, formerly chef de cuisine at Council Oak in the Seminole Hard Rock, has developed a new selection of meze as well as whole fish dishes and fun fusion dishes like kefta sliders, many facilitated by the restaurant's new wood-fired grill.
General manager Manny Quinones, formerly of the Seminole Hard Rock's Grey Salt, has worked to broaden the beverage program as well, with eight tap wines, a pumped-up array of bourbons and scotches, and cocktails powered by all fresh juices. My first agenda item is to try the signature cocktail, a tableside-smoked old fashioned. Expect a grand reopening in January, but the Estephans expect to be open to the public early next week. 2832 S MacDill Ave., Tampa. (813) 805-7977.
EDUCATE YOURSELF: CRU U
Know a fair bit about wine but keenly aware of how much you don't know? It becomes crystal clear during the holidays with all those lovely opportunities to sip something new at the season's parties. South Tampa wine shop and bistro Cru Cellars has launched Cru U (as in university), a series of wine appreciation and education classes aimed at enthusiasts who aren't newbies but also aren't looking to go pro (that is, not serve or sell wine).
The first Freshman Wine Class starts Jan. 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. and runs four Tuesdays in January for $250. It will be held at Show & Tell at Heights Public Market (Armature Works, 1910 N Ola Ave., Tampa) and will be taught by certified sommelier and Cru wine director Zach Groseclose.
The freshman-level class will explore the components involved in tasting wines, then get in-depth on the major white grapes and red grapes of the world, and give an overview of the major wine-producing countries, with emphasis on New World versus Old World characteristics. By the end of this course, you will be able to describe distinct styles of wine.
This course will be followed by a sophomore, junior and senior level over the course of the year. Just think how insufferable you could be swirling and saying things like "hints of cigar box and pencil lead." A course makes a nice holiday gift for the cork dork in your life.
And Cru is also offering a "home school" version. It will contain a dozen bottles of wine, each of different styles, regions or grapes, along with breezy-but-real write-ups about how, say, each one demonstrates how the same grape can be used to make very different wines, depending on where and how it's grown and turned into wine. Boxes will run $250 to $300, about cost of a regular case of wine. To register, call (813) 831-1117.
FOOD FEST: ARAB STYLE
Guests can enjoy the Arabic flavors, live shows and music of the Arab Festival with free admission. Organized by the Arab American Community Center nonprofit, this cultural heritage festival celebrates Arabic art, food and traditions, with a food court, art and crafts, children's entertainment and live Arabic folk dances and Arabic pop music on stage. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301, Tampa. aaccflorida.org/festival.