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Wednesday, January 28,2009

Ambassadors of good taste

by Joe Torok
Beef shawarma, baked kibbee, falafel, rice pilaf, stuffed grape leaves and stuffed cabbage.
In Delta Township, the cuisine scene is dominated by fast food, bar grub and American-style restaurants. So when The Embassy Grill opened last month, the infusion of zesty Lebanese vittles helped brighten the palette of offerings, as well as the palates of diners. Owned by Lebanese natives Adel and Nadia Badawi, The Embassy serves authentic Middle Eastern dishes: kibbee (baked and raw), falafel, schwarma, humus, pickled turnips, tobouli — and the list goes on.

"This is our food," Adel Badawi says. "This is the food they serve in Lebanon."

Tucked in the corner of a strip of storefronts along Saginaw Highway, just west of the Lansing Mall, The Embassy keeps a low profile. But despite only a few weeks in business, manager Liz Badawi says the restaurant has served a steady stream of hungry diners. Keeping some of the signature items that made a name for the space’s previous tenant, Carmello’s Italiano Ristorante, helps account for The Embassy's early bustle.

"We kept the Italian, because we knew the previous owners had a good following," Badawi says.
The Embassy’s owners didn’t just keep part of the menu, they kept the cook; Jeff Maltby, former owner of Carmello's, keeps his Sicilian family recipes alive and cooking in The Embassy's kitchen.
Freshness is important at The Embassy, and Badawi says unlike some restaurants, prep cooks don’t make meals in the morning. "It's not sitting back there made, it's made to order," she says. "It's not made three weeks in advance and thrown in a freezer."

The raw kibbee ($12) is a signature dish. Ultra lean, raw beef or lamb is finely ground and served with cracked wheat, raw onions and special kibbee spices. Badawi says few area restaurants serve the dish daily like The Embassy does.

The falafel ($8), vegetarian chickpea patties with tahini — a sesame sauce drizzled on top — is fried perfectly, retaining a moist center and crisp exterior, and served on a bed of lettuce and tomato slices. The tabbouli, a cracked wheat, tomato, green onion and parsley salad, is a bright starter similar to the Lebanese salad — iceburg lettuce with large chunks of cucumber, bell pepper and tomato dressed with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing.  Both provide a zesty contrast to some of the more savory dishes that follow.

The pan baked kibbee ($8) is a football-shaped, meat-stuffed pocket with rice, spices and pine nuts, similar in taste and texture to the falafel and, like the falafel, perfect for dipping into The Embassy’s humus, a chick-pea spread with notes of citrus and a dusting of paprika.

The chicken alfredo and marsala (both $11) are made to order and, along with the pizza ($8-12), a deliciously gooey pie, are favorites from the Italian side of the menu. 

Every meal is served with a complimentary selection of olives, mozzarella cheese sticks and slices of pink pickled turnip. Stuffed grape leaves or cabbage rolls ($8) are often thought of as an appetizer, but come as a meal at the Embassy, filled with a beef and rice mixture and, of course, plenty of spices.

The beef or chicken shawarma ($10) is marinated in herbs and spices and served on a bed of rice pilaf, itself cooked in butter and spiced gently with a refreshing touch of cinnamon.

The place might be difficult to spot from the road, but The Embassy is packed full of flavor.
"We're one of those places that once you find it, it's going to be worth it," Badawi says.
The Embassy Grill, 6131 W. Saginaw Highway, Lansing. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. – midnight Thurdsay-Saturday, closed Sundays. (517) 323-9960.

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