Location is as important for restaurants as it is for real estate. That point was certainly proven when a restaurant called Le Chef opened in a Home Depot plaza in Farmington Hills with no street presence. It was doomed before it had a chance to develop a following. Which was a shame, because the fare, service and setting — once you found the place — were excellent.
Happily for those who did discover the fresh Lebanese dishes from the kitchen of Malake Bitar, she and her family picked up the pieces, moved to a more mainstream space and opened a new entity, the first solo venture for daughter Melissa Bitar, who runs the front of the house.
Mandaloun Bistro, named for the 17th century arched and mullioned windows of Northern Lebanon, opened late last year in the former Shiraz Steakhouse quarters on busy Telegraph Road in Bingham Farms. The completely refurbished setting offers a soothing palette in gray and white, with gauzy curtains shielding the big windows and high-backed black leather chairs pulled up to tables covered in white linen. There's a small bar at the entrance, stocked with carefully chosen liquor and wines — including Lebanese — as of last Thursday, the first day Mandaloun could serve liquor.
Malake Bitar's menu of meticulously prepared dishes ranges from the popular trio of hummus, tabouli and baba ganoush — all handled as house specialties and much more than routine — to lamb shanks stewed with okra, shishes and shawarmas from beef to chicken and lamb stuffed with brown rice, almonds and pistachios. Salads are pristinely fresh — for instance, the Lebanese salad, a mix of greens and seemingly a fistful of fresh mint leaves with tomato and white onion in a dressing so subtle it's almost invisible.
It is one of the no less than 11 side dishes available as part of the $9 or $10 lunch, a notable bargain. Those who order shish kabob, grape leaves, shawarma or the delicate chicken kafta at $10 then choose two of the sides. The $9 wrap sandwiches come with one, and choices range from lentil soup to hummus and rice. It's more expensive in the evening, but certainly not out of line given the quality.
There are many dishes on the menu that are less familiar, for instance moughrabiyeh couscous with chicken, onions and chick peas simmered in chicken broth, lovely little grape leaves stuffed with rice, parsley and chick peas and sparked with lemon sauce, and beef-and-rice stuffed eggplant and zucchini.
Presentation is artistic as befits the talents of the chef, who uses family recipes and makes pretty much everything from scratch. She even tackles the dessert pastries, typified by beautiful little bite-sized squares of baklava and a delicious clotted cream pudding garnished with almonds called ashta.
Mandaloun Bistro serves some of the best Lebanese food around, and that isn't faint praise in an area that boasts a number of good Mediterranean restaurants.
30100 Telegraph Road, Bingham Farms
Call: (248) 723-7960
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.,
10 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri., 4-11 p.m. Sat.,
4-10 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Lunch plates, including two sides, $10; wrap sandwiches $9, including one side; salads $9; dinner appetizers $8-$20, entrees $18-$30, housemade desserts $5
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Low
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers