As you pass through the low doorway of Arabian Breeze, you're confronted with the mechanical racket of mixers and a bemused sideways stare from a flour-coated, dark-eyed young man who's busy flopping huge rounds of dough on concave Syrian sajh stoves. It's a rocky-yet-necessary transition from the everyday environs of Northeast Broadway to the cartoonish Aladdin-esque charm of Ziad and Hilda Khouri's new Middle Eastern restaurant. The place bolsters its traditional Syrian and Lebanese offerings with three floors worth of Technicolor paint, earthy tile work and beaded lamps.

Late last month, before the Breeze even started serving its briny makdous (pickled baby eggplant stuffed with a lemony garlic and pine-nut mash) and crumbly-moist kibbah lamb balls (nestled in what Bite Club considers "lemon gravy"), the joint received loads of local press. That's because locals have been aching to escape the long waits at the Khouri family's other cramped-yet-beloved restaurant, Nicholas, since it became Southeast Grand Avenue's answer to the Fertile Crescent in 1986. Now Middle Eastern cuisine lovers have ample room to gorge on the Khouris' Lebanese home cookin,' from slurping slow-cooked okra stew in Breeze's basement dining room to puffing on water pipes upstairs in the restaurant's breezy "Hookah Do" indoor garden lounge ($15 per half-hour of hookah). The new compound also boasts a two-room, 60-person private dining area that takes up the restaurant's whole third floor.

Bite Club's only gripe? At the Breeze, the Khouris have continued Nicholas' irritating no-credit-cards policy. Sure, there's an ATM on site, but on Bite Club's last visit it was broken. "VISA companies take 2.7 percent of every ticket you sell," explains Hilda Khouri. "So our cash-only policy helps us keep our prices cheap." Fair enough, but the credit kibosh still makes us grumpy. Just because a family spends two years refurbishing an old Craftsman bungalow to look like Kubla Khan's stately pleasure dome-well, that doesn't mean they need to act so frickin' Byzantine.


Holy Crap: The McMenamins Empire now has less waste, thanks to a new composting program offered exclusively to commercial accounts by Cloudburst Garbage and Recycling. Four McMenamins restaurants (Bagdad Theater, Kennedy School, White Eagle and the 23rd Avenue Tavern & Pool) have been "recycling" waste like hand-cut fries and half-chewed Communication Breakdown burgers for the past month-cutting down on waste volume by an estimated 70 percent. Way to go, local food giant!

Arabian Breeze

, 3223 NE Broadway, 445-4700.

Nicholas Restaurant

, 318 SE Grand Ave., 235-5123.