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Polarized over Snaubar 

Snaubar, the deluxe Lebanese resto-bar downtown, is uneven and needs to get its kitchen sorted out, Liz Feltham says.

It's good, it's bad, the service is great, the service is awful...does everyone have an opinion about new Lebanese eatery Snaubar? It's easily the most polarized debate I've heard about one restaurant lately. Since it's been open a few months now, I've got to find out what the deal is for myself.

Snaubar (pronounced "snow bar", meaning "pine") is visually stunning. A gorgeous glass-tiled bar back, long banquettes upholstered in plush burnt orange, and creams and browns provide a chic backdrop for elegant dining. Snaubar offers live music, belly dancing, cocktail hours and bills itself as fine Lebanese dining.

The first time we're at Snaubar, it's not good. The service is indifferent at best (although I notice a younger crowd getting more attention) and the food inadequate. A repeat visit yields more positive results: a competent server and marginally better food.

All of the usual Lebanese dishes appear---hummus, baba ghanouj to kebbahs and shawarma---plus a couple of more unusual findings, like frog's legs and chicken livers.

Frogs' legs "provincial" (very French), served with garlic and lemon juice, are mild in flavour and rubber in texture. Kafta balls are well seasoned, and a bright light is the pomegranate molasses. The tartness of the sauce elevating the meatballs out of the ordinary---but there's not nearly enough of it. Mjadra, lentils and rice, is a mushy mess. Fattouche is the classic salad of tomato, radish, onions and cucumber topped with crispy pita squares, and there's nothing wrong with this version.

For main courses, I ask about the special, listed as "a homemade Lebanese meal, made fresh daily." It's not a special, though---just something off the menu. I am not given a satisfactory answer as to why it's "special." It's almost as though when the menu was printed, the idea was to have a daily special, but that idea never came to fruition.

Lamb shawarma sounds appealing, as does the grilled veggie plate. The lamb has a nice garlicky taste; the hummus and tabbouleh on the side are good. Like the fattouche, there's nothing wrong, but there's nothing to get excited about, either.

Our server assures us that the grilled mixed platter is big enough for two. Two what? We wonder, as we look at the paltry pieces of chicken and beef set before us. There's hardly enough to taste. We have better luck with chicken taouk, as the portion is larger and the chicken is juicy and tender.

For dessert, we have a small cup of the very strong, very sweet Arabic coffee, which is really very good indeed.

The kitchen really seems to be struggling with flavours and consistency; perhaps the restaurant is taking a long time to get through its opening growing pains.

While the food may be lacking, the bar is not. A small but broad wine menu includes vintages from Lebanon's Ksara, but no Nova Scotian bottles. All the colors of the Johnny Walker rainbow are here, along with a lovely selection of martinis.

In the restaurant business, the money is made in beverage sales; restauranteurs get higher profit margins from drinks than from food. That's a good thing for the owners of Snaubar, because while this is an excellent cocktail lounge, the food is many inconsistent degrees of mediocre and the kitchen has a long way to go before it can truly call itself "fine dining."

Snau job? Go to the Snaubar page at thecoast.ca and post your review.

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