Veteran restaurateurs Omar Musfi and Rawan Alhalbi know how to enliven a town's dining options. And that's exactly what the husband-and-wife team have been doing in downtown St. Charles since late October.
The couple, joined by Tulsa-based partner Simon Khatib, acquired Charleston on the River from Marwan Taib and renamed it Eden on the River.
This new Mediterranean restaurant sets a high bar by offering quality prime meat while dressing up the ambience with white linen tablecloths, wood accents and abstract wall coverings in the dining room and blue lighting and gray leather bar stools at the bar. Seating capacity maxes out at 110 inside, while an outdoor patio will add 100 additional spots during warmer weather. But what really gives this revamped eatery an edge is its attention to detail.
Eden on the River's bar offers a concise mix of domestic and imported red and white wines. Beer includes three bottled brews from Turkey and a like number from Greece. On tap, diners will find Revolution Anti-Hero, Bell's Amber, Blue Moon and more. A number of signature cocktails -- Damascus (Maker's Mark, Pama and agave over muddled orange, raspberry, blackberry and strawberry with a dash of bitters), Fox River Fantasy (Absolut Mandarin, triple sec, orange juice, Sprite and a splash of cranberry), Exotic Eden martini (Absolut Mango, Cuervo, orange liqueur, cranberry, orange and lime) and Cinnamon Toast Martini (Fireball, Rumchata and Godiva white chocolate) -- round out the list.
Musfi, whose background includes running Mediterano in DeKalb for eight years while also teaching Middle Eastern percussion at Northern Illinois University, presents an ambitious menu that includes authentic recipes from Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and Syria.
Popular appetizers include spanakopita, falafel, grilled Greek lamb quesadillas and chicken shawarma (pita stuffed with marinated chicken, pickles and a homemade garlic dip). Some customers cobble together a meal by sharing two or three of these traditional Mediterranean small plates.
I can vouch for the homemade hummus, which was shared with a tablemate. The tasty dish was served with warm pita. A small selection of dipping vegetables such as green peppers, carrots and celery would have been welcome, too.
Among the entrees, high-scoring dishes include the Eden Specialty Lamb Shank and the combo plate. As a bonus, soup or salad are included. The salad -- comprised of fresh greens, ripe tomatoes and cucumbers -- stirred memories of more temperate climes even though the frigid weather outside told a different story.
The slow-cooked lamb shank was remarkably moist and tender. The perfectly seasoned meat fell off the bone with nary a struggle. Adding to the enjoyment was a bed of basmati rice with a wine- and tomato-based sauce.
A fellow diner endorsed the well-executed combo plate: chicken, steak and Damascus-style kebabs. This dish was plated with basmati rice and onions and mild peppers.
Other choices to consider are shrimp kebab, salmon, rib-eye served with garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed veggies and the Eden grilled half chicken. Vegetarians might want to check out the baba ghanoush (smokey roasted eggplant mixed with garlic and green and red peppers and garnished with pomegranate molasses and walnuts), mutabal (mashed grilled eggplant, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil muhammara) or dolmeh (seasoned vegetables hand-rolled in grape leaves).
Dessert choices were limited: It was a tossup between two cheesecakes (New York or salted caramel) and a slice of made-on-the-premises baklava (phyllo layered with chopped nuts, butter and cinnamon, baked and soaked in a sugar syrup).
Eden on the River is on the verge of adding lunch service, which will run from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with dinner resuming at 4:30 p.m.
Also, the venue is lining up talent so it can host live music on Friday and Saturday nights. And if there's customer interest, the restaurant may stage concerts on Sunday nights, too.
At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12, kick back to the sounds of the Ruben Alvarez Latin Jazz Quartet. The Cover Girls Violin Show plays pop and rock hits from Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga on their purple electric violins at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13. Cover for both shows is $5.
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Eden on the River
1 W. Illinois St., St. Charles, (630) 945-3332, edenstcharles.com/
Setting: Overlooks the Fox River
Entrees: Appetizers: $6-$10; entrees: $18-$25
Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4 to 11:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday
Also: Take out; catering; live music on weekends, kids' menu
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.