Chef Karim’s Place will surprise you.

Upon entering the upscale dining establishment, one is struck by its classy ambiance – from its fine decor and table presentation to excellent service and superb dining offerings.

Then there is Chef Karim Chhibbane – a man of passion and dedication to his craft, but most of all a simple, down-to-earth individual who emerges from the kitchen to connect with his guests in an earnest desire to please them.

A native of Morocco, Chhibbane grew up in the restaurant business working in his parents’ French Moroccan dining establishment. His background includes studying culinary arts in Lyon, France, before coming to the United States in the late 1970s.

He served as executive chef for restaurants in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, California, for 13-plus years before opening his own Moroccan restaurant in Santa Barbara in the late 1990s.

In 2013, Chhibbane was asked to become the executive chef for a new restaurant planned in Lincoln. However, some issues developed, and uncertainty about moving forward grew. But Chhibbane does not like to dwell on what happened in the past and prefers to move on and look to the future.

“The issues were resolved,” he said. “I am now the sole owner and executive chef at Chef Karim’s Place. When I came to Lincoln, I fell in love with the city. I promised to open a nice restaurant here … and I did.”

With Chef Karim’s Place opening in December 2016, Chhibbane was able to deliver, saying that “Lincoln deserved a good restaurant. People shouldn’t have to go to Omaha to eat. This [Lincoln] is where they should be.”

The menu for Chef Karim’s Place is a mix of Mediterranean, French Moroccan, Italian and Lebanese cuisine. “We try to offer the hospitality of the Mediterranean culture. This is about the whole experience, not just eating and leaving,” he said.

The gregarious Chhibbane loves what he does and loves satisfying people. Commenting about being a chef, Chhibbane said that the profession is a “great thing … a unique life.”

“Wherever there are good people, that is where I want to be. And here I am,” he continued.

He said that good cooks need to possess three things to be successful: the gift of cooking, cooking experience and the love of creating great dishes.

It is not just the cooking part that he enjoys, but also the effect his dining creations have on those who consume them.

Broadly gesturing with an expansive grin on his face, he amicably exclaimed, “I love it when they taste my food and just go ‘WOW.’

“Customers remember when they had something [at a restaurant] that they liked, and I appreciate it when they come back. What I want to do is go into the kitchen and cook the best dish I can for them.”

Appetizers number five and include Hummus Plate (hummus, cilantro, lemon, sumac, cucumber and pita, $10), Bruschetta (tomato, basil, onion, vinaigrette and pita, $11), Calamari (squid, breading, cilantro and choice of pomodoro or Diavolo sauce, $12), Mussels (cream and zesty or wine and garlic, $12.50) and Camarones Diavolo (shrimp, diavolo sauce, hummus, cilantro, lime and pita, $13.50).

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Chicken Picatta (chicken breast, capers, artichoke, lemon, wine and linguine, $17), Salmon Provencal (salmon, tomato, basil herbs, wine, rice and seasonal vegetables, $17.50), Vegetarian (varied and seasonal offerings, $20) and Frenched Rack of Lamb (lamb, mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, $27) comprise the entrees. In addition, three to five specials are offered nightly.

Salad and soup of the day ($4 and $5, respectively) are also available. Desserts in the form of Tiramisu, chocolate cake, Creme Brulee and cheesecake are each $6.

Friday nights are Moroccan nights highlighted by six to seven special ethnic dishes such as lemon chicken; honey lamb; lamb, beef or shrimp kebab; or vegetarian feast.

Chhibbane added that January/February customers will find that five new entrees and some additional salads have become staples on the menu, without dropping any of the current choices.

Chhibbane said that he garners his recipes from various experiences over his cooking years, not recipes copied from a book or from online.

“They are unique to Karim,” he said. “Every dish a good chef makes is ultimately created by themselves and distinctively theirs. It is individual … personal. If I make Chicken Picatta, it is Karim’s Chicken Picatta.”

And while Chhibbane is proud of his creations and what he has accomplished as a chef, his ultimate satisfaction is the hospitality and fulfillment delivered to his customers. “Life isn’t about what you get, but what you can give,” he said.

And for the romantic-minded, with Valentine’s Day approaching … Chef Karim’s Place just might be something to consider.

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