Casper & Gambini’s – Dbayeh

Usually, I am not a fan of dining at a restaurant in a mall (especially on the weekends) because I feel that the location can ruin the whole ambiance. Yet, sometimes you find yourself in this circumstance. Casper & Gambini’s tries and succeeds, to an extent, to preserve its own identity and mood within the bustling shopping scene. We found a table and got our usual high chair, and then had a look at the menu items. A weekly special caught my attention as my eyes wandered off the page and onto a flyer standing on the table; it was Chich Barak. That was definitely a good wholesome meal for my toddler. The rest of us opted for the Fresh Crab & Shrimp Soft Buns appetizer, followed by the Tenderloin, the Veal Escalope, the Provolone Steak Sandwich, and finally one order from the Salad Bar. Their salad bar is healthy, fulfilling, and rich with different flavored constituents. We started with the appetizer, which was delicious. I always welcome fresh crab instead of the less than mediocre imitation. A well-seasoned sauce was drizzled on the fresh crab and shrimp, and taking a bite of that within the soft bun was very tasty. Since they first placed this item on the menu, every time I go to Casper & Gambini’s I have to order it as a starter. As for the mains, the Chich Barak was served with rice, and the sauce was amazing. I hoped that they would add this platter to the permanent offerings of their menu. Unfortunately, the meat in my steak sandwich was cooked to a medium (how I like it), but weirdly the result was not tender. I have had this sandwich many times before, and it had become a kind of craving I satisfy at Casper & Gambini’s. However, this time it took forever to cut and chew, so I gave up and informed the waiter. The manager visited the table, and the consensus was that I order a new item on the menu. I chose the Chich Barak, which as previously mentioned is really good. For dessert, I decided to order their Pain Perdu, which has been one of my all-time favorites. I wasn’t disappointed; the texture of the moist bread is how I like it, and their ice cream and caramel sauce combination satisfied my sweet tooth. Now, it was time to leave. Here, I have to mention that the provolone steak sandwich ended up being removed from the bill. Due to my past positive experiences of eating at Casper & Gambini’s, I would revisit in hopes that it was just a one time affair that was bound to happen on a rare occasion.

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Swiss Butter – Gemmayzeh


As we approached, we saw a line (more like a cluster) forming on the pavement at the entrance of Swiss Butter. I thought to myself that this better be worth it. The manager was standing at the door, busily placing names on a waiting list. I added my name to the growing list. We were told that it was a 20 minute wait at most; true to their word, we were let in after 15. The waitress was cheerful and seemed to love explaining the eatery’s concept to first-time customers. There was no physical menu to hold in your hands, although the brief menu was enlarged and placed on the wall—the decor was akin to their menu: simple yet effective. She told us that it was one sauce that they made, and our choice of beef, chicken, or fish (in this case, salmon). A restaurant’s offerings relying on one specialty sauce was either a make it or break it situation. As we were waiting for our double order of medium cooked beef, I wanted in on the action of live cooking. So, after being granted permission to take photographs of their open kitchen by the restaurant manager, that is where I headed. Unfortunately, let’s just say that my enthusiasm was not appreciated by one of the chefs there. To sum it up, the photographs were hurried and Salted Caramel had turned bitter. Here, I would like to commend the extremely friendly manager and assistant manager who dealt with the issue in a swift and professional manner. My voice was heard and I was apologized to. Now, let’s get to the good part; the food. The beef was indeed grilled to a medium cuisson, and the tender result made me happy. The meat was accompanied with bread (one has the option of white or brown slices); they are that sure that you would want to savor every drop of their sauce by smearing your bread in it. Also, alongside these constituents were crispy french fries and a fresh salad. Ok, let’s get back to the beef smothered in that sauce of theirs. The liquid goodness is delicious, and has exactly the right amount of tang. Honestly, I do not know if it would go as well with the chicken or salmon; I’ll have to give them a taste to find out. However, the sauce with the beef was a match made in heaven. I was so glad that there was a generous amount of sauce to cover your meat and then dip your fries in. I really enjoyed the food and my taste buds were very awake. I thought that it was impossible for them to be awakened any further at this restaurant, but I was wrong. The dessert options are also limited, but like the savory offerings, that was more than enough. We ordered the pain perdu and the molten chocolate, both of which came in a pan just as the meat had come in before them (maintaining the theme). The molten chocolate dessert is to die for. It is delectable; both the cake and the gooey insides are amazing. As for the pain perdu, the caramel with the sauce and melting vanilla ice cream mixture was really good too—but that molten chocolate confection! At the end of the meal I was full to the brim, and to our surprise, the desserts were not added to the amount due on the bill. All in all, Swiss Butter proves that you do not need an extensive menu to succeed, as long as the items you have are done really well. I would definitely go again.

Mounir – Broumana

Upon my mother’s request, we journeyed up to Broumana to have lunch at Mounir. I have definitely heard of Mounir, but honestly do not remember if I had visited it during my childhood. The reason we were heading there was that she had seen a photograph of the beautiful flowers they had. Indeed, the flowers are hard to miss; they are a lovely pop of color decorating the restaurant. Amidst the flowers, lies a small waterfall; water is always a welcomed addition to any environment. Another natural item of decoration is the view that Mounir offers to accompany your meal. When you arrive, a short path at the entrance leads you to the outdoor area of the restaurant. You are first greeted with local produce; tomatoes and watermelons. I loved how they consolidated the fact that you were at an authentic Lebanese restaurant. We were shown to our table, and after they provided us with a high chair with its own table (silent cheer) for our little one, we ordered a selection of mezze dishes (appetizers), as well as the barbecued skewered meat and chicken.

They started us off with the fattoush and hummus; both were delicious. In fact, little did I know that they would be the best things that I would taste at Mounir. Next, the hot mezze items followed. The sambousik and kibbe were good, and so were their homemade fries and potato cubes. As for the cheese rolls, personally I prefer the melted cheese to be more gooey; I like to bite into it knowing that the cheese will still hold the fried roll from one end to the other as I pull it away from my mouth. Unfortunately, I did not get that. Considering the arayess; the meat inside was fine, but the bread pieces that they were placed in were soggy and the whole thing fell apart easily. When the skewered meat, chicken, and kafta arrived, their presentation was unappetizing. I would love it if most Lebanese restaurants put a bit more effort into the presentation of many of their platters. The chicken was okay and the kafta needed more seasoning to enhance the taste, in my opinion. I did find the meat really good though; it was tender and easy to chew. When we were done with the savory dishes, we were asked if we wanted to order fruits or sweets; they were not on the house like in some of the Lebanese restaurants. Actually, as I am writing this now, I wanted to use the word “majority”, but instead opted for the term “some”, because it seems less restaurants are offering fruits and desserts free of charge nowadays. Anyway, we chose to have an array of fruits and a couple of their desserts. The fruits were fresh and the katayef stuffed with walnuts were delicious. The mhalabiyye was a bit too fragrant for my taste. All in all, the nature, water, and cool breeze create a peaceful ambiance that makes anyone feel comfortable dining in. (Here, I should add that there is a playground area that children can use as an energy outlet.) However, although some platters were very flavorful, others were not that tasty. I was expecting a bit more from the food at a renowned restaurant like Mounir.

Brass Beirut – Achrafieh

We went to Brass for a brief escape from the responsibility of parenthood. Luckily, we found a parking space right at the base of the staircase leading to the restaurant. There is an exterior seating area, which is lovely, but we opted for the cooler inside. The interior makes you still feel you are outside. There is a majestic tree sprouting from the center of a table, with its branches reaching up towards the sun’s rays coming in through the skylight. However, stealing your attention away from all of this stands an impressively long bar that runs the length of the room. It made me imagine how this place would be transformed during the evenings and nights, when the moon and stars shone through from above. I liked the whole environment that was created indoors, and after sitting at our table, I was ready to eat. Some restaurants really outdo themselves in the appetizers section; Brass is one of them. The appetizers we ordered were delicious; we had the La Poutine, Beef Carpaccio, and Raspberry Lava. The La Poutine was so comforting with the melted cheese and warm gravy. Yet, it was the Raspberry Lava that stole the show—from all of the savory platters, not just the appetizers. The berry sauce smothering the oven baked Brie cheese seemed very fresh and authentic, and the combination of flavors of the sauce and cheese was marvelous. It felt like intense bursts of goodness exploding inside your mouth. We chose the Asian Grilled Salmon, Roasted Beef Fillet with Red Wine Sauce, and Steak Frites as our main dishes; they were all good but not as noteworthy as the preceding platters. The Roasted Beef Fillet was succulent and the Steak was tender, although the meat of the latter was cooked more than the cuisson I had asked for. I should have informed the waiter, but due to the service being slow, I refrained from doing so. Instead, I spent the time waiting for the Pain Perdu to arrive, and that was time well spent. This dessert was worth it; I guess good things do happen to those who wait. The “lost bread” found its way into my mouth, where it felt right at home. The bread was saturated with the deliciousness it had been soaked in, it was just how I like it–I really detest a dry Pain Perdu. Add the vanilla ice cream to that, and you have a symphony playing on your tongue. I was glad that the first sweet option I had previously decided on, the Chocolate Fondant, had been unavailable when I was there, although I should admit I am still curious as to how it would have tasted.

Charlotte – Beirut

I really wanted to try Charlotte, especially after I found out that it was related to Nonna Pizza. Actually, they shared a common space at this location, with a subtle separation so that each retained their own theme. I have tasted Nonna Pizza before on several occasions, and it was tempting to have one of its savory concoctions. However, I was determined to direct all of my attention to Charlotte, which was the real reason I was there. Yet, I did succumb to Nonna’s kid’s meal, which was great. It includes a choice of a pizzetta or pasta, of which I chose a pasta with rose sauce for my son. It was difficult to keep the whole dish intact for him, because although being simple, it was delicious. Seriously, the pink sauce was really good, and the pasta was al dente; just as it should be. The pasta comes with a side of fries, which are crispy and seasoned with the right amount of salt. Also included in the kid’s meal is their own dessert, which is a mini Rotolo di Nutella. I really loved how the dessert was still well-presented; it showed that kids were not underestimated and deserved the attention to detail as well. I have to add though that I wish they had high chairs, especially after catering to children wonderfully in their menu. I think it’s time to talk about my adult experience with the food. The starter we ordered was the star of the show. The Baby Potato & Truffled Hollandaise, served with a fried egg on top. The Baby Potato & Truffled Hollandaise, served with a fried egg on top. No, this is not an error in typing. I am repeating myself. It is that tasty and flavorful; when the knife touches the fried egg and it releases its goodness onto the ingredients beneath it—words fail to describe it. We then ordered the Thai Chopped Fresh Crab & Shrimp salad, which was good and I appreciated that it was fresh crab that was present on the greens, and not the imitation. Unfortunately, we had an unwanted component amidst the freshness of the salad. The manager was quick to apologize, and insisted on replacing the dish with a new one, and we were charged for the original dish. Here, I would like to point out that the waiters were extremely friendly, although their pace was a bit slow. We also ordered the Steak Frites and the Crevettes au Curry Rouge. The sauce covering the shrimps was delectable; the coconut cream was pronounced and it surely awakened my taste buds. Another highlight of the whole lunch experience was one of the desserts. We chose the Pain Perdu and the Moelleux au Chocolat. You guessed it, the one that I am talking about is the latter; the melted Valrhona Guanaja chocolate beneath the crust is to die for. If you are a chocoholic, this decadent dessert is all you need to ever have. Needless to say, the pain perdu was mediocre in comparison. Charlotte offers platters filled with diverse flavor profiles, and I would like to come back to have a taste of other items on their menu, as well as to enjoy a couple of items again.

Indigo on the Roof – Beirut

Indigo was a last minute decision, but it was exactly what we needed at that moment. After a long marathon-like day, we were looking for a place to just relax. Situated at the top of the fancy Le Gray Hotel in Beirut, Indigo provided an outdoor seating area underneath the stars. Dim lights created a cozy and romantic atmosphere, granted they also resulted in the reduced quality of my photographs. The lower part of the view was obstructed by pretty flowers and vines, but the upper part of tall structures managed to make it up to this restaurant perched on the roof. The waiters guided us to our table, and when they were present, the service was great. They were attentive, polite, and very professional. However, at times it was a bit difficult to get a hold of them. My significant other ordered wine from the wine list, but I felt like having a cocktail, which they readily made available from the bar next door. I should add that the Strawberry Mojito was really good and refreshing. The waiter came to us with a bread basket in hand, from which we chose the olive and multi-cereal pieces of bread. They were soft and delicious, especially after they were smeared with the complementary rich butter. We ordered the Crispy Duck Salad and Ahi Poke as appetizers. The crispy duck salad was a pleasant surprise, the crunchy bits of the crispy duck were a perfect addition of texture to the salad. As for the ahi poke, it was very flavorful and the sauce complemented the tuna well. For mains, we ordered the Thai Baked Sea Bass in Banana Leaf and the Black Angus Tenderloin. The sea bass baked in the banana leaf was as moist as it could be; it was extremely tender. Unfortunately, the accompanying rice was forgotten until we reminded the kitchen. However, the waiter was quick to apologize and did end up bringing the rice to our table. Moving on to the steak, it was a good chunk of meat, but nothing outstanding. To satisfy our sweet tooth, we ordered the Valrhona Chocolate Fondant and the Namelaka, which consisted of chocolate mousse, hazelnut biscuit, and passion fruit ice cream. Needless to say that everything becomes better with chocolate, and these were two solid chocolate desserts. The warm chocolate inside the fondant was a great way to end the meal. In general, Indigo has good food, mostly great service, and an intimate setting, with nothing separating you from the sky above.

Angelina – Beirut

Going to Angelina for brunch made me feel like an excited child about to open a gift on Christmas day. I thought about what I would order, and of course about the pictures I could take there. After we parked the car, we enjoyed the stroll on our way to the famous French restaurant and patisserie. When we arrived and went in, we were greeted by friendly waiters, lovely painted sections of white walls, and mostly brown furniture to balance the brightness. After we were seated and readily provided with a high chair, it was time to order. Being a brunch kind of person, I wanted to taste a variety of their breakfast offerings. Angelina provides different breakfast set menus, an egg menu that starts at 9 am and an additional a la carte menu that goes on until noon, after which there is a brunch menu and lunch platters that begin to be served. We were still in time for the breakfast menus, and opted to feast on Angelina breakfasts and Eggs Benedict platters with smoked salmon. The waiter took note of all the order mentally, including our choices from the options provided for the Angelina breakfasts. Yes, no jotting down anything on a piece of paper, and no inputting the information on a tablet, and our order turned out perfectly fine; no mistakes here. As the food arrived, I had to take photographs of the constituents while they were still in their pristine condition; although, I have to admit that sometimes I slightly annoy the company I am with, who comply despite their hunger. We started with the bread and butter, as well as the selection of croissants and jams; I liked their zaatar croissant. I especially enjoyed the Angelina hot chocolate that I had chosen. It was thick, creamy, and satisfying, and weirdly, it tasted as good (maybe even better) when it turned colder. Let’s just say, if you feel like drinking a chocolate bar, this comes very close to gratifying that need. Then the eggs made their debut. Zooming in on the Eggs Benedict; it was wonderfully appetizing when the hollandaise sauce merged with the bright orange goodness that cascaded from the poached eggs when they were cut open. The eggs seated on hidden smoked salmon and the whole combination of the platter is indeed delicious (all hail the creator of this dish). Another easier, yet delicate way to have your eggs done is the soft-boiled method, and for the eggs to be great, they have to be boiled just the right amount. As I was breaking the shell of the egg, I awaited the oozing of the runny yolk down the sides, creating a tasty mess. I was not disappointed, the anticipation had not gone to waste. I dipped the toasted sticks of bread into the core and reveled in the momentary happiness of the simpler things in life.

 

Another source of joy for me is pastry. Angelina has a patisserie section filled with appealing confections on display. We ordered the staple “Le Mont-Blanc” signature piece, as well as the “Duchesse” and “Bianca” to take home with us. Honestly, I preferred Angelina’s Salted to their Caramel; their pastry is a tad on the sweet side for my taste. However, I would like to note that the great service also extended to their patisserie; the lady that was there was polite and friendly. Moreover, the waiter was knowledgeable about pieces that Angelina had previously had and the components of each dessert, when I inquired about them. I left Angelina knowing that I would be returning to enjoy their breakfast once again.

Micelli’s – Jal el Dib

Micelli’s has a flavorful variety of pizzas, where it is impossible not to satisfy all tastes. The first time we tried their pizza was when we went to the restaurant to take some home with us. We opted for the Porkoi Pa and The American. As we waited for our hot pizzas to descend in the “dumbwaiter” (which is an amusing name for a small elevator used to transfer objects), we met the owners behind this creation. The ambiance is very friendly and you feel like you are standing in the passionate result of dedicated people running a family business. The second time we decided to order pizzas via delivery to the house; it was a bit far so they conceded but with a minimum charge restriction. We chose the Porkoi Pa, Sun Island, The Last Dragon, and Monsieur Croq with tomato sauce. The pizzas arrived with a satisfactory temperature and in good condition. After all the outer layers of description of the circumstances, let us get down to business. How did the pizzas taste? Actually, in the non-Italian pizza category, they fared quite well. Their pizzas are topped with great products, which is key. My favorite, which is obvious since we ordered it twice, is the Porkoi Pa. The hickory smoked barbecue sauce is delicious, and the whole melange of the sauce with the smoked bacon, cheese, green pepper, and onions is well thought of and executed, leading to a well-balanced bite of pizza. The Croq Monsieur with tomato sauce was a safe choice, considering the available selection, yet its simple ingredients shone through. As a pepperoni pizza lover, I would have liked more pepperonis on The American pizza because I felt that the onions and green pepper were slightly overpowering. Maybe I will try The Pepperoni next time. Unfortunately, my least favorite pizzas were the Far East inspired Last Dragon and the mango-pesto Sun Island pizzas. In general, Micelli’s provides a vast selection of flavors, and mostly it comes down to a matter of preference. Something I appreciate is that the cheese and other toppings generously attempt to garnish the whole pizza, all the way right to the crunchy crusty edge, making sure that you leave nothing behind.

 

Pizza Loop

Al Ferdaws – Ehden

During the lazy Summer days of my childhood, Ehden was a place we visited to avoid the heat radiating from the scorching sun. One of the popular restaurants we could escape to there was Al Ferdaws. However, it wasn’t just us that sought this restaurant as a refuge; in those days a person would have to struggle to find an empty table. Well, when we went this time, there was no need to search for a space to be seated in. We decided to try it anyway, although if you’re a parent, you should be aware that high chairs are not provided. A noteworthy issue is that the service was really great; the waiters were very attentive and friendly. The cool breeze was refreshing, and the vast greenery that the restaurant overlooked was luscious. It was time to try the food. For those of you who do not know this, Ehden is well-known for its voluminous spherical “kibbe”, especially the one filled with “shahem” (fat). Actually, the kibbe with fat was the best thing I tasted at Al Ferdaws, other than the fattoush which was fresh and well-seasoned. The mezze/appetizers were fine; the only one from the platters we ordered that I did not like was the sambousik. As for the grilled meat and chicken dish, the most flavorful and succulent was the kafta. Some meat pieces were more tender than others, but the chicken was borderline chewy. When all the Salted was taken off the table, the restaurant offered us an assortment of fruits on the house. Then, like in most Lebanese restaurants, a person wearing a traditional attire dedicates himself to passing around the tables to pour coffee for those who want some bitterness to accompany the sweetness of the fruits and the biscuits with lokum cubes. I left Al Ferdaws feeling content to have returned to a place that I used to go to in my younger years.

Below, you can find a collage of photographs depicting the procedure of slicing through your ball of kibbe to render it edible in an easier way, while preserving the fat inside a sort of meaty dipping bowl. The process was demonstrated by the kind head waiter.

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Salem Ice Cream – Kousba

When I think of Salem Ice Cream, or “Bouzit Salem” as we call it here in Lebanon, I remember my childhood visits to this ice cream parlor. It seems that this ice cream place has been proudly standing there since forever. Subjectively speaking, they have the best ice cream in the world, if I let my memories have a say. As Salted Caramel, however, I have to speak the truth in an objective manner. Overall, it is good Arabic ice cream, and it does satisfy a person seeking this kind of ice cream in the Northern parts of Lebanon. Yet, compared to other ice cream of this genre, its flavor is a bit less pronounced. Nevertheless, I would return just for the friendly service and homey ambiance this eatery has. Trying to find a parking spot in front of Bouzit Salem, and joining the people that eat its frozen goods outside their doors and on the front steps (even though there is an adjacent seating area) are what takes the experience to a whole new level.

All the childhood nostalgia inspired me to have some playtime fun, as you can witness in the compilation below.

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