I don’t usually wait so impatiently for a restaurant to open, but that was the case with Paname. The reason for this impatience: Chef Youssef Akiki. For me, Burgundy’s chef is one of the best, if not the best chef in Lebanon. When I saw the opening announcement, my heart skipped a beat. I had to reserve. Finally, I was walking around in the pleasant Saifi environment with this Almost French restaurant as my destination. When we arrived, we were greeted with people casually sitting outside and a very friendly staff. We were led to our table and given our menus. I scrutinized all of the listed items and wanted to taste as much of the variety provided as I could. We ordered the Seared Bluefin Tuna Ceviche and Scottish Salmon Carpaccio as starters. For mains, we ordered the Spaghetti with Speck, the Wagyu Beef Burger, and the Grilled Plaice. We wanted to order the Grilled Black Angus Tenderloin but it was unavailable. The first items that were placed on our table were a basket of bread, and the wines we had asked for. Then, it really began. The appetizers arrived. The presentation was beautiful; it was reminiscent of Burgundy’s finesse. Both the salmon and the tuna were delicious. The seasoning was well-balanced and the combination of flavors all coming together in one bite was delightful. I loved how the mango tidbits complemented the tuna perfectly. We proceeded with our main dishes soon after. The spaghetti was cooked just right and the sauce was light and creamy. As for the burger, the doneness of the meat rendered it juicy and succulent, making it stand out despite its simple flavor profile. The fish was also extremely tender and moist, and the other components on the plate along with the dressing enhanced the taste even further. When it was time for dessert, the waiter informed us that they would be complimentary. They even refused to charge us for an additional dessert we wanted to pay for. We had the Strawberry Panna Cotta, the Tiramisu, and the Chocolate Mousse. The sauce smothering the cream in the panna cotta was fresh and intense, and the Tiramisu was rich and tasty. Honestly, I preferred both to the mousse dessert, although it was still really good as well. All in all, the service was great and I enjoyed my meal from beginning to end. My taste buds were left widely awakened and longing for more of those creations with flavorful ingredients, especially those fishy appetizers that will keep me coming back for more.
Ummi is the newest addition to the Chef Hussein Hadid street of restaurants. This time the focus is on Lebanese cuisine. Ummi has a lovely interior with a copper color dominating the ceiling and walls. However, the ambiance is a tad too noisy, and we had the scorching sun rays in our eyes for the duration of the meal where we were seated. The eatery has an open kitchen, which I love. I visited the hard-working chefs for a couple of minutes, and they seemed happy and passionate; this added to my enjoyment of the live cooking experience. What was refreshing at Ummi was that all the staff was friendly and welcoming. We ordered several mezze dishes, the mixed grills platter, and half a roasted chicken. I was disappointed that a couple of items on the menu were unavailable, namely the kibbe neye and the akkawi & kashkaval oven baked toasties. It was a while before our food started arriving to our table, but when it did, it was presented well and tasted good for the most part. Although the fattoush and batenjen salads were fresh and tasty, my personal preference would be to have bigger chunks of the ingredients in both. The hummus with lahmeh was nice and creamy. Two plates that were very flavorful were the arnabeet with tarator and mousakhan oven baked toasties. The mousakhan had that extra tang from the sumac and drizzled syrup on top, which was great. As for the balila, the chickpeas were cooked to perfection. Also, I loved the coriander that was generously mixed with the cubes of potato in the batata bi kizbara. The kafta fatteh was good as well, and the roasted chicken was tender. Then, the mixed grills platter arrived; the kafta, chicken, and meat were all succulent. I really have to mention that the accompanying garlic paste was amazing. When it was time for dessert, I asked the waiter to provide me with the menu because I had my eye on the atayef and umm ali (yes, I check the dessert section at the beginning of my meal). Yet, he told me that the only three currently available desserts were karabij, bohsaliyye, and knefe. No atayef and umm ali for me, and there was a discrepancy between the menu dessert offerings and the ones we were told verbally. Anyway, we had the knefe and bohsaliyye. Honestly, they were mediocre in taste and my sweet tooth had to be satisfied elsewhere.
The Lebanese Bakery is a bakery you would definitely want in your neighborhood. I wish it was closer to my house, although honestly I wish I was the one closer to the bakery because its location on the lovely streets of Achrafieh is perfect. Obviously, speaking about changing the location of my dwelling means that this bakery is exceptional. The place is humble, yet cozy and charming. We grabbed a menu and went to our seats to decide what we wanted; here I have to commend them for having a menu that is in both Arabic and English! From the manakish section, we ordered the zaatar on zaatar, lahem bi ajeen, and eggs and cheese, in addition to a few ftayer cousa. The presentation is simple, yet beautiful, and everything was delicious and fresh. The zaatar on zaatar is a dream for a zaatar fan because of its intense flavor. The runny yolk on the eggs and cheese manoushe enhanced the taste; nothing beats that golden liquid goodness oozing from an egg’s heart. However, the lahem bi ajeen…wow! I loved it. The dough was crispy and light, and it is something that I would definitely order again. Actually, this is the doughy concoction that is making me crave returning to The Lebanese Bakery once again. That and many more items that I didn’t get to try this time because there is only so much one can eat. I would like to try their labne and their kaak as well, and maybe take some dough home with me. Maybe I should consider moving…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.