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.

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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.

Nicolas Audi at La Maison d’IXSIR – Batroun

We were looking for a serene place to relax in, away from the mundane daily routine, so we decided to go have lunch at Nicolas Audi at La Maison d’IXSIR. Located in the Ixsir winery and Nicolas Audi being a prominent chef in Lebanon, we thought that it was a restaurant that should be visited. When we arrived, we scouted the area, and then we were lucky enough to join the tour of the winery, where we were led underground down a spiral staircase. The tour guide seemed well-trained and after being fed with information about the whole wine-making process, from grapes to barrel to bottle, we savored the end product in glasses on our table. Sitting under the shade of the tree, we enjoyed our Grande Reserve red and white wines, awaiting the opening of the buffet.

 

I rushed to take photographs of the untouched food, in order to capture their presentation before they were destroyed by the hungry people. Success, for the most part. There were a variety of salads and appetizers, of which the hummus was really good. I also really liked the salad with peppers in it because their flavor stood out. Moreover, the mashed potato tasted great with embedded onion bits within it. The fattoush, vine leaves dish, and beans salads were fine, but not exceptional.

 

Moving to the mains, I think I am adamant on melting my phone by taking pictures next to fire, but the skewers of meat being licked by the flames made me feel like a moth (if you know what I mean). The doneness of the grilled meat and chicken was great; they were juicy and tender. Another great item was the rice and creamy sauce, it was a tad spicy but delicious. The pizza squares and chicken nouille lacked flavor, and the kibbe and fish were okay. Let’s just say if I had not been leaving some space for dessert, I would have filled up on the grilled meat and chicken, as well as the rice and creamy sauce. There is something that I should note though; when you change your plate, you keep the same knife and fork. That is not great, but maybe acceptable when you have a placemat to put them on. However, we had no placemat so you had to put your dirty cutlery right on the table which is not hygienic for you nor the table.

 

So, here comes the dessert which was mostly a mixture of oriental sweets and French pastry. The ice cream was good, but not memorable. The baba au rhum was delectable; it was my favorite dessert hands down. I can’t get over their heavenly whipped cream (if you have read my Nicolas Audi patisserie post, then you know I am a fan). Another intense dessert was the chocolate cake which was as chocolatey as it could get, and my advice is to eat it slowly to be able to appreciate each bite. That was the taste I left Ixsir with.

Nicolas Audi – Rabieh

The best piece at Nicolas Audi’s patisserie is the oversized bright pink macaron, hands down. This pretty macaron is filled with juicy yet firm raspberries enclosing heavenly cream. Seriously, there is nothing else you would rather have than this fresh sweetness inside your mouth during the Summer. Another favorite of mine is the double chocolate tart; it is smooth with the right amount of intensity. As for the eclair, the pate a choux is light, as it is meant to be, and the cream does not heavily weight it down. Describing their pastry makes me wish their service was up to par. They desperately need better equipped staff to handle the patisserie on location. On the whole, the pastry at Audi is delicious and looks the part. The tarts, eclairs, cakes, and macarons all look appetizing on display behind the glass counter, and by just taking one glance at them, you know you have to take them home.

Sapori E Vini – Byblos

I will pause on the “Bits and Pieces” for now, and finally begin with my most recent visits of restaurants in Lebanon in my upcoming posts. My archive of photos of food from when I did not know I would decide to post them in a blog have more or less come to an end (unless I happen to stumble upon some misplaced photos from that era anytime soon). As you have probably noticed, I personally prefer not to crop photos I have taken because I took them this way at that time, and I feel like I would be taking away from the authenticity of the memory they elicit in my mind if I remove parts of them. However, I promise that I will try to take better photographs now, since I am aware that I will be sharing them with whoever wants to see them. Anyway, enough about the hows and the whys. Salted Caramel loves to talk about food, so here goes.

First up is Sapori E Vini in Byblos, as the title has so cleverly foreshadowed.

Ok, the decor really needs to be recognized; hence the separate gallery. I love the interior. I love the planted trees bringing the garden indoors. I love the touch of gravel that is placed on a section of the floor in front of the wine bottles; when feet step on it, a pleasant sounding crunch tickles your ears. The hanging pots and pans, the fresh fruits and vegetables on display, the warm red bricks, and the wooden tables and chairs; they all complement each other and the attention to detail is amazing. Another lovely area to sit in is actually the real outdoors where a pergola stands on the green grass overlooking the terrace. If it had not been so hot, I would have opted to sit there. I should mention that there is an additional element for the children outside; a small form of playground that they can enjoy. All in all, one really needs to appreciate the effort that has been put to create a beautiful environment to sit and have a meal in.

Now let’s get to the food prepared by Italian chef Ignazio from Tuscany. First, they placed a dainty compilation of breads on the table. They looked really rustic and pretty, being meticulously arranged in brown paper. After scrutinizing the menu, we ordered the marinated tuna carpaccio which was good. For salads, we had the chicken quinoa salad and the shrimp salad. I really liked the chicken quinoa salad, but the item I liked the most was the pizza. Baked in a wood-fired oven, the pizza crust was delicious. I usually prefer to eat the tasty insides of a pizza, as opposed to the crust; but with this one, I had to have the crust too. The tomato sauce was a flavorful base for the toppings to be scattered on. I would definitely order the pizza again. The tagliata had delicious flavors too, but the meat had a sort of tough exterior that takes away from the taste of the juicy inside. As for the shrimp pasta dish, the sauce was too fishy for my liking, but that is a matter of preference. They then offered us ice cream on the house; it was homemade gelato which deserves respect. Another homemade item on the dessert menu was the chocolate fondant infused with raspberry. The cake holding the chocolate sauce tasted amazing. However, the savor of the raspberry was muted and did not seep through with the overpowering flow of chocolate. On an ending note, I have to add that the service was great, and I would visit this restaurant again. 

Bits and Pieces – Lebanon

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Chili’s – Achrafieh: I would go to this place just to have this amazing chocolate dessert. When you cut the cake, delicious chocolate oozes out, and combine that with the taste of the ice cream and caramel; you get something close to perfection. Granted it is not French pastry, but if you take it for what it is (an American restaurant chain dessert), it surely stands out.

 

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Oliver’s Kitchen & Coffee Shop – Gemmayze: I actually enjoyed my time at this eatery, despite some flaws with the food. We first ordered a mini beef burger, 8″ pizza, and Oliver’s famous fish and chips. The beef patty in the mini beef burger was ridiculously small, and the whole burger was mediocre. The fish and chips platter was acceptable, but it did not live up to its fame. As for the pizza, I actually liked the crust and if I ever go again, I would just order that for my meal. Coming to the dessert, I ordered the milk chocolate crepe. The menu states that it is Premium Belgian chocolate awaiting inside the dough; honestly they made me doubt that claim. I do not know if it is the preparation method or the chocolate itself, but the chocolate spread was grainy instead of being smooth and creamy (like it should be). On the plus side, the service was great, and the atmosphere was relaxing. I also liked the section they have that sells books in the shop; you feel as if your level of intellect has increased just by being there.

 

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Meat the Fish – Jal el Dib: We went to Meat the Fish located in the Aishti Mall; the mall actually looks really nice on the inside. As for Meat the Fish, the platters were good, but honestly I do not see what the hype is about. The taste of the meat, the fish, and the lobster were nothing unique to this restaurant; you can get it elsewhere. An interesting thing, on the other hand, was the Japanese beer seen in the picture above. However, my taste buds were more than satisfied with the sweet pudding I had as dessert; apparently it is made by Rouba Khalil.

 

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Thea – Jal el Dib: Back when there was no fuss about tea and its varieties in Lebanon, there was Thea. As a person that prefers tea to coffee, I loved spending afternoons at this tearoom, and being introduced to different blends of tea. Also, drinking the tea in lovely teaware makes it all the more appealing.

 

Crepico – Zalka: Now, this is fine Belgian chocolate. Callebaut. The chocolate is incredible. Needless to say, this is what decorates their crepes and waffles. The salty and sweet crepes are fine, but their sweet waffles are the reason one has to go to Crepico.

 

Des Choux et Des Idees – Achrafieh: Do you like French patisserie to be subtle, light, and delicate? Well, this is the opposite. The individual pieces look really dainty and pretty, but where there is fruit, the flavor is overwhelming to the degree of tasting like perfume. In addition, the creme patissiere is so heavy that it makes you forget you are eating French pastry. It was a one time visit, and that is all it is going to be.

 

Popcorn – Grand Cinemas ABC Dbayeh vs. VOX City Centre Beirut: I did not want to include non-eatery posts, and especially ones with comparisons; but I could not help it. Food is food. These two photos are begging me to be in a battle together, so I will concede. VOX wins hands down, for both the popcorn crunch and flavor, as well as the slush taste and consistency. The slushy in ABC seemed to only have sugar as an ingredient, while the one in VOX was truly refreshing with every sip.

 

Sursock Museum Resto – Achrafieh: Sursock Museum should be visited; it makes Lebanese proud to have a museum space that is of international standards. As for the restaurant, it is what you expect a restaurant at a museum to be like; with a creative menu and placemat. The homemade potato chips provided as a side in our dishes were really good, actually they were much better than the beef in the sandwich. Let’s just say that I am more a fan of the museum itself than its resto.

 

La Table du Gand Chalet – Zaarour: We spent a night at a hotel called Le Gand Chalet at the Zaarour Club, and we had dinner at the restaurant located there. The decor was minimalist, which I liked. Also, the service was really good. However, the food needs to be majorly improved, in my opinion. The spices in my pasta dish seemed to be more of oriental than Italian based, which was really off-putting. I would expect more from a “luxury boutique hotel”.

 

Vanilla Bean – Beirut: To end this Bits and Pieces blog post on a sweet note, I can choose nothing better than the talented Vanilla Bean. The custom-made cakes turn out to be exactly how you envisioned them in your head, and even better. The pastel colors, the attention to detail, and the perfect finishing is attributed to the craftsmanship of Ms. Layla Jamal. I would just like to add that the cakes do not just look like pretty works of art on the outside; they taste just as good as they look.

Bits and Pieces – Germany

5. Bits and Pieces

 

CHOCOLAT Grand Cafe – Cologne: This chocolate cafe is located in the Schokoladen Museum in Koln. Where better than a chocolate museum to taste chocolate confections. I tasted a slice of chocolate cake; although it was delicious, it was not outstanding nor irreplaceable. However, if you are there to visit the museum, it is worth passing by the cafe on your way out.

 

Brauerei zur Malzmuhle – Cologne: When you think “Germany”, you think “beer” (among other things). The most popular beer brewed by the Malzmuhle, since more than 150 years ago, is the Muhlen Kolsch. The beer keeps on coming until you place the coaster on top of the glass signaling you have had enough of the golden liquid. I opted to go for the potato soup and was pleasantly surprised; it was very tasty.

 

Coa Asian Food & Bar – Frankfurt Airport: Yes, you read right, I said airport. Usually, when you travel you make do with the restaurants available at the airport because you are hungry. However, Coa is not the case; it actually has really good food. Next time I am at Frankfurt airport, I will definitely go back for seconds.

Cafe Tomaselli – Salzburg

Salzburg is a charming place. It is big enough to be called a city, yet it is small enough to be cozy and familiar. There are two things of great importance to this special city; Sound of Music filming location spots, and of course Mozart being born there. It is said that this musical genius used to frequent this cafe which is now known as Cafe Tomaselli. Imagine deciding not to go there; even if it might be a tourist trap, one still has to try what is apparently the “oldest still operated cafe” in the whole of Austria. So, we chose to sit on the balcony of this cafe which is a part of history; twice. The waiters were very friendly and we enjoyed the food, especially the sweet drinks and cakes. For me personally, the cakes were reminiscent of my trip to Lake Bled in Slovenia, where they have something very similar to this cream cake called “Kremsnita” and it is also delicious.