Le Petit Belge – Dubai

I think it was our longing to be strolling on the streets of Brussels that led us to Le Petit Belge. Going underground you come face to face with a lit sign simply stating the name of the restaurant that lets you know you have arrived. The friendly hostess helped us choose a table, and then our also amicable waitress provided us with the menus. One of my first choices was the Lobster/crab roll, which unfortunately was unavailable. After thoroughly exploring the menu, we came to a consensus. These would be the platters we would be ordering: the Beef carpaccio, one piece of Oyster, the Scottish salmon cured in Duvel beer, the Wagyu beef and Passendaele cheese burger, the Fish and chips with a Belgian twist, and a side of Brussels sprouts with turkey bacon. As we waited for our food to arrive, I noticed that I was singing along to the music. It had been a while since I had actually enjoyed the tracks played at an eatery. Our appetizers arrived and I preferred the salmon with beer (although not too evident) with its fresh citrus bursts to the beef carpaccio. The carpaccio had nice flavors that were overshadowed because it was too heavy on the balsamic; I literally had to scrape some off to enjoy the taste of the meat. Then the main dishes were placed on our table. The Wagyu beef burger was juicy due to its doneness and the crispy fries was a great companion. However, the fish was too thick and formed sort of clumps instead of being flaky –smothering it with the tasty chunky tartar sauce rendered it edible though. Now, for the sweet ending to our last meal in Dubai before heading home. I had my eye on the Moelleux aux chocolat (that is how it’s spelt on the menu) and the Belgian chocolate mousse, and after another closer look at the dessert menu, these choices were confirmed. The presentation was pretty for both of them but it was time to dig in. The mousse was good, yet the moelleux was truly delicious. The outer cake crust and the inner gooey filling were delectable; this was the best item I had eaten at Le Petit Belge. It would have to do, until I could have my Belgian chocolate fix on the Sablon (hint: the two word name of the chocolaterie and the chocolatier are one and the same). The reality check for the time being though was that I had a plane to catch.

Paname – Saifi

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.

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.

TOTO Cucina Italiana – Dbayeh

We decided to try a new restaurant at The Village instead of going to our usual destination there. TOTO is an Italian restaurant that has an ambitious menu, so it seemed promising. Unfortunately, it fell short of our expectations. We ordered the crunchy shrimp with a basil leaf hugging it on the inside; that was tasty. As another entree (in the French sense of the word), we ordered the beef carpaccio which was also good. I think we should have stopped there because the rest of the meal was lacking. The positive aspect of the pasta dishes was the fact that the cuisson was al dente; I do not understand why that is so difficult to achieve in all Italian restaurants. Zooming in on the shrimp pasta dish, the addition of courgette chips was nice to look at. However, the crunchy factor in the “chips” was absent, and they lay limply on the linguini. Moving on to the pizza, the toppings were flavorful, yet the dough was soggy and chewy. The pizza I ordered according to the menu had no mushrooms, but when it arrived the fungal constituent was sitting there smugly. When I told the waiter about the issue, he said that I was right and if I wanted them to make a new one they would. That is still unacceptable because the menu would still be misleading, and some people may even have an allergy to mushrooms. Another unacceptable matter was that two items I asked for on the menu were unavailable, and the reason for this was that apparently they are changing menus soon. Honestly, I do not see why the current menu should be incomplete because a new one will replace it; they really should have been better prepared for a smoother transition. Now, we get to the dessert, I ordered the pain perdu. When I first saw it, I thought it was interesting that they had placed chocolate in the middle; they were trying to make their own pain perdu stand out among the others. Well, it did stand out, in a negative way. The bread was soaked in an overwhelming amount of butter and oil; just remembering it makes the blood in my veins and arteries clot. I could not make myself eat more than two spoons of it because it was so disturbingly heavy. The only thing that could be eaten on that plate was the ice cream, which was not enough to redeem the dessert in any way. Next time I go to The Village, the usual stop it is.