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.
Couqley – Dbayeh
If you are looking for a French bistro in Lebanon, without even thinking this is the place that I will recommend. I love Couqley. The ambiance and the service is great, but the real star of it all is the food. First, you are greeted by bread peeking through the cozy checkered blanket they are snuggled in. Then, after trying not to fill up on the bread and butter, the dishes that you ordered begin arriving. The salmon tartare is really well-seasoned; you feel as if all the ingredients balance each other perfectly. The organic honey vinaigrette is the perfect dressing for the grilled shrimp salad, with its fromage frais and strawberries (another really flavorful salad you can order is the goat cheese salad, with its apples and oranges). It is now time for the item on the menu that prevents you from trying anything else to replace it with as a main dish: Couqley’s Steak Frites. A round of applause, please. The sauce that rightfully smothers your steak and demands your attention is truly delicious. I am so glad they are generous with it because even after your steak is done, you now need it to soak your fries in it. Then, when you think you are absolutely full to the brim, you have to have the final act: the dessert. The pain perdu with its scoop of vanilla ice cream is indeed the perfect finish. The bread is extremely moist, and with the melting vanilla and caramel syrup; they all merge into a spoonful that would satisfy any sugar addict. Little did I know, that this time when I went to Couqley, I would get an extended grand finale and encore. As, I was leaving, I spot the French mastermind behind these perfectly-balanced flavorful creations; chef Alexis Couquelet. I backtrack to ask him if I can take his photograph, and although he was on his break, he was really sweet about it. You can see the evidence above. That made my night.
Les Papilles – Paris
A French bistro on the Michelin Guide, a cozy restaurant lined with wine bottles, Les Papilles left a lasting impression. For dinner, the chef prepares a single set menu – take it or leave it. We decided to take it. It was as if we willfully succumbed to the chef’s desires. I loved the fact that this was it; no choices, yet all unexpected goodness. The first surprise was a gazpacho and I have mentioned before that I am fond of a flavorful gazpacho. The main item on the menu was next;a succulent duck breast with roasted vegetables and potatoes. The sauce was more like a glaze and in my opinion that was the real star of the dish. Then came a slice of tangy cheese that was perfectly complemented by the jam reduction. As a finale, we had the panna cotta which successfully completed the whole meal. I was so satisfied with this hearty meal that on the way back from the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of the kitchen. I was lucky that the door was open in that instance and when I saw the chef I could not stop myself from complementing him on his skills. I won’t forget this restaurant that “forces” you to eat what they want for dinner, in a good way of course.
STAY by Yannick Alleno – Dubai
Not too far off from local is STAY by Yannick Alleno situated in a fancy hotel on the palm in Dubai. Although the dishes were straightforward when it came to ingredients, the presentation was dainty and appetizing. This time the dinner was a la carte as opposed to a set menu but I loved that we still got the element of surprise with amuse-bouches popping up in between the food we ordered. Our choices were on the fishy side and all was delicious, including the beautifully crafted crab salad.
When it was time for the dessert, it was a unique experience. The pastry chef was actually with us in the dining room and we could walk over to take a look at his sweets. We chose our desserts and returned to our seats; the chocolate souffle was freshly prepared on the spot. He also sent us little delicacies to savor and satisfy our sweet tooth. Another enjoyable experience to further enhance this dinner was when we were invited to see the chef and kitchen. We were even given a quince juice drink that he had been preparing through a complex process which he described to us. We really left the restaurant with elevated moods and although it might sound cheesy, the name STAY says it all.
L’air du Temps – Liernu
Another tasteful experience in Belgium; L’air du Temps is a two Michelin-starred restaurant with dishes prepared by chef Sang-Hoon Degeimbre and his team. He describes himself as “a Korean born, a Belgian man and a citizen of the world”; I believe this description extends into his culinary creations. You can see the Korean influence as well as the Belgian one throughout his cuisine.
Situated in an area far from the hustle and bustle of the city, in a peaceful area with gardens, L’air du Temps truthfully makes you feel as if you have stepped into a different world. It was a nice touch to present a card with our choice of set menu highlighted on the page before the food arrived. Garnished with colorful pristine flowers, the dishes are inviting. I love the element of surprise when you have ordered a set menu; it makes a person long to see what will come next. This was the case here, I would be eager to see how art and food come together in the plate to follow. In some instances, things would even seemingly appear to be something that they aren’t because they would be presented in a different texture or form than we are used to seeing.
To describe the service, one can only say that it was truly impeccable. The staff was knowledgeable and alert; explaining the constituents of our meal as well as that of the wines or waters being paired with them. Yes, I did say waters in the plural form. Something I really enjoyed and found interesting was that you could choose to pair different naturally flavored waters with what you were eating; they came in various colors that also brightened the table. As it turns out, the minimalism of the decor had been misleading; it had just been the platform from which these intriguing complex inventions could be showcased.
La Villa in the Sky – Bruxelles
Hello again! From the photographs I have gathered (when I was unaware I would be sharing them), I decided to embark on this journey starting with my beloved city of Brussels. A two Michelin-starred restaurant, La Villa in the Sky is situated at the top of a tall building, literally placing it in the sky.
After going up a dark flight of stairs, you find yourself in a glass box with an open kitchen with chef Alexandre Dionisio busily preparing the meals to come. The staff wear an all black attire with sneakers! I loved that; I was in sneakers myself due to my next stop being the airport and so I felt right at home. Actually, the whole ambiance is comfortable with nothing being too pretentious.
The food was delicate in presentation as it was in texture. The melange of crispy items with the rest of the plate ingredients, such as the brittle cheese on the chicken or the paper-thin white chocolate pieces, was lovely. Also, the usage of mushroom dust was fascinating to me and I am not a fan of those capped fungi to begin with. Something worth mentioning is my appreciation of the subtle gesture of placing a cover on the dish to keep it warm when the person had to leave the table to go to the restroom. The set menu as a whole was satisfying and had a more or less balanced amount of savory and sweet; of what I would call salted caramel.