I travel from one province to another, within Lebanon, to get to EMOTIONS Artisan Patissier & Glacier. When I arrive, I know that Mr. Gaby Bustros will be there in the kitchen perfecting his creations. When I first saw the triangular tart, I was intrigued to try the constituents of this rebel among its mostly circular species. I was not disappointed. The tart with the mixture of berries is sublime; the freshness of the berries with their bed of creme patissiere complement each other perfectly. The crumble of the tart border is the ideal vessel to hold them in, while being delicate in itself. If you wish to satisfy your darker desires, you would need to venture into the underworld of the chocolate tart. It is quite the opposite of its berry friend; within the triangular crunch of a border, there is more chocolate awaiting inside. The different textures of chocolate come together in intense decadence; the biscuit meets the ganache and oozing goodness seeps through the top subtly cracked chocolate layer. Ok, it is time to leave the world of tarts, and showcase the Tahitian vanilla eclair. It is fragile and light, yet rich and creamy, and the hardened caramel threads wonderfully break underneath your teeth. I think this eclair might be my favorite piece, but then again why put pressure on myself to choose a favorite. One of the times I went to Emotions, I was lucky enough to taste a sample of a chocolate macaron in the making; the crust parted to reveal delicious chocolate filling inside. Now, let us proceed to the other section of delicacies at Emotions; their ice cream. I love how the flavors contained in the 1L transparent tubs are described with handwritten labels. The cubes are filled with ice cream made from the finest ingredients. The sorbet of berries has fruit tidbits in it, which make the flavor more pronounced and lets the freshness shine through. As for the coconut ice cream, it is also made from fresh coconut with a subtle hint of Malibu rum and a touch of toasted coconut shavings. Whether it is pastry or ice cream, Emotions really satisfies my sweet cravings. I can not wait to meet more of their flawless confections.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
La Belle Maraichere – Brussels: On the place Sainte-Catherine, you can find a charming restaurant that also happens to be on the Michelin Guide. Since 1974, it has been serving its delicious meals. We were dressed very casually and sheepishly stood at the door of this elegant eatery with its fine dining napkins, table cloths, and utensils. However, we were welcomed in and treated with the utmost respect. I adored the ambiance. At tables beside us, there were men and women that had lived long lives. They were dressed well and it seemed as though they just needed to come in, call the waiter by name, and say that they wanted the usual. They started us off with tiny shrimp that you had to peel with your fingers in a specific way; the waiter demonstrated it for us first. That was an interesting experience. Then came the dishes we had ordered; I really loved the lobster fricassee which was a specialty of theirs. I regret that I did not try any of their desserts.
Bistro Maurice – Bruges: After exploring Bruges, which is beautiful by the way, we stopped at Bistro Maurice for some dessert. The creme brulee and chocolate fondant were delicious. The service was good, and sitting outside was very pleasant.
Eccetera – Brussels: An authentic Italian restaurant with a chalkboard for a menu, Eccetera is a great place to eat at. Let me just say that I have been searching for an Italian place that would give me the same amazing tagliata dish that I had there, but none have even come close. Of course, it also did not hurt that they had one of my favorite desserts ever! The heavenly softness that is an Ile Flottante was the sweetest finish.
Au Vieux Saint Martin – Brussels: A favorite area of mine in Brussels is the Sablon; Au Vieux Saint Martin is located there. The fish and chips platter they prepare is very tasty, and to add Salted to Caramel, I then had a Belgian chocolate mousse that was delectable.
Noordzee Mer du Nord – Brussels: If you feel like eating fresh seafood while you are standing up, then this is the place for you. After the staff behind the kiosk counter prepares your order, you find a round high table to place your plate and drink on. It is a good thing that the convincing taste of your food makes you forget that you are still in a vertical position.
L’Entree des Artistes – Brussels: Yes, on my hunt for the Ile Flottante, I ended up coming to this restaurant. I had spaghetti first, but just as a stepping stone to splash into the yellow sea surrounding my floating island. Alas, the swim was not worth it; the dessert was mediocre. I won’t be visiting this island again on my next vacation.
Gaudron – Brussels: I enjoyed my breakfast at Gaudron; the atmosphere was comfortable. However, I did not like the Hollandaise sauce on my eggs, so I ordered oeuf a la coque to eat instead of the Eggs Benedict. I would have liked to try something else on the menu in the future, yet it is a pity that now Gaudron has actually shut its doors.
Bistrot ‘t Zeezotje – Oostende: We were lucky it was a sunny day when we decided to visit the North Sea. After strolling around the beach, we decided to eat creatures captured from its depths. I had a shrimp dish which was flavorful, and washed it down with a chocolate-flavored milk produced in the Netherlands called Cecemel. This bistro had a comfortable ambiance as well, and I wouldn’t mind going back there on another occasion.
Fritland – Brussels: When you go to Brussels, you have to taste Belgian fries, or probably just fries as the locals would call them. I have tasted them in the classic paper cone from three kiosks (other than in restaurants, of course), and Fritland does well in comparison to the others. However, having said that, the fries were usually on the thick side, and I am sorry to say I prefer my fries cut thinly (allumettes). I did enjoy eating this potato snack though, especially after dipping the individual constituents into the accompanying sauce of my choosing.
Manhattn’s – Brussels: Belgium has a lot of native food to offer, but sometimes you just want to sink your teeth deep into a Manhattn’s New York style burger. Their buns are filled with grass-fed Irish Angus beef that is thick enough to not be overpowered by the sauces and other ingredients surrounding it. On the whole, the burger is juicy and tasty, and the simple concept of a burger joint comes across as a success.
La Brace – Brussels: Pizza anyone? A hearty Italian restaurant, La Brace offers a wide selection of pizzas. They serve a decent pizza with a thin crust that would surely extinguish your craving for dough baked in a wood-fired oven and garnished with various toppings.
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.
Behold the second compilation…
Eyescream and Friends – Barcelona: This cute shop made its debut in Barcelona and it is now expanding to other parts of the world. They have a variety of flavors and a diverse amount of toppings you can choose from. I would not walk far distances to find it again, but if it happens to be nearby I would have another taste.
Granja M. Viader – Barcelona: This place is special because stepping into it is as if you are wandering into the page of a history book. It has existed since 1870 and the eatery has been passed down through the same family for 5 generations! I love how the painted tiles on the floor have even become pale in some places and how old-fashioned the whole feel of the cafe is. Also, do not miss out on tasting the famous Cacaolat drink they created in 1933. I have already been there twice; if I go to Barcelona for a third time, I will definitely try their dense hot chocolate.
La Flauta – Barcelona: In my last trip to Barcelona, this was my first encounter with tapas. I tried several other places after that, but this remained my favorite among the ones I went to. From their patatas bravas to their multi-textured chocolate dessert; it was all delicious. I would want to go there again, and to visit the whole area in Barcelona where La Flauta is located in as well.
Thai Barcelona Royal Cuisine Restaurant – Barcelona: This restaurant had a pleasant ambiance, great service, and flavorful food. For a person who likes Thai cuisine, it will do the trick.
My first taste of Peruvian cuisine was at Sapa in Beirut, Lebanon. The restaurant has a cozy ambiance and the trees add a nice touch of greenery. The waiter who was responsible for our table was the right amount of friendly and professional. I ordered a fruity cocktail which was really delicious. For starters, we went with the cheese rolls and the mango salmon ceviche; it was appreciated that the ceviche was placed on ice. For a person that has lived in Africa for 10 years, I am picky about the taste of mangoes. The mango slices were very similar to the ones I used to eat there and I loved the flavor. Something interesting I liked in the ceviche dish as well is the addition of crunch supplied by the corn nuts. Now for the mains, I found their burger dry; the patty desperately needed juiciness and it cried out to be placed in a softer bun. The other main platter was better; a traditional Peruvian dish called Aji de Gallina had a pleasing interplay of ingredients. We could not leave the premises having not tried the Pisco and so decided to do that in their Pisco chocolate fondant, which arrived with a sizzling hot bubbly sauce. Another sweet treat we tried was the creme brulee with yuzu, which was torched on our table. We were live witnesses of the sugar coating being altered to become its superior form: caramel. After all the drama of our scorching alcoholic-infused desserts, we called it a night.
Remaining in the world of tapas, Cerveceria Catalana is a prime example of that. Honestly, I disliked the ambiance; it was too crowded and noisy for me. Even the service was too fast-paced and the waiters looked as if they were contestants running in a marathon. I felt pressured to eat quickly as if I had to race them to the finish line. The food was okay but nothing was spectacular. They have an interesting item on the menu; chocolate with olive oil, so we ordered that at the end. I thought the merge of the chocolate with the oil was heavy and unpleasant. I guess they were trying to mix savory with sweet, but little did they know that nothing beats Salted Caramel.
One restaurant in Lebanon that is worthy of being on the Michelin Guide in my opinion is Burgundy. The ingredients used are of the highest caliber and the chef pays attention to details. The items on the plate are meticulously displayed in an appealing way that makes you not want to touch them. However, then you think of how appetizing they seem and you know you have to have a taste. I have visited Burgundy twice and both times the food was delicious. The in-house smoked salmon appears to be done being smoked right in front of you on the table when the cover is removed and the salmon is revealed under the cloudiness. The salads are filled with flavor and the mashed potato served with the steak is silky smooth. It was the first time I had ever tasted a soft-shell crab and it was an interesting experience for a person with arachnophobia. We had a selection of cheese before the dessert. I am a person that really likes cheese so I enjoyed that platter. I also loved the chutney provided with the cheese; I adore the marriage of taste that cheese and chutney create in my mouth. The desserts were delectable, especially the chocolate souffle. I think molten chocolate is one of the greatest creations ever made. Actually, writing this blog post now makes me want to go to Burgundy again very soon.
After two posts with no desserts, I have to satisfy my more caramel than salted cravings chez Pierre in my beloved Brussels. Pierre Marcolini is a high-end chocolaterie symbolized by the minimalistic elegance of a cocoa bean. The service is impeccable; the client is highly respected and warmly welcomed. The staff is knowledgeable about their product and you feel important as soon as you walk in to the boutique. The patisserie is showcased beautifully and the boxes are arranged neatly on shelves. Obviously, I am in love with Pierre Marcolini. Not just the pastries or chocolates, but the whole idea of it and how it makes me feel. For me, it is a must-have when I visit Brussels – a daily delicacy to enjoy as I stroll around the city. I would like to commend the ingenious ideas they have as well, from the creative limited editions to the whole store transformations sometimes. An example of a store transformation I witnessed was when I visited during the summer. The whole building on the Sablon had been intertwined with flowers. It was really beautiful. Even the inside kept the same theme with flowers climbing to the second floor and green grass spread beneath your feet. They had put up an ice-cream stand to cool you off and make you smile just because it is summer. Thank you Pierre Marcolini, for your delicious desserts and for making us keep coming back for more!