P.F. Chang’s – Hazmieh

We went to P.F. Chang’s in Hazmieh to make my sister forget she is going through the routine of a regular work day. The interior is predominantly wood; the ceiling is embellished with lights. I preferred choosing a table located next to the windows because it was brighter. As soon as we sat down, they provided us with a high chair and a booklet made especially for children (along with some crayons). I could actually take my time choosing what I wanted to eat because my little one was preoccupied. As appetizers, we ordered the Shrimp Dumplings, the Crab Wontons, the Shrimp Tempura, and the Dynamite Shrimp. They were all delicious and flavorful; the seasoning and the combination of ingredients were great. Then, we had the Sweet & Sour Chicken, the Mongolian Beef, and the Crispy Honey Shrimp. My favorite among the three was the Crispy Honey Shrimp, the sauce was tasty and I loved the crunch of the rice sticks. The components of the Sweet & Sour Chicken seemed fresh and the chicken was tender. Unfortunately, the Mongolian Beef had good flavor, but the meat was a tad tough and chewy (usually the caramelized beef in this platter is crispy on the outside and more succulent on the inside). We opted not to have dessert because we had tasted them before and we were not in the mood for something heavy this time. I have to note that the service was very good; our waiter was friendly and everything was done efficiently.

Casper & Gambini’s – Dbayeh

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.

Charlotte – Beirut

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.

Aprons and Hammers – Dubai

We weren’t armed with our aprons and hammers on this boat docked at sea. Aprons and Hammers has a regular restaurant location, but we opted to try the one on the boat to make the experience more authentic. Well, I am glad we did because the breeze coming from the sea with the serene view made it so relaxing. The service was mediocre; they never provided us with aprons and hammers, although the utensils provided later to break the crab legs with was sufficient. I just thought even if the aprons and hammers were useless, they should still be offered to all its customers (a nearby table had them), since that was what the restaurant was named. Anyway, enough with the cutlery, let’s talk about the food. We started by ordering icy strawberry drinks that were very refreshing. I also found the breaded shrimps delicious. When it came to the mains, well, the crab was better than the lobster. I felt that the lobster was way overcooked that it had become very dry ruining the taste. The crabs were good, although I believe that they could be even better. However, the setting does compensate for what is lacking in the food. All in all, it was a lunch that left me feeling calm and happy.