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.
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.
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.