Onno – Naccache

We finally made it to Onno. Firstly, I would like to commend them on their professional service. The mezze item I started with was the hummus, which was not as creamy as I would like. My favorite item was the one I tried next, the lahem bi aajine. It was flavorful and the dough was thin and deliciously crispy. The lahme ras asfour karaz sauce was tasty, but the meat was a tad chewy. However, I still preferred them to the fishna kebab. The tiny-sized mouajanet were good, especially the kibbe and sambousik. I also enjoyed nibbling on the manti dumplings with their crunchy exterior. As for the mixed grilled skewers, the chich taouk outdid the kafta and the meat chunks. Although, it is nice of them to offer dessert on the house, I would honestly rather pay for my dessert if I could have more variety and more complex confections. All in all, it was an average and forgettable experience which could be easily replicated elsewhere.

Blu – Mtayleb

Chocolate cravings? In the mood for chocolate, cakes, and the like, we happened to spot Blu as we were going up the winding road home. We decided that this time we would pass by. The lady assisting us was friendly and tried to be helpful. However, the lack of training was apparent because she was not knowledgeable about the ingredients within the cake pieces and had to keep asking for information from another lady on the phone. We ended up choosing a variety of items to try and headed to the car. For me, the humble mini cupcakes were my favorite to nibble on. They were fluffy and moist, and it was difficult to stop myself from devouring all the bag’s constituents. As for the cookies, the thicker ones were better than the regular chocolate chip cookie encasing an Oreo cookie; I felt that the latter was a bit dry. Yet, the double chocolate chip cookie was the best one in that box because it was extremely chocolatey, for hiding inside was more melted chocolate. Considering the second box with the cake pieces, my first comment would be about the chocolate tart crust; it was tasty but did not crumble delicately beneath your teeth. In addition, the chocolate eclair was pleasant and not too heavy although the pastry cream inside was also chocolate. In general, the chocolate used in their cake pieces was creamy and rich. I did end up feeling overly saturated with sugar when I had tasted everything; although I am partly to blame for that because of wanting to steal a bite out of all the goodies we had bought.

Goutons Voir – Achrafieh

Risotto, risotto, risotto. The only thing on my mind when it comes to food these days is risotto. I love indulging in a lemon risotto with shrimp, especially during this phase of my pregnancy. Goutons Voir has one of the best risotto I have tasted, if not the best (I did remove the asparagus ingredient though, but that is a matter of preference). It is so creamy and rich, and in addition to the shrimp lurking inside, they have placed a few shrimps at the top. This latter subtle component enhances the taste by providing a sort of lovely grilled flavor. I also ordered french fries on the side, and their fries are certainly the correct amount of salty and crispy. Feeling very full, I ordered half a portion of their pain perdu for dessert. I love the whole Goutons Voir, Charlotte, Cafe Gourmand, and Nonna enterprise, so I had tasted the pain perdu at Charlotte before yet I recalled that it was good but not out of this world. Still adamant to give it another try, I did. The caramel sauce smothering the bread is very good, without being overly sweet. However, I realized what it was that I found a little lacking. The bread was moist, but I prefer a pain perdu that is more soaked and filled with the milky mixture. Hence, I would still rather their heavenly moelleux au chocolat. Last but definitely not least, an important issue noteworthy of stating is that the waiter was very friendly and professional. We felt comfortable and we will definitely be back to Goutons Voir and all of the sister eateries that never disappoint!

Al Forno – Beirut

Like most parents seeking a restaurant in an area where the children can play in, we headed to Zaitunay Bay. The sun was out and we were armed with a tricycle, but first it was time for lunch. Pasta never fails with a toddler it seems, so we decided to go for Italian, hence Al Forno. It was a pleasant surprise. First and foremost, I would like to commend our waiter who couldn’t have done a better job because the service was excellent. We ordered a variety of dishes to get a gist of everything. The fried shrimps were very crispy, and although the zucchini was not cut into thin slices, the breading was so crunchy that it didn’t matter. With my pregnancy, it seems that I am fixated on certain food at certain times. Nowadays, it is the risotto. So, I ordered the shrimp risotto and chicken escalope to share, and they were both tasty. The risotto sauce was a bit dilute but still had flavor, and the breading on the chicken escalope made a pleasant crunching sound beneath our teeth. Al Forno surely did know how to make their breading, and the escalope was not oily at all. For my sweet tooth cravings, I had the pain perdu and the cenci. The extra touch of cinnamon added to the pain perdu was pleasing. As for the cenci, I enjoyed trying something new but the dough was a bit heavy for my taste. All in all, however, we left with a satisfying experience ensuring our definite return.

Le Rouge – Hazmieh

Restaurant complexes are popping out everywhere nowadays. One such complex is called City Walk, where Le Rouge is now located. We used to frequent Le Rouge when it was popular in Hamra (and sometimes Gemmayze), the target being their grain mustard sauce smothering pieces of succulent chicken, and the focaccia bread they welcome you with. That was the reason we decided to go to this restaurant; to relive the nostalgia. As soon as we arrived, a staff member calls to us from the inside ushering us to come in. I felt that that was slightly desperate as opposed to being welcoming. Then, he scoops up my toddler into his arms with the intention of helping me lead him indoors because he was fighting to have another go at the escalator. Another waiter then also carries him and the whole invasion of personal space becomes bothersome. Anyway, so we finally sat at a table and ordered our platters. The waiter was attentive and accommodating to any alterations we wanted to be done to the dishes. We were greeted by the focaccia we were familiar with, and eating that calmed my nerves (even though the background music choice was not that great). However, the bread was soft and warm in the middle and a tad unpleasantly crunchy on the sides. Yet, I was awaiting that grainy mustard sauce. I tried the escalope which tasted comforting and homey, but the accompanying pasta was a bit overcooked. Then the chicken with grain mustard sauce arrived. Honestly, however I did not taste the chicken because it was tinted pink when I cut into it. The same had happened to my mother as well, so I did not want to point it out again. The waiter readily took my mother’s chicken and cooked it some more, but being pregnant I just decided to refrain from eating it altogether. But no! I was adamant to try that nostalgic  sauce, so I drizzled it onto my wedges. Thankfully, the sauce lived up to its memory in my head. I actually enjoyed the seasoning on the potatoes and the tasty sauce that covered them. Now, it was time for dessert, so we ordered the apple tart and pain perdu. The pain perdu was okay, although I needed to have extra caramel to sweeten it further. All in all, I do commend the effort of the staff, but unfortunately the food and ambiance was lacking and paled in comparison to the Le Rouge that I remember.

Leila Min Lebnen – Dbayeh

Food Aversions. The fortunate culprit: Pregnancy. They are still present, but at least now I can actually look at my photos long enough to enable their description to formulate in my head. The most notable aspect of my experience at Leila Min Lebnen was the service. The waiter was extremely understanding of my current diet restrictions and accommodated the platters’ constituents accordingly, and all this was done with a smile. I felt comfortable eating at the restaurant. I liked the Hummus with the hot soft bread served on the side. I also enjoyed the small bites of Stuffed Kibbeh with yogurt. However, the Lebanese Diced Veal stood out with its pleasant tartness. The meat was tender and with the appropriate sourness of the pomegranate molasses sauce, it was very tasty. In the mood for fish, we ordered Grilled Fish instead of the usual mixed grilled platter. Honestly, I felt that it was a tad too oily. For me, I like the simplicity of the flavor profile of a moist yet pristine piece of fresh grilled white fish, with maybe only the addition of salt and a squeeze of lemon to preference. We finished the meal off with Maamoul Bel Jebneh and a bowl of Meghle. I am not a fan of meghle, but do like stuffing maamoul with cheese. Maybe another option could also be maamoul with melted chocolate insides….Just a thought.

Al Mandaloun Cafe – Dbayeh

You know when you are at home and reluctant to go out because the thought of slipping out of the warmth of your soft pajamas and actually heading somewhere seems so far out of reach? Well. that night it was exactly how I felt. After contemplating the idea in my head, the thought of having dinner alone with my other half seemed worth the effort. Now, to actually choose the destination. It took some time before we decided that we wanted a place that was not too far and that had a comfortable and spacious setting, hence we chose Mandaloun. I have tried the food there before on several occasions (including their rich breakfast), but I wanted to refresh my memory. We were led to our table, and handed the menus. Our waitress was great; the service was professional and the right amount of friendly. We ordered the Gambas Fritas, the Breaded Chicken Escalope, and the Fish & Chips. I loved the fried shrimps. They were so crunchy and they were salted perfectly. As for the fish platter, the amount of fish meat inside the crispy batter was generous and it tasted great. Their escalope was also tasty. Conclusion: Mandaloun handles the breaded and battered well. I should mention that their fries are really good; they were thinly sliced just how I like them. For dessert, we had their Gourmet Waffle with caramel and three scoops of fruity sorbets. Usually their waffle satisfies my sweet tooth, yet this time I don’t know why I had mixed feelings about it. However, based on my previous experiences, it is usually a good choice of dessert at Mandaloun. All in all, it was a peaceful evening in a calm setting, and that was what I had been looking for.

Jai – Clemenceau

When I think of Jai, I think “good food but will we find a place to eat?” Well, this time the thought of eating their food again outweighed the fact of the seating issue. Don’t get me wrong, Jai is small in a cozy sort of way. I like that they have a common table next to their open kitchen, and a cute seating arrangement on the pavement outside; they give the place its charm. Although, if it is cold outside or it is raining, unfortunately not many seats remain—I witnessed the hassle of the folding and packing of a table firsthand. It would be nice if they could relocate to a bigger area, maybe not too big so that Jai retains its charm, but just enough for more people to enjoy the melange of flavors they have to offer. Luckily, we found a place at the common table indoors. I love peanut sauce, and they have one of the best in the country, so of course we had to order both the Chicken Satay and the Beef Satay as appetizers. The tender chicken and meat were smothered with the delicious peanut sauce, and we couldn’t help but eat every bit of it. As mains, we ordered the Butter Chicken and the Dhal Makhani. They are both comforting platters that come with a side of rice. The Dhal Makhani was rich and felt kind of smoky to me in a way, but the closer one to my heart was that very tasty Butter Chicken. We had the Poppadoms as a side too, and they truly are addictive; they are light and crispy in a delicate way. When we were done, we were kindly offered Ginger Beignets on the house; it seems to be their way of appreciating their customers. The dessert was good, but it has an eccentric taste that you have to like to enjoy. Then, it was time to pay. When you order the bill, you get a handwritten one, which you can also say is part of Jai’s charm. Yet, liking the personal touch to our receipt was followed by a cash only request. It so happened that we were out of cash, so my husband had to walk under the rain to an ATM machine at a nearby hospital. To be honest, it is not a far walk, but it still was a bit impractical I think. However, this is all forgotten when you consider the friendly service and welcoming people at this “hidden gem”. To sum up my lunch experiences at Jai: whenever I feel like satisfying my craving for peanut sauce, this eatery is definitely one that comes to mind.

Em Sherif Restaurant – Achrafieh

Yes, it was all the hype about Em Sherif and their high review scores that eventually aroused my curiosity. We were in the mood for Lebanese cuisine, so we decided to finally give it a try. When you go in, you notice that the restaurant is fancy, with its mirrored tables and silver cutlery (although I liked some aspects of the interior decoration more than others). A noteworthy issue to mention here is that the service was great from when we entered Em Sherif till when we left. The waiters were very welcoming and friendly, and swiftly brought the food to our table. Things work differently at Em Sherif; when you sit down you do not get a menu to choose from but instead the food directly starts coming your way. For a first-timer, the set menu descending at a fast pace in front of you as well as the waiters passing by with trays of food can be exciting, yet a bit overwhelming as you are trying to keep track of what is being offered and trying to taste everything. However, we did request for room to breathe when we were asked if we would like the hot constituents to be served. I am glad we did that because it was then that I enjoyed all the delicious flavors. Em Sherif does have great food. Their hummus is creamy and their humble labne is really really really good. From the items on the “hovering mezza” tray, the la7em bi3ajeen and sambousik were very tasty, and honestly I would rather that the tray land on the table permanently. The chickpeas in the balila were cooked perfectly and it was well seasoned, though a tad oily. I was surprised at how good the harak osbao was; it had the right amount of tanginess. Additionally, the marination of the skewered shrimps was great and I enjoyed the tender meat chunks (I preferred them to the chich taouk). I could go and on about the immense number of platters we tasted, but if I wanted to describe Em Sherif’s food concisely, it would be well-balanced; their seasoning and the combination of flavors were spot on. I also have to commend them on the kibbe nayye, which had the mint and onions within the mixture, meaning all you had to do was add the olive oil. After this feast of salted dishes, it was time for the sweet ones. Their um ali sauce is to die for! I loved their take on the foret noire presentation; it was placed in a bowl and the chocolate cake was in itself a moist hollow vessel in which the fruits and cream were placed. It seems the maamoul bi jibne is popping up everywhere nowadays, and I am a fan of it in general, and a fan of it at Em Sherif. The waiter places it on your plate and professionally slits it open so that the drizzle of syrup reaches the melted cheese beneath the crumbly crust. All in all, Em Sherif provides a rich set menu with a bit of everything and it left us feeling stuffed for the rest of the day.

Fadel – Bikfaya

Fadel is a patisserie that I first encountered during my childhood. We went up for the occasional ice cream fix, to get a black forest cake to celebrate a birthday, or to get some freshly baked bread. Since then, a large number of pastry shops have opened their doors, but we still do visit Fadel once in a while. Their classic black forest cake was the cake we resorted to recently for my mother’s birthday, certain we wouldn’t disappoint. It surely did the trick; the cake was fluffy and light. The last time I tasted products from Fadel, I had a cheese croissant, a chocolate chip muffin, a piece of success cake (succès“), and their thyme pain au lait. I know croissants are the epitome of buttery concoctions, but the cheese croissant was too buttery and heavy, in my opinion. As for the muffin, it was fine, and I appreciated their generosity with the chocolate chips. Their succes was okay, but not as successful as another patisserie makes them; I go to that pastry shop exclusively for their succes, yet that is a story for another day. However, the very successful item at Fadel is their thyme pain au lait. I have tasted the regular one with no filling, as well as the one filled with cheese, but it is the zaatar one that I love. The bread is very soft and there is thyme sprinkled in the dough and used as a filling simultaneously, which highlights the taste. That is one item I am sure I will return for.