TOTO Cucina Italiana – Dbayeh

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.

Four Seasons Hotel – Beirut

Afternoon Tea is served daily in The Lobby Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel. When we arrived, we were welcomed and seated at a table, while the waiter prepared another one for us. It was transformed into an elegant setting ready to receive the tea and its delicacies. We were provided with a set menu of what was to be expected, and we chose our tea from the various options we had. The service was very good, and the waiters poured our tea for us into the teacup using a sieve. My English Breakfast tea was how it should be, and now it was time for the treats. First came the savory sandwiches and quiches, then came the dessert pastries. Both came with scones. I absolutely loved the scones. They were delicious and I still daydream about them, long after I have had them. As for the sandwiches, quiches, tarts, macarons…all the rest, I expected more from a fancy hotel. They were mediocre in my opinion, especially the macarons; they were borderline amateurish. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I resorted to my comforting hot chocolate with vanilla. A better experience at the Four Seasons Hotel would be the breakfast they serve.

Fred French Bistro – Achrafieh

I would not go back to Fred French Bistro because if you are looking for a French bistro there is a better one that I know of. On a positive note, I thought that the interior was nice, with its stone walls and arches. Also, one of the walls was divided into a grid encompassing different painted plates; I thought that was a pleasant artistic feature. We commenced with bread and butter, served in a basket. For a starter, we ordered the home smoked salmon salad. The only thing that had a fresh taste in that salad was the salmon; it was like they had removed a ready-made cold salad from the fridge, and added the salmon on top of it as a cover-up. For mains, we ordered the fish and filet (steak) platters. The fish was overcooked and dry, and the vegetables and sauce failed to moisten it. As for the meat, well, it was delicious and tender. However, it was comically small (especially for the price tag); I would call it a bite which could easily fall under the starters’ section. We then ordered the creme brulee for dessert, which was good, and it came in an interesting glass vessel. Honestly, apart from the cuisson of the meat, our taste buds were left unsatisfied.

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.

Bits and Pieces – Belgium

Chapter 6

 

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.

 

IMG_3141Noordzee 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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Pierre Marcolini – Bruxelles

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!

Bistro 4 – Lisboa

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Isn’t that just beautiful? I had to place this picture out of order; it commanded to be at the very beginning. This was a dessert I had in Portugal, Lisbon to be exact. To be even more exact, I had this “strawberrylicious” dessert at a restaurant called Bistro 4 located in a grand hotel.

Honestly, Lisbon surprised me with how delicious the food is there. The food actually tasted as good as it looked. At Bistro 4, the space was elegant and so was its dining experience. The service was friendly yet still professional; they made us feel comfortable wearing casual attire in a formal atmosphere. On a side note, people in Lisbon were very friendly and welcoming, and they seemed to be happy all the time. I enjoyed the thin slices of meat in the salad as well as the thin crisps that complemented my main course perfectly. The cuisson of the fish was on point; topped with its sauce and the pleasant texture added by the crumble, the outcome was fulfilling. Last, but definitely not least, came the dessert. It was the perfect finish. I really loved how the chef played with the strawberries; presenting them as dehydrated as well as cooked becoming “jam-like”. One shouldn’t forget how the strawberries were placed, as if returning them to the garden they were once in, but improved and more desirable.

STAY by Yannick Alleno – Dubai

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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.

A la Biche au Bois – Paris

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Paris. What better city to begin with? This was the first time I had tasted this sugary concoction. Soft meringue in creme anglaise with caramel syrup…the Ile Flottante. Needless to say, it was delicious! Ever since I met this floating island, I have scrutinized dessert menus for it everywhere I travel.

I am Salted Caramel. I love food. I realized that most of the photographs, if not all, that I take when I travel involve what I had eaten on the trip. Before traveling, my priority has become to look up potential restaurants to go to, new flavors to savor. Then I noticed that I started taking photographs of food even when I went to local restaurants. So, I thought why not try to put these memories all in one place; hence this blogging attempt.

Why call it salted caramel? Well, I would like to post pictures of savory dishes as well as those of sweet creations..the salty but also the sweet; salted caramel. For those of you who have tasted salted caramel, you also know that the added salt allows the caramel flavor to literally burst with intensity onto your unaware eagerly awaiting taste buds. So, new combinations of ingredients one never thought would go together do, and on the contrary, they enhance the whole experience of tasting and enjoying food; of expanding¬† one’s palate. Isn’t that enough reason to live for? I surely think so.

Enjoy the rest of the photographs from this traditional French bistro below. I would like to add that it is rightfully on the Michelin Guide and worth a visit.

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