Swiss Butter – Gemmayzeh


As we approached, we saw a line (more like a cluster) forming on the pavement at the entrance of Swiss Butter. I thought to myself that this better be worth it. The manager was standing at the door, busily placing names on a waiting list. I added my name to the growing list. We were told that it was a 20 minute wait at most; true to their word, we were let in after 15. The waitress was cheerful and seemed to love explaining the eatery’s concept to first-time customers. There was no physical menu to hold in your hands, although the brief menu was enlarged and placed on the wall—the decor was akin to their menu: simple yet effective. She told us that it was one sauce that they made, and our choice of beef, chicken, or fish (in this case, salmon). A restaurant’s offerings relying on one specialty sauce was either a make it or break it situation. As we were waiting for our double order of medium cooked beef, I wanted in on the action of live cooking. So, after being granted permission to take photographs of their open kitchen by the restaurant manager, that is where I headed. Unfortunately, let’s just say that my enthusiasm was not appreciated by one of the chefs there. To sum it up, the photographs were hurried and Salted Caramel had turned bitter. Here, I would like to commend the extremely friendly manager and assistant manager who dealt with the issue in a swift and professional manner. My voice was heard and I was apologized to. Now, let’s get to the good part; the food. The beef was indeed grilled to a medium cuisson, and the tender result made me happy. The meat was accompanied with bread (one has the option of white or brown slices); they are that sure that you would want to savor every drop of their sauce by smearing your bread in it. Also, alongside these constituents were crispy french fries and a fresh salad. Ok, let’s get back to the beef smothered in that sauce of theirs. The liquid goodness is delicious, and has exactly the right amount of tang. Honestly, I do not know if it would go as well with the chicken or salmon; I’ll have to give them a taste to find out. However, the sauce with the beef was a match made in heaven. I was so glad that there was a generous amount of sauce to cover your meat and then dip your fries in. I really enjoyed the food and my taste buds were very awake. I thought that it was impossible for them to be awakened any further at this restaurant, but I was wrong. The dessert options are also limited, but like the savory offerings, that was more than enough. We ordered the pain perdu and the molten chocolate, both of which came in a pan just as the meat had come in before them (maintaining the theme). The molten chocolate dessert is to die for. It is delectable; both the cake and the gooey insides are amazing. As for the pain perdu, the caramel with the sauce and melting vanilla ice cream mixture was really good too—but that molten chocolate confection! At the end of the meal I was full to the brim, and to our surprise, the desserts were not added to the amount due on the bill. All in all, Swiss Butter proves that you do not need an extensive menu to succeed, as long as the items you have are done really well. I would definitely go again.

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Brass Beirut – Achrafieh

We went to Brass for a brief escape from the responsibility of parenthood. Luckily, we found a parking space right at the base of the staircase leading to the restaurant. There is an exterior seating area, which is lovely, but we opted for the cooler inside. The interior makes you still feel you are outside. There is a majestic tree sprouting from the center of a table, with its branches reaching up towards the sun’s rays coming in through the skylight. However, stealing your attention away from all of this stands an impressively long bar that runs the length of the room. It made me imagine how this place would be transformed during the evenings and nights, when the moon and stars shone through from above. I liked the whole environment that was created indoors, and after sitting at our table, I was ready to eat. Some restaurants really outdo themselves in the appetizers section; Brass is one of them. The appetizers we ordered were delicious; we had the La Poutine, Beef Carpaccio, and Raspberry Lava. The La Poutine was so comforting with the melted cheese and warm gravy. Yet, it was the Raspberry Lava that stole the show—from all of the savory platters, not just the appetizers. The berry sauce smothering the oven baked Brie cheese seemed very fresh and authentic, and the combination of flavors of the sauce and cheese was marvelous. It felt like intense bursts of goodness exploding inside your mouth. We chose the Asian Grilled Salmon, Roasted Beef Fillet with Red Wine Sauce, and Steak Frites as our main dishes; they were all good but not as noteworthy as the preceding platters. The Roasted Beef Fillet was succulent and the Steak was tender, although the meat of the latter was cooked more than the cuisson I had asked for. I should have informed the waiter, but due to the service being slow, I refrained from doing so. Instead, I spent the time waiting for the Pain Perdu to arrive, and that was time well spent. This dessert was worth it; I guess good things do happen to those who wait. The “lost bread” found its way into my mouth, where it felt right at home. The bread was saturated with the deliciousness it had been soaked in, it was just how I like it–I really detest a dry Pain Perdu. Add the vanilla ice cream to that, and you have a symphony playing on your tongue. I was glad that the first sweet option I had previously decided on, the Chocolate Fondant, had been unavailable when I was there, although I should admit I am still curious as to how it would have tasted.

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.

Salem Ice Cream – Kousba

When I think of Salem Ice Cream, or “Bouzit Salem” as we call it here in Lebanon, I remember my childhood visits to this ice cream parlor. It seems that this ice cream place has been proudly standing there since forever. Subjectively speaking, they have the best ice cream in the world, if I let my memories have a say. As Salted Caramel, however, I have to speak the truth in an objective manner. Overall, it is good Arabic ice cream, and it does satisfy a person seeking this kind of ice cream in the Northern parts of Lebanon. Yet, compared to other ice cream of this genre, its flavor is a bit less pronounced. Nevertheless, I would return just for the friendly service and homey ambiance this eatery has. Trying to find a parking spot in front of Bouzit Salem, and joining the people that eat its frozen goods outside their doors and on the front steps (even though there is an adjacent seating area) are what takes the experience to a whole new level.

All the childhood nostalgia inspired me to have some playtime fun, as you can witness in the compilation below.

Correct one

Liza – Achrafieh

Rarely are both the interior and exterior of a restaurant charming. With Liza, it was the case; the outer entrance portrayed the elegance that was to come. You could tell that what was waiting for us inside was going to be decorated with refined taste. It did not disappoint. From the adorable courtyard, to the elevator leading upstairs, and the hallway adorned with lighting; they all maintained a coherent theme. At the end of the corridor, you are greeted with high ceilings and rooms embellished with wallpaper, flooring, lighting, and furniture that are extremely pleasing to the eye. Whichever way you look, it is all well thought of to the tiniest detail. It made me hold my breath in anticipation, awaiting the beautiful presentation of the food we were going to order.

 

We ordered several mezze items, of which my favorite was the kibbe; it fell apart easily inside your mouth revealing its goodness. The hummus and the kafta arayess were really good as well. The shanklish was tasty, but it was a tad spicy. The fries were homemade, which is always appreciated. The fattoush and cheese rolls were fine, but not great. However, I did love the neatness in presentation, which consolidated the fact that Lebanese food can be presented in an appealing way. The mix of metal and pottery vessels used to display the food was creative and lovely. I do not remember a Lebanese restaurant that showcased the grilled meat, kafta, and chicken in a better manner to date. The coffee and desserts further retained the elegant presentation. The rice pudding was good, and the chocolate cake was simultaneously rich, dense, and brittle. As for the service, the hostess and the waiters were welcoming and friendly. All in all, I enjoyed my meal at Liza. Although the concoctions on their own are not outstanding, the presentation, decoration, and the whole ambiance all complement the food and each other wonderfully making it more of an experience than just about eating.

Nicolas Audi at La Maison d’IXSIR – Batroun

We were looking for a serene place to relax in, away from the mundane daily routine, so we decided to go have lunch at Nicolas Audi at La Maison d’IXSIR. Located in the Ixsir winery and Nicolas Audi being a prominent chef in Lebanon, we thought that it was a restaurant that should be visited. When we arrived, we scouted the area, and then we were lucky enough to join the tour of the winery, where we were led underground down a spiral staircase. The tour guide seemed well-trained and after being fed with information about the whole wine-making process, from grapes to barrel to bottle, we savored the end product in glasses on our table. Sitting under the shade of the tree, we enjoyed our Grande Reserve red and white wines, awaiting the opening of the buffet.

 

I rushed to take photographs of the untouched food, in order to capture their presentation before they were destroyed by the hungry people. Success, for the most part. There were a variety of salads and appetizers, of which the hummus was really good. I also really liked the salad with peppers in it because their flavor stood out. Moreover, the mashed potato tasted great with embedded onion bits within it. The fattoush, vine leaves dish, and beans salads were fine, but not exceptional.

 

Moving to the mains, I think I am adamant on melting my phone by taking pictures next to fire, but the skewers of meat being licked by the flames made me feel like a moth (if you know what I mean). The doneness of the grilled meat and chicken was great; they were juicy and tender. Another great item was the rice and creamy sauce, it was a tad spicy but delicious. The pizza squares and chicken nouille lacked flavor, and the kibbe and fish were okay. Let’s just say if I had not been leaving some space for dessert, I would have filled up on the grilled meat and chicken, as well as the rice and creamy sauce. There is something that I should note though; when you change your plate, you keep the same knife and fork. That is not great, but maybe acceptable when you have a placemat to put them on. However, we had no placemat so you had to put your dirty cutlery right on the table which is not hygienic for you nor the table.

 

So, here comes the dessert which was mostly a mixture of oriental sweets and French pastry. The ice cream was good, but not memorable. The baba au rhum was delectable; it was my favorite dessert hands down. I can’t get over their heavenly whipped cream (if you have read my Nicolas Audi patisserie post, then you know I am a fan). Another intense dessert was the chocolate cake which was as chocolatey as it could get, and my advice is to eat it slowly to be able to appreciate each bite. That was the taste I left Ixsir with.

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.