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.

DIVVY – Hazmieh

For another eatery to whisk my sister away from work on her lunch break, we headed to DIVVY in Hazmieh to try out items from their new menu and not so new menu. We started off with the Crispy Strips and an appetizer we always order: the Brie and Blueberry. I love how the purple color of their signature blueberry dip is so vibrant, and needless to say, its delicious taste went perfectly well with the melted cheese cubes. Another way to visit this lovely coupling is in their tasty DIVVY Brie and Blueberry Burgers. In fact, that specialty burger was the reason that I decided to try out the new burger on their menu; the Grand Burger. The meat was juicy and if you like your patty on the thicker side, this would do. However, the component I couldn’t get enough of was that bun! It could not possibly get any softer. Also, the sauce was good, but all in all, I do still prefer their Brie and blueberry burgers. We also ordered the Beef Teriyaki platter, which has great comforting flavors, and the Caesar Sandwich. For dessert, I was very excited to try their new Salted Caramel Pain Perdu and I was not disappointed. It was decadent. The moistness of the pain perdu chunks topped with the salted caramel’s just right sweetness was a delightful end to our meal. On the whole, it was a satisfying lunch, and one shouldn’t forget to commend the presentation of their dishes, as well as their friendly yet professional service. Additionally, although I did not order it this time, I would like to recommend their Countryside Steak Sandwich, which never ceases to awaken my taste buds with its bursts of goodness.

La Petite Table – Dbayeh

Ok, so I have a long list of restaurants I want to visit; most of them are in Beirut. However, we did not have the luxury of time on our hands, and so I began thinking about eateries located in Dbayeh. Although not on my list, I recalled that I had visited La Peitite Table at tea time and that we had sat in the cute seating area outside. It was cold this time around so we would have to sit inside, but I thought it was worth a try and I was pleasantly surprised. La Petite Table has a cozy interior with lovely colors and bursts of greenery. Amidst the comfortable ambiance, I would really like to highlight an issue: their lighting. I am a person that loves bright light and sunny days, and their globes lit the restaurant wonderfully at dinner. The staff was very professional, and we were warmly welcomed and led to our seats. Our waiter was friendly and politely took our order, and no mistakes were made; I actually loved the service. Now, for the part that satisfied our hunger. We chose the Salmon Crudo, the Fish & Fries, and the Double Cheese Burger as our salty items. First, a bread basket is placed on the table with olive oil to dip the slices in before they head to your mouth, and then your platters arrive. Considering the cheese burger, I found the patty to be juicy, and biting into the burger resulted in repeated deliciousness with every bite. The fries on the side were crispy, well-seasoned, and really good in flavor. However, the component of the dish I want to focus on the most is the Hickory BBQ Sauce. It was to die for! I put some on my burger, and when that was done, I smothered my fries in it. As for the fish and fries dish, the outer shell was crunchy and the fish within it seemed fresh. I enjoyed the fish, yet I was not really a fan of the accompanying soy sesame sauce. For dessert, we ordered one of each of the available Macarons flavors and the Chocolate-Peanut Waffle. The waffle was good, although not one of the best I have had. The caramel sauce was a tasty addition to the waffle, and I preferred it to the chocolate sauce, which was not as rich. At the end of the whole meal, I felt relaxed and was left intrigued to return and try other menu offerings, such as their Molten Chocolate Cake.

Loris – Gemmayze

Finally, a Lebanese restaurant that awakened my taste buds! Since I began writing about my experiences at established and also more recently opened restaurants, I have been craving really good Lebanese cuisine—I left Loris satisfied. The service and the ambiance were pleasant, but a more important topic to be discussed is the food. I loved the fresh out of the oven hot bread that was served at the beginning. Their Fattouch is zesty and their Hommos is creamy. The Rkakat bi jibne had tasty melted cheese enclosed in the crispy shell, and their mini Kebbe are delicious bites filled with flavor. Their Kebab Bil Karaz is a great dish with a twist, yet it was their Lahmeh Ras Asfour Debs Rimmein that was to die for! It is the best Ras Asfour platter I have had to date; the sauce was perfectly balanced, and the meat was so tender akin to biting into a succulent piece of steak. As for the Mixed Grill Platter, the chicken was seasoned with a nice blend of spices, and the chicken, meat, and kafta were juicy and moist. For dessert, I wanted to taste the Em Ali but unfortunately it was unavailable. However, I forgot all about that when I tasted the Maamoul Bil Jibne and felt the delicate crumble fall apart underneath my teeth to reveal the softness of the cheese inside. We left Loris on a sweet note, knowing we would be returning to try more of their creations.

Appetito Trattoria – Gemmayze

What started out as a comfortable late lunch ended with the stench of Gorgonzola, literally. We happily went to Appetito Trattoria because they cater to our youngsters by providing high chairs. The service was slow and towards the end some platters really took their time in arriving to our table. I would like to mention that the waiter was running back and forth between tables, until he was later joined by more staff.  We ordered the Siciliana and Caprese salads, the Prosciutto e Funghi pizza, the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, the Linguine al Pesto, and the Ravioli di Capra. I will leave the encounter with the salads till the end. I would like to begin with the pizza; it was delicious. The crust was thin and crispy, and I really enjoyed the flavors. I think that if you are craving Italian pizza, this would definitely do. We ended up ordering another pizza because it was the best thing we had eaten at Appetito. The Linguine al Pesto was good and I was glad that the pasta was cooked al dente. Also, the ravioli was good, but paled in comparison to the pizza. Now back to the salads, my sister had found an unwanted visitor in her Caprese and we failed to taste the Gorgonzola in the Siciliana salad dressing (which was the thing going for it to differentiate it from a regular salad). It was appreciated that the manager really listened to our comments, and that he showed us the Gorgonzola cheese that had been used. However, it was a bit too much when he then showed us how it becomes when they process it in the mixer, and made us smell it before and after. Then, he explained how he had to change to this Italian Gorgonzola with no taste and a faint smell because customers before thought that the Gorgonzola was too strong, and it went on and on. For a change of taste and smell, we opted to try their Soffice al Cioccolato; it was alright (they were kindly offered on the house). Although I would recommend Appetito Trattoria if you are in the mood for pizza in a cozy environment, the only thing that was on my mind leaving this place was Gorgonzola.

Le Petit Belge – Dubai

I think it was our longing to be strolling on the streets of Brussels that led us to Le Petit Belge. Going underground you come face to face with a lit sign simply stating the name of the restaurant that lets you know you have arrived. The friendly hostess helped us choose a table, and then our also amicable waitress provided us with the menus. One of my first choices was the Lobster/crab roll, which unfortunately was unavailable. After thoroughly exploring the menu, we came to a consensus. These would be the platters we would be ordering: the Beef carpaccio, one piece of Oyster, the Scottish salmon cured in Duvel beer, the Wagyu beef and Passendaele cheese burger, the Fish and chips with a Belgian twist, and a side of Brussels sprouts with turkey bacon. As we waited for our food to arrive, I noticed that I was singing along to the music. It had been a while since I had actually enjoyed the tracks played at an eatery. Our appetizers arrived and I preferred the salmon with beer (although not too evident) with its fresh citrus bursts to the beef carpaccio. The carpaccio had nice flavors that were overshadowed because it was too heavy on the balsamic; I literally had to scrape some off to enjoy the taste of the meat. Then the main dishes were placed on our table. The Wagyu beef burger was juicy due to its doneness and the crispy fries was a great companion. However, the fish was too thick and formed sort of clumps instead of being flaky –smothering it with the tasty chunky tartar sauce rendered it edible though. Now, for the sweet ending to our last meal in Dubai before heading home. I had my eye on the Moelleux aux chocolat (that is how it’s spelt on the menu) and the Belgian chocolate mousse, and after another closer look at the dessert menu, these choices were confirmed. The presentation was pretty for both of them but it was time to dig in. The mousse was good, yet the moelleux was truly delicious. The outer cake crust and the inner gooey filling were delectable; this was the best item I had eaten at Le Petit Belge. It would have to do, until I could have my Belgian chocolate fix on the Sablon (hint: the two word name of the chocolaterie and the chocolatier are one and the same). The reality check for the time being though was that I had a plane to catch.

Pai Thai – Dubai

We were looking for a restaurant with Thai cuisine, and since I wanted to try a new place (although the last time I came to Dubai I had really good Thai food), we chose to go to Pai Thai for dinner. The location is romantic, as it is next to the water, and apparently you can get there by boat. We decided to walk instead; the winding path leading there is dimly lit and there are trees on either side. The service started out really well as a man showed us to our table, and explained that there was a special menu and a more lit ambiance due to the celebration of the Festival of Lights. We were handed our menus, and being a fan of organization (especially when the names of the dishes are in a foreign language), I opted to list the items we wanted to order on my phone. After the effort of writing down the names in Thai and trying to pronounce them to our waitress, she found it amusing and told us that she does not know them in Thai either. I would expect the waitress to know the menu by heart, including all the names of the dishes. Also, the attitude of a waitress affects the servicing, even if she is efficient in placing the dishes on our table (although a bit less efficient in removing them). Anyway, let’s get to the food. We ordered the (I will not bother to name them in Thai) Green Papaya Salad, the Crispy Marinated Chicken Wrapped in Pandan Leaf, and the Grilled Marinated Chicken Sate as appetizers. The Green Papaya Salad was flavorful and the Chicken Sate was tender and literally melted in your mouth, and I loved the peanut sauce. However, I disliked the Crispy Marinated Chicken in the Pandan Leaf; it was more soggy than crispy. For our main courses, we then had the Braised Massaman Beef Curry, a Pad Thai with Prawns, and a bowl of Thai Coconut Rice. The Beef Curry’s sauce was really tasty, but I did not like the beef’s texture within it. As for the Pad Thai, I have had much better elsewhere. We ended the meal with one of the desserts listed under the Traditional section, as opposed to the Modern one. We had the Sweet Sticky Rice with Ripe Mango; it was fine. In general, the food was average, and I was not blown away. Dining in an intimate setting with water surrounding you is basically what Pai Thai has going for it. Although, another Thai restaurant that comes to mind has that but with better food.