Seeking a high chair and a non-smoking area, I called Diwan Beirut in Antelias. I was pleasantly surprised when I was told that there was a smoking floor and a non-smoking floor. It had been a while since I had craved Lebanese cuisine throughout my pregnancy, but since I felt like having that, I dragged my family along with me. Wanting to try a new place, and relying on the fact that it comes from the same people who brought us Al-Sultan Brahim, we reserved a table for lunch. The man on the other end of the phone was very welcoming and professional, and when we arrived this great service continued until we were seated and ordered our food. However, after that, it was a miracle if we could find a waiter to help us out and when we did, it took us 3 times of ordering a diet soda to eventually receive it. Also, I had requested that no fresh vegetable garnish our food due to my current non-existent immunity, and it went well until the breaded shrimp platter arrived. We asked for another platter instead but we received the same shrimp constituents with the lettuce removed from underneath them. Let’s just say that we had to keep the “tarnished” shrimp on our table as hostage to make sure we received newly fried ones! As for the actual taste of the food, mostly everything I tasted was very good. The hummus was creamy, the fried kibbe was delicate, the fries were crispy, and the breaded shrimps were tasty and seemed fresh. I made it a point to try their mixed grilled skewers, and all three of the variations were delicious. The kafta was extremely tender, the meat was juicy, and the chich taouk was also succulent. In addition, the spices and marination were well balanced. When we were done, it took a really long time for the waiters to clear our table so that we could order dessert. However, when they did remove all the plates, we received an array of complimentary fruits and oriental sweets. The fruits looked very appealing, but when I spotted the lazy cake that I am familiar with from Al-Sultan Brahim, I had to have two slices, along with a piece of nammoura. They were a satisfying sweet end to the whole meal. All in all, although the service deteriorated towards the end of our lunch, the food rescued the whole experience at Diwan Beirut…this time.
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.
(Special: Sundays Brunch)
After trying SUD’s superb Fondue & Stone Grilling dinner, I was very excited to try out their famous Sundays Brunch at their Mar Mikhael branch. The service was really good as well, and the staff was friendly. There was a live D.J. playing music which was nice, although it was a bit too loud. I liked the high “ceilings”, and from where I was seated, I could look up to see the sky above me. Time to eat! At the place you get your plate and cutlery, you can have fresh juices, cold milk, and hot drinks. When I saw the colorful cereal loops, I had to have some with milk, and I also had a glass of refreshing orange juice. Then, I started off with the croissants, which were flaky and had very tasty stuffing. Their black rice salad and sauce were flavorful, and next to the salads, you can choose from a selection of cheese and hams. From the corner of my eye, I spotted the raclette—who doesn’t love melted cheese, seriously! You also have a live pasta cooking area and a stand where shawarma is ready to be served upon your request. Right next door, is a mankoushe baking section where you get your mankoushe freshly made. I opted for a zaatar and cheese one (better known as the “cocktail”); I liked the dough, but the zaatar was a tad more oily than it should be. Of course breakfast isn’t complete without eggs, and the chef happily prepares your choice of eggs and toppings; I had the sunny side up (which satisfied my constant runny yolk craving). When you can’t possibly eat savory food anymore, you know it is time for sweets. Alongside the dessert buffet, is a big tray of cheese knefe. The desserts include items such as tarts, eclairs, pancakes, fruits, and an array of candy you can place on a stick under cascading melted chocolate from an ongoing fountain. Want even more chocolate? On the side, stands a transparent cylindrical vessel holding thick hot chocolate within it. For me, that decadent hot chocolate was the best thing that I had had for dessert, then came the sort of bread pudding in a tray they had, which was moist and delicious. In general, the brunch offerings covered most of what a rich breakfast should have, but my taste buds were left partially “un-awakened” by some of them.
Upon my mother’s request, we journeyed up to Broumana to have lunch at Mounir. I have definitely heard of Mounir, but honestly do not remember if I had visited it during my childhood. The reason we were heading there was that she had seen a photograph of the beautiful flowers they had. Indeed, the flowers are hard to miss; they are a lovely pop of color decorating the restaurant. Amidst the flowers, lies a small waterfall; water is always a welcomed addition to any environment. Another natural item of decoration is the view that Mounir offers to accompany your meal. When you arrive, a short path at the entrance leads you to the outdoor area of the restaurant. You are first greeted with local produce; tomatoes and watermelons. I loved how they consolidated the fact that you were at an authentic Lebanese restaurant. We were shown to our table, and after they provided us with a high chair with its own table (silent cheer) for our little one, we ordered a selection of mezze dishes (appetizers), as well as the barbecued skewered meat and chicken.
They started us off with the fattoush and hummus; both were delicious. In fact, little did I know that they would be the best things that I would taste at Mounir. Next, the hot mezze items followed. The sambousik and kibbe were good, and so were their homemade fries and potato cubes. As for the cheese rolls, personally I prefer the melted cheese to be more gooey; I like to bite into it knowing that the cheese will still hold the fried roll from one end to the other as I pull it away from my mouth. Unfortunately, I did not get that. Considering the arayess; the meat inside was fine, but the bread pieces that they were placed in were soggy and the whole thing fell apart easily. When the skewered meat, chicken, and kafta arrived, their presentation was unappetizing. I would love it if most Lebanese restaurants put a bit more effort into the presentation of many of their platters. The chicken was okay and the kafta needed more seasoning to enhance the taste, in my opinion. I did find the meat really good though; it was tender and easy to chew. When we were done with the savory dishes, we were asked if we wanted to order fruits or sweets; they were not on the house like in some of the Lebanese restaurants. Actually, as I am writing this now, I wanted to use the word “majority”, but instead opted for the term “some”, because it seems less restaurants are offering fruits and desserts free of charge nowadays. Anyway, we chose to have an array of fruits and a couple of their desserts. The fruits were fresh and the katayef stuffed with walnuts were delicious. The mhalabiyye was a bit too fragrant for my taste. All in all, the nature, water, and cool breeze create a peaceful ambiance that makes anyone feel comfortable dining in. (Here, I should add that there is a playground area that children can use as an energy outlet.) However, although some platters were very flavorful, others were not that tasty. I was expecting a bit more from the food at a renowned restaurant like Mounir.
Burj Al Hamam is one of the old prominent traditional Lebanese restaurants that I remember from my childhood. We went up to enjoy the Summer breeze and picturesque mountains embellished with pine trees. It is definitely an added value when you have great scenery to complement your food. While the greenery pleases mostly the older generation, they have not forgotten their younger clientele. For the little ones, they provide a pleasant area to play in. Before I delve into their cuisine, I would like to mention the service. Unfortunately, the service was extremely rushed. We struggled to finish our sentences before the waiters magically disappeared into the abyss; it made ordering our food, and requesting anything for that matter, a difficult task. It did make us laugh though, as we tried to get the words out of our mouths as quickly as we could. Even though it was indeed amusing, that did not make it any less unacceptable. On a positive note, I was glad there was no issue of plates hovering above our heads before they landed on the table.
Getting to the main act; the food. The mezza (appetizers) was flavorful in general. I thought the hummus and kibbe nayye (raw kibbe) were delicious. However, I felt that the fattoush was a bit heavy on the lemon. As for the cheese rolls, although a tad oily, the melted cheese inside them was actually good. Coming to the grilled goodness, the skewered meat, kafta, and chicken were all tender. They weren’t to die for, but at least all three of them were tasty. Usually, I would like one and not the other. Even after you are full to the brim, rarely do you not get an array of fruits and oriental desserts offered on the house at Lebanese restaurants. Well, this was one of those rare times. Yet, we did still opt to enjoy the freshness the fruits provided after a wholesome hearty meal.
For a meal by the sea, we went to Pearl Island in Byblos. It is a seafood restaurant with a great view. Looking at the vast blue sea calms the mind and relaxes the body. The ambiance is friendly and you feel that families are welcome there. If you have a little one, you will be relieved to know that the high chair does indeed have a table and wheels. I can not stress the importance of the addition of a table to the high chair enough; it is so annoying when a toddler does not have his/her own space. More space for children to enjoy is a stretch of green grass and a small yet effective playground. Moving on to the service; the waiters are very helpful, to the extent where it can get a tad uncomfortable. They do not set food on the table after making it hover above your head as you dodge the upcoming platters, in hope that the sauce does not drizzle from one of those dishes and land on your head. If you are Lebanese or have experienced a traditional Lebanese restaurant, you know what I mean. However, sometimes you feel that the waiters are trying way too hard. In some instances, it was a bit comical, and I felt that the waiter might as well sit with us at the table and pass me the food.
Speaking of the food; the mezze dishes (or mezza, as I call it, are somewhat akin to tapas) were well presented, such as the hummus dollops and the small fish (called bizri) placed into a crunchy pita bread, acting as a bowl. After we feasted on the variety of appetizers, we ordered fried fish which was accompanied by fried pita bread, which I absolutely love. The fish were crispy on the outside and tasty on the inside. Then, a variety of fruits and desserts, that are free of charge, are placed on the table. They were a pleasant way to end the meal. All in all, Pearl Island is a lovely setting with good seafood, though not outstanding in taste, yet successful in satisfying one’s appetite for the creatures of the deep.
I will pause on the “Bits and Pieces” for now, and finally begin with my most recent visits of restaurants in Lebanon in my upcoming posts. My archive of photos of food from when I did not know I would decide to post them in a blog have more or less come to an end (unless I happen to stumble upon some misplaced photos from that era anytime soon). As you have probably noticed, I personally prefer not to crop photos I have taken because I took them this way at that time, and I feel like I would be taking away from the authenticity of the memory they elicit in my mind if I remove parts of them. However, I promise that I will try to take better photographs now, since I am aware that I will be sharing them with whoever wants to see them. Anyway, enough about the hows and the whys. Salted Caramel loves to talk about food, so here goes.
First up is Sapori E Vini in Byblos, as the title has so cleverly foreshadowed.
Ok, the decor really needs to be recognized; hence the separate gallery. I love the interior. I love the planted trees bringing the garden indoors. I love the touch of gravel that is placed on a section of the floor in front of the wine bottles; when feet step on it, a pleasant sounding crunch tickles your ears. The hanging pots and pans, the fresh fruits and vegetables on display, the warm red bricks, and the wooden tables and chairs; they all complement each other and the attention to detail is amazing. Another lovely area to sit in is actually the real outdoors where a pergola stands on the green grass overlooking the terrace. If it had not been so hot, I would have opted to sit there. I should mention that there is an additional element for the children outside; a small form of playground that they can enjoy. All in all, one really needs to appreciate the effort that has been put to create a beautiful environment to sit and have a meal in.
Now let’s get to the food prepared by Italian chef Ignazio from Tuscany. First, they placed a dainty compilation of breads on the table. They looked really rustic and pretty, being meticulously arranged in brown paper. After scrutinizing the menu, we ordered the marinated tuna carpaccio which was good. For salads, we had the chicken quinoa salad and the shrimp salad. I really liked the chicken quinoa salad, but the item I liked the most was the pizza. Baked in a wood-fired oven, the pizza crust was delicious. I usually prefer to eat the tasty insides of a pizza, as opposed to the crust; but with this one, I had to have the crust too. The tomato sauce was a flavorful base for the toppings to be scattered on. I would definitely order the pizza again. The tagliata had delicious flavors too, but the meat had a sort of tough exterior that takes away from the taste of the juicy inside. As for the shrimp pasta dish, the sauce was too fishy for my liking, but that is a matter of preference. They then offered us ice cream on the house; it was homemade gelato which deserves respect. Another homemade item on the dessert menu was the chocolate fondant infused with raspberry. The cake holding the chocolate sauce tasted amazing. However, the savor of the raspberry was muted and did not seep through with the overpowering flow of chocolate. On an ending note, I have to add that the service was great, and I would visit this restaurant again.