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.

Advertisements

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.

Indigo on the Roof – Beirut

Indigo was a last minute decision, but it was exactly what we needed at that moment. After a long marathon-like day, we were looking for a place to just relax. Situated at the top of the fancy Le Gray Hotel in Beirut, Indigo provided an outdoor seating area underneath the stars. Dim lights created a cozy and romantic atmosphere, granted they also resulted in the reduced quality of my photographs. The lower part of the view was obstructed by pretty flowers and vines, but the upper part of tall structures managed to make it up to this restaurant perched on the roof. The waiters guided us to our table, and when they were present, the service was great. They were attentive, polite, and very professional. However, at times it was a bit difficult to get a hold of them. My significant other ordered wine from the wine list, but I felt like having a cocktail, which they readily made available from the bar next door. I should add that the Strawberry Mojito was really good and refreshing. The waiter came to us with a bread basket in hand, from which we chose the olive and multi-cereal pieces of bread. They were soft and delicious, especially after they were smeared with the complementary rich butter. We ordered the Crispy Duck Salad and Ahi Poke as appetizers. The crispy duck salad was a pleasant surprise, the crunchy bits of the crispy duck were a perfect addition of texture to the salad. As for the ahi poke, it was very flavorful and the sauce complemented the tuna well. For mains, we ordered the Thai Baked Sea Bass in Banana Leaf and the Black Angus Tenderloin. The sea bass baked in the banana leaf was as moist as it could be; it was extremely tender. Unfortunately, the accompanying rice was forgotten until we reminded the kitchen. However, the waiter was quick to apologize and did end up bringing the rice to our table. Moving on to the steak, it was a good chunk of meat, but nothing outstanding. To satisfy our sweet tooth, we ordered the Valrhona Chocolate Fondant and the Namelaka, which consisted of chocolate mousse, hazelnut biscuit, and passion fruit ice cream. Needless to say that everything becomes better with chocolate, and these were two solid chocolate desserts. The warm chocolate inside the fondant was a great way to end the meal. In general, Indigo has good food, mostly great service, and an intimate setting, with nothing separating you from the sky above.

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

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.

Le Flocon Artisan Glacier – Naccache

Don’t judge a book by its cover; that is sound advice. This time the cover was better than the content of the book. The decoration of Le Flocon is appealing and so is the whole mood of the place. Also, the collaboration with prominent chef Charles Azar makes it even more tempting to taste, so the expectations were high as we walked in. We were greeted with a warm welcome but we sensed an undertone of urgency making us feel like we had to rush the process of selecting the flavors of ice cream we wanted, preventing us from thoroughly eyeing all the varieties. Anyway, we chose a few sorbet scoops, and some non-sorbet ones. I decided to choose a dulce de leche scoop to sit on top of my ice cream cone. That was the first flavor I tried, it lacked intensity and was more watery than flavorful. It wasn’t creamy and full-bodied like it was supposed to be. The chocolate was more rich than the rest, and the mango sorbet was good yet easily replaceable with commercial brands. The other flavors were akin to the watery dulce de leche; no intensity to savor and awaken your taste buds. I was adamant to give Le Flocon another try before judging it (to read the book till the last page), so we focused on the highlight of the ice cream parlor; the creations prepared by Charles Azar. Unfortunately, the Foret Noire and Pavlova ice cream concoctions were not enough to redeem the whole ice cream tasting experience of Le Flocon. I disliked the Pavlova, which is extremely weird for me because I usually love the constituents used to make it. I preferred the Foret Noire, but it is not something I would eat again. Overall, there is nothing special to be found at Le Flocon to differentiate it from other ice cream shops. It is too mediocre to be labelled as an artisan glacier, in my opinion.

Awad – Ghazir

Awad is an ice cream shop that I am glad I stepped into. Recently, I have been hearing how good it is, so I decided it was time to try it for myself. I am used to another Arabic ice cream parlor after many years of tasting other places, and I thought this would just be another disappointment. On the contrary, it was really really good; since yesterday I have eaten half a kilogram of ice cream from Awad by myself. I am not joking. This is not a joking matter. It is great ice cream with a very affordable price tag. What I loved most about it, other than its taste of course, is the texture. It is firm (I like to bite into my ice cream), and it tries to withstand the summer heat as much as it can. I am also glad that they have the traditional old-fashioned cones that are crunchy and brittle as an option, in addition to the newer hard and sugary ones. It is especially delicious when the ice cream creeps into the curves of the cone, and you get the ice cream and cone mixture in one mouthful. The milk flavor and crunch combination leaves your taste buds longing for more. This ice cream place is definitely worth its own stand-alone post.

Margherita (pizzeria del quartiere dal 1959) – Saifi

Margherita is a really good choice if you feel like having Italian cuisine. This yellow building holds delicious food within it. The citrus dressing decorating the shrimp quinoa salad is sublime. This salad tastes amazing and fresh with every bite you eat. As for the shrimp risotto dish, the lemon peel shavings are so tiny yet their tanginess is pronounced and enhances the whole flavor profile of the creamy platter. An attractive flaming photo that stands out in the above collage is the wood-fired oven. The heat was overwhelming as I stood at the entrance to the fiery furnace to take this picture. Needless to say, their pizza is tasty. However, it is the tomato sauce that usually makes or breaks a pizza’s reputation. At Margherita, the tomato sauce is outstanding with its basil embellishment that it makes me overlook any sogginess that it causes to the dough underneath. When it came to the dessert, I ordered profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled the puffs with the chocolate sauce provided alongside them. Honestly, it was not up to par; compared to everything I had eaten before, it tasted mediocre and did not satisfy my sweet tooth. The Salted concoctions by far outweighed the Caramel confection in this case. Nonetheless, you will leave the restaurant with a smile on your face thanks to a cute gesture they do before you pay the bill. You get to pick a number, and after shaking all the little balls in their secret hiding place, one pops out and if it happens to be the same number you picked, the bill is on the house. Well, we were not lucky winners this time, but the tangy salad and the pizza with smoked mozzarella I had eaten were surely worth it. Although that makes a good ending for my scribbles, I can not end my post without adding another noteworthy issue. The service at Margherita was great, and the waiters were friendly and professional.

Emotions – Achrafieh

I travel from one province to another, within Lebanon, to get to EMOTIONS Artisan Patissier & Glacier. When I arrive, I know that Mr. Gaby Bustros will be there in the kitchen perfecting his creations. When I first saw the triangular tart, I was intrigued to try the constituents of this rebel among its mostly circular species. I was not disappointed. The tart with the mixture of berries is sublime; the freshness of the berries with their bed of creme patissiere complement each other perfectly. The crumble of the tart border is the ideal vessel to hold them in, while being delicate in itself. If you wish to satisfy your darker desires, you would need to venture into the underworld of the chocolate tart. It is quite the opposite of its berry friend; within the triangular crunch of a border, there is more chocolate awaiting inside. The different textures of chocolate come together in intense decadence; the biscuit meets the ganache and oozing goodness seeps through the top subtly cracked chocolate layer. Ok, it is time to leave the world of tarts, and showcase the Tahitian vanilla eclair. It is fragile and light, yet rich and creamy, and the hardened caramel threads wonderfully break underneath your teeth. I think this eclair might be my favorite piece, but then again why put pressure on myself to choose a favorite. One of the times I went to Emotions, I was lucky enough to taste a sample of a chocolate macaron in the making; the crust parted to reveal delicious chocolate filling inside. Now, let us proceed to the other section of delicacies at Emotions; their ice cream. I love how the flavors contained in the 1L transparent tubs are described with handwritten labels. The cubes are filled with ice cream made from the finest ingredients. The sorbet of berries has fruit tidbits in it, which make the flavor more pronounced and lets the freshness shine through. As for the coconut ice cream, it is also made from fresh coconut with a subtle hint of Malibu rum and a touch of toasted coconut shavings. Whether it is pastry or ice cream, Emotions really satisfies my sweet cravings. I can not wait to meet more of their flawless confections.

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.