Italian Project Kitchen & Bar – Broumana

I have tasted Italian Project in its Mar Mikhael location a while ago and I remember I liked it. During the Summer, one looks for a cool breeze to accompany their good meal, so we went up to the eatery’s new location in Broumana. Let me start with the service; it was excellent. From the moment I reserved until the end of our dinner, the staff was the right amount of friendly and professional. The waiters also accommodated my temporary ‘pregnancy-peculiar’ requests with a great attitude, and they were always standing attentively nearby. I enjoyed the atmosphere, especially that since it was still early in the evening, it was not too crowded yet, and yes, toddlers are catered for with high chairs there. I tried two pasta dishes, which were both delicious. The tomato sauce that coated the gnocchi chunks was very well-seasoned that I found myself enjoying the last tasty spoonful even after the gnocchi was gone. As for the creamy sauce in the other pasta platter, it was rich and covered the succulent pieces of chicken with flavor. I will definitely be coming back to taste their other Italian savory and sweet treats!

Sofita – Broumana

I love going up to Broumana when Summer comes around, especially for an early dinner because of the cool breeze the evening provides. Situated in the Printania Garden, Sofita is an Italian restaurant with a relaxing environment. As for the food, I did appreciate the creative manner of treating pasta, turning it into a crispy appetizer. It had an interesting taste and a nice crunchy texture to it, but I found it to be a bit heavy as a starter. For my main dish, I ordered the shrimp risotto. I enjoyed the rich and creamy rice, and the grilled shrimp enhanced the flavor of the dish (although they were a bit salty). Also, maybe a few more of the sea creatures embedded within the dish would be great. There was no room for desert this time. However, they did offer us a drink on the house to end the meal. Here, I should add that the waitress was friendly and very dedicated to her job. On the whole, we had a pleasant experience.

Al Forno – Beirut

Like most parents seeking a restaurant in an area where the children can play in, we headed to Zaitunay Bay. The sun was out and we were armed with a tricycle, but first it was time for lunch. Pasta never fails with a toddler it seems, so we decided to go for Italian, hence Al Forno. It was a pleasant surprise. First and foremost, I would like to commend our waiter who couldn’t have done a better job because the service was excellent. We ordered a variety of dishes to get a gist of everything. The fried shrimps were very crispy, and although the zucchini was not cut into thin slices, the breading was so crunchy that it didn’t matter. With my pregnancy, it seems that I am fixated on certain food at certain times. Nowadays, it is the risotto. So, I ordered the shrimp risotto and chicken escalope to share, and they were both tasty. The risotto sauce was a bit dilute but still had flavor, and the breading on the chicken escalope made a pleasant crunching sound beneath our teeth. Al Forno surely did know how to make their breading, and the escalope was not oily at all. For my sweet tooth cravings, I had the pain perdu and the cenci. The extra touch of cinnamon added to the pain perdu was pleasing. As for the cenci, I enjoyed trying something new but the dough was a bit heavy for my taste. All in all, however, we left with a satisfying experience ensuring our definite return.

Tavolina – Naccache

I recalled that I had been to Tavolina in Mar Mikhael but, weirdly, the only thing in my memory from that experience is the transparent plastic curtain that, in my opinion, took away from the charm of the restaurant—I don’t know if it still exists. Anyway, Tavolina recently opened its doors in a new complex of restaurants called Zero 4 in the Naccache area. I decided to go try it again there, and I was pleasantly surprised. I wondered why I had not remembered that the food was actually good at this eatery. We started off with the Frittura Mista. I have had this platter at several Italian restaurants elsewhere, but it is here that I loved the battered eggplant and zucchini the most. They were sliced thinly and that resulted in the vegetables being less oily and more crispy. Obviously, the battered shrimp were also good, but I wish they weren’t so outnumbered by the calamari. Sometimes I am in the mood for a homey spaghetti bolognese and so I ordered their Spaghetti al Ragu. I fell in love with it. I know it is a simple dish, but so many restaurants get it wrong. I was happy with the “al dente” pasta, as well as the well-seasoned sauce. In addition, the pepper sauce of the Filetto di Bue al Pepe was deliciously thick and creamy. The service was friendly and the waiter readily answered our questions and adjusted food constituents based on my restricted diet (me having to eat for two), such as cooking the steak till it was well done (not how I would usually order it). I will definitely be back to taste more items from their menu!

Duo – Dbayeh

It was sort of a small family reunion gathering this time, so we opted for an accessible restaurant with a menu that would suit everyone: Duo. It was nice weather, but unfortunately non-smokers and children have to be confined to being indoors to avoid inhaling the cloud of smoke that forms outside replacing the fresh air that is supposed to be there. We were provided with two high chairs for the little ones, and the service was very good. I loved that the bread in the basket was actually served warm and their grissini was crunchy. We ordered the Sweet Chili Shrimps with the sauce on the side as a starter for my toddler who gobbled them up, obviously finding them as tasty as I did. They also readily custom-made my penne with pink sauce; the sauce was delicious but the penne was a bit overcooked. As for the Chicken Scaloppine, it was tender and I enjoyed eating it. When it was time for dessert, I ordered the Pain Perdu. Although, I was told that it was baked in the oven, I still found it so heavy and buttery that I could not eat more than a couple of bites. When we were all done, it was time to change scenery for our tiny humans, so we left Duo in search of some shoes.

Margherita Mare – Jounieh

It was a sunny day and I love the sun. It stood there shining, seducing us to go outside, so lunch at Margherita Mare it was. Right beneath the restaurant lies the majestic sea and we have enjoyed its salty taste in our mouths several times before. However, when you sit indoors, you are seated underneath beautiful stoned arches; this gives the eatery a warm earthy setting, in my opinion. First, a bread basket with tomato dip is placed on the table to welcome you. The bread was fluffy and the dip had a nice tang to it. We started out with the mixed fried calamari and prawns with vegetables. The shrimps were the best thing on that platter, but I have tasted a better version of this dish elsewhere. We then ordered our favorite pizza at Margherita (and one of our favorites in the country): the Saltimbocca. Their smoked mozzarella is really delicious. We also had pasta with shrimps; I appreciated that they made the sauce pink for me with no fuss, and I liked that their penne was al dente. Unfortunately, none of their desserts called out to me, and with the restlessness of my fidgety toddler, we concluded that it was time to leave. As usual, lunch was pleasant at Margherita and it wouldn’t be our last.

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.

PZZA.CO – Downtown Beirut

We were craving Italian food, and we remembered that there was a good Italian place; one of renowned Chef Hussein Hadid’s eateries. As usual, PZZA.CO did not disappoint at all. The service was great too. The weather was nice, so we sat outside this time. For starters, we ordered the Buffalo Mozzarella with Basil Pesto, the Baby Spinach Salad, and the Charred Corn Salad. The buffalo mozzarella was truly fresh, as was stated on the menu, and the basil pesto matched its freshness. However, the really flavorful dish was the Charred Corn Salad; it is perfectly balanced and also echoes the freshness in its ingredients and tangy citrus dressing. I love when there is a play of texture with the same kind of ingredient made differently. I enjoyed the crunch of the corn nuts with the taste of the charred corn together in the salad. As mains, we had the Linguini Pesto Basil (we added shrimps to it), Roasted Chicken Breast, and of course you can’t but have a pizza from that artistic mosaic statement piece oven of theirs —we had The “Prosciutto”. As previously mentioned, their pesto basil sauce is really good, and I thought the pizza was good as well. Although a side, the french fries are worth mentioning. They are thin and crispy, just how I like them. For dessert, obviously we had to order the Salted Caramel Ice Cream. We also asked for the Soft Italian Chocolate Cake (fondant), and the Chocolate Mousse. The Salted Caramel Ice cream was not too full-bodied and creamy, yet it managed to retain the flavor (although not intensely rich). The mousse was chocolatey and good, but the fondant was my favorite. The chocolate flowing from the inside of the cake was thick and dense. If you want chocolate, this is it. We left PZZA.CO having had a meal that had satisfied us from beginning to end. It was now time for my toddler to run around.

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.

Sapori E Vini – Byblos

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.