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.

Le Rouge – Hazmieh

Restaurant complexes are popping out everywhere nowadays. One such complex is called City Walk, where Le Rouge is now located. We used to frequent Le Rouge when it was popular in Hamra (and sometimes Gemmayze), the target being their grain mustard sauce smothering pieces of succulent chicken, and the focaccia bread they welcome you with. That was the reason we decided to go to this restaurant; to relive the nostalgia. As soon as we arrived, a staff member calls to us from the inside ushering us to come in. I felt that that was slightly desperate as opposed to being welcoming. Then, he scoops up my toddler into his arms with the intention of helping me lead him indoors because he was fighting to have another go at the escalator. Another waiter then also carries him and the whole invasion of personal space becomes bothersome. Anyway, so we finally sat at a table and ordered our platters. The waiter was attentive and accommodating to any alterations we wanted to be done to the dishes. We were greeted by the focaccia we were familiar with, and eating that calmed my nerves (even though the background music choice was not that great). However, the bread was soft and warm in the middle and a tad unpleasantly crunchy on the sides. Yet, I was awaiting that grainy mustard sauce. I tried the escalope which tasted comforting and homey, but the accompanying pasta was a bit overcooked. Then the chicken with grain mustard sauce arrived. Honestly, however I did not taste the chicken because it was tinted pink when I cut into it. The same had happened to my mother as well, so I did not want to point it out again. The waiter readily took my mother’s chicken and cooked it some more, but being pregnant I just decided to refrain from eating it altogether. But no! I was adamant to try that nostalgic  sauce, so I drizzled it onto my wedges. Thankfully, the sauce lived up to its memory in my head. I actually enjoyed the seasoning on the potatoes and the tasty sauce that covered them. Now, it was time for dessert, so we ordered the apple tart and pain perdu. The pain perdu was okay, although I needed to have extra caramel to sweeten it further. All in all, I do commend the effort of the staff, but unfortunately the food and ambiance was lacking and paled in comparison to the Le Rouge that I remember.

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.

SUD Restobar – Mar Mikhael

(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.

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.

Paname – Saifi

I don’t usually wait so impatiently for a restaurant to open, but that was the case with Paname. The reason for this impatience: Chef Youssef Akiki. For me, Burgundy’s chef is one of the best, if not the best chef in Lebanon. When I saw the opening announcement, my heart skipped a beat. I had to reserve. Finally, I was walking around in the pleasant Saifi environment with this Almost French restaurant as my destination. When we arrived, we were greeted with people casually sitting outside and a very friendly staff. We were led to our table and given our menus. I scrutinized all of the listed items and wanted to taste as much of the variety provided as I could. We ordered the Seared Bluefin Tuna Ceviche and Scottish Salmon Carpaccio as starters. For mains, we ordered the Spaghetti with Speck, the Wagyu Beef Burger, and the Grilled Plaice. We wanted to order the Grilled Black Angus Tenderloin but it was unavailable. The first items that were placed on our table were a basket of bread, and the wines we had asked for. Then, it really began. The appetizers arrived. The presentation was beautiful; it was reminiscent of Burgundy’s finesse. Both the salmon and the tuna were delicious. The seasoning was well-balanced and the combination of flavors all coming together in one bite was delightful. I loved how the mango tidbits complemented the tuna perfectly. We proceeded with our main dishes soon after. The spaghetti was cooked just right and the sauce was light and creamy. As for the burger, the doneness of the meat rendered it juicy and succulent, making it stand out despite its simple flavor profile. The fish was also extremely tender and moist, and the other components on the plate along with the dressing enhanced the taste even further. When it was time for dessert, the waiter informed us that they would be complimentary. They even refused to charge us for an additional dessert we wanted to pay for. We had the Strawberry Panna Cotta, the Tiramisu, and the Chocolate Mousse. The sauce smothering the cream in the panna cotta was fresh and intense, and the Tiramisu was rich and tasty. Honestly, I preferred both to the mousse dessert, although it was still really good as well. All in all, the service was great and I enjoyed my meal from beginning to end. My taste buds were left widely awakened and longing for more of those creations with flavorful ingredients, especially those fishy appetizers that will keep me coming back for more.