Charlotte – Beirut

I really wanted to try Charlotte, especially after I found out that it was related to Nonna Pizza. Actually, they shared a common space at this location, with a subtle separation so that each retained their own theme. I have tasted Nonna Pizza before on several occasions, and it was tempting to have one of its savory concoctions. However, I was determined to direct all of my attention to Charlotte, which was the real reason I was there. Yet, I did succumb to Nonna’s kid’s meal, which was great. It includes a choice of a pizzetta or pasta, of which I chose a pasta with rose sauce for my son. It was difficult to keep the whole dish intact for him, because although being simple, it was delicious. Seriously, the pink sauce was really good, and the pasta was al dente; just as it should be. The pasta comes with a side of fries, which are crispy and seasoned with the right amount of salt. Also included in the kid’s meal is their own dessert, which is a mini Rotolo di Nutella. I really loved how the dessert was still well-presented; it showed that kids were not underestimated and deserved the attention to detail as well. I have to add though that I wish they had high chairs, especially after catering to children wonderfully in their menu. I think it’s time to talk about my adult experience with the food. The starter we ordered was the star of the show. The Baby Potato & Truffled Hollandaise, served with a fried egg on top. The Baby Potato & Truffled Hollandaise, served with a fried egg on top. No, this is not an error in typing. I am repeating myself. It is that tasty and flavorful; when the knife touches the fried egg and it releases its goodness onto the ingredients beneath it—words fail to describe it. We then ordered the Thai Chopped Fresh Crab & Shrimp salad, which was good and I appreciated that it was fresh crab that was present on the greens, and not the imitation. Unfortunately, we had an unwanted component amidst the freshness of the salad. The manager was quick to apologize, and insisted on replacing the dish with a new one, and we were charged for the original dish. Here, I would like to point out that the waiters were extremely friendly, although their pace was a bit slow. We also ordered the Steak Frites and the Crevettes au Curry Rouge. The sauce covering the shrimps was delectable; the coconut cream was pronounced and it surely awakened my taste buds. Another highlight of the whole lunch experience was one of the desserts. We chose the Pain Perdu and the Moelleux au Chocolat. You guessed it, the one that I am talking about is the latter; the melted Valrhona Guanaja chocolate beneath the crust is to die for. If you are a chocoholic, this decadent dessert is all you need to ever have. Needless to say, the pain perdu was mediocre in comparison. Charlotte offers platters filled with diverse flavor profiles, and I would like to come back to have a taste of other items on their menu, as well as to enjoy a couple of items again.

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Micelli’s – Jal el Dib

Micelli’s has a flavorful variety of pizzas, where it is impossible not to satisfy all tastes. The first time we tried their pizza was when we went to the restaurant to take some home with us. We opted for the Porkoi Pa and The American. As we waited for our hot pizzas to descend in the “dumbwaiter” (which is an amusing name for a small elevator used to transfer objects), we met the owners behind this creation. The ambiance is very friendly and you feel like you are standing in the passionate result of dedicated people running a family business. The second time we decided to order pizzas via delivery to the house; it was a bit far so they conceded but with a minimum charge restriction. We chose the Porkoi Pa, Sun Island, The Last Dragon, and Monsieur Croq with tomato sauce. The pizzas arrived with a satisfactory temperature and in good condition. After all the outer layers of description of the circumstances, let us get down to business. How did the pizzas taste? Actually, in the non-Italian pizza category, they fared quite well. Their pizzas are topped with great products, which is key. My favorite, which is obvious since we ordered it twice, is the Porkoi Pa. The hickory smoked barbecue sauce is delicious, and the whole melange of the sauce with the smoked bacon, cheese, green pepper, and onions is well thought of and executed, leading to a well-balanced bite of pizza. The Croq Monsieur with tomato sauce was a safe choice, considering the available selection, yet its simple ingredients shone through. As a pepperoni pizza lover, I would have liked more pepperonis on The American pizza because I felt that the onions and green pepper were slightly overpowering. Maybe I will try The Pepperoni next time. Unfortunately, my least favorite pizzas were the Far East inspired Last Dragon and the mango-pesto Sun Island pizzas. In general, Micelli’s provides a vast selection of flavors, and mostly it comes down to a matter of preference. Something I appreciate is that the cheese and other toppings generously attempt to garnish the whole pizza, all the way right to the crunchy crusty edge, making sure that you leave nothing behind.

 

Pizza Loop

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.

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.

TOTO Cucina Italiana – Dbayeh

We decided to try a new restaurant at The Village instead of going to our usual destination there. TOTO is an Italian restaurant that has an ambitious menu, so it seemed promising. Unfortunately, it fell short of our expectations. We ordered the crunchy shrimp with a basil leaf hugging it on the inside; that was tasty. As another entree (in the French sense of the word), we ordered the beef carpaccio which was also good. I think we should have stopped there because the rest of the meal was lacking. The positive aspect of the pasta dishes was the fact that the cuisson was al dente; I do not understand why that is so difficult to achieve in all Italian restaurants. Zooming in on the shrimp pasta dish, the addition of courgette chips was nice to look at. However, the crunchy factor in the “chips” was absent, and they lay limply on the linguini. Moving on to the pizza, the toppings were flavorful, yet the dough was soggy and chewy. The pizza I ordered according to the menu had no mushrooms, but when it arrived the fungal constituent was sitting there smugly. When I told the waiter about the issue, he said that I was right and if I wanted them to make a new one they would. That is still unacceptable because the menu would still be misleading, and some people may even have an allergy to mushrooms. Another unacceptable matter was that two items I asked for on the menu were unavailable, and the reason for this was that apparently they are changing menus soon. Honestly, I do not see why the current menu should be incomplete because a new one will replace it; they really should have been better prepared for a smoother transition. Now, we get to the dessert, I ordered the pain perdu. When I first saw it, I thought it was interesting that they had placed chocolate in the middle; they were trying to make their own pain perdu stand out among the others. Well, it did stand out, in a negative way. The bread was soaked in an overwhelming amount of butter and oil; just remembering it makes the blood in my veins and arteries clot. I could not make myself eat more than two spoons of it because it was so disturbingly heavy. The only thing that could be eaten on that plate was the ice cream, which was not enough to redeem the dessert in any way. Next time I go to The Village, the usual stop it is.

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. 

Bits and Pieces – Lebanon

07:00

 

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Chili’s – Achrafieh: I would go to this place just to have this amazing chocolate dessert. When you cut the cake, delicious chocolate oozes out, and combine that with the taste of the ice cream and caramel; you get something close to perfection. Granted it is not French pastry, but if you take it for what it is (an American restaurant chain dessert), it surely stands out.

 

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Oliver’s Kitchen & Coffee Shop – Gemmayze: I actually enjoyed my time at this eatery, despite some flaws with the food. We first ordered a mini beef burger, 8″ pizza, and Oliver’s famous fish and chips. The beef patty in the mini beef burger was ridiculously small, and the whole burger was mediocre. The fish and chips platter was acceptable, but it did not live up to its fame. As for the pizza, I actually liked the crust and if I ever go again, I would just order that for my meal. Coming to the dessert, I ordered the milk chocolate crepe. The menu states that it is Premium Belgian chocolate awaiting inside the dough; honestly they made me doubt that claim. I do not know if it is the preparation method or the chocolate itself, but the chocolate spread was grainy instead of being smooth and creamy (like it should be). On the plus side, the service was great, and the atmosphere was relaxing. I also liked the section they have that sells books in the shop; you feel as if your level of intellect has increased just by being there.

 

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Meat the Fish – Jal el Dib: We went to Meat the Fish located in the Aishti Mall; the mall actually looks really nice on the inside. As for Meat the Fish, the platters were good, but honestly I do not see what the hype is about. The taste of the meat, the fish, and the lobster were nothing unique to this restaurant; you can get it elsewhere. An interesting thing, on the other hand, was the Japanese beer seen in the picture above. However, my taste buds were more than satisfied with the sweet pudding I had as dessert; apparently it is made by Rouba Khalil.

 

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Thea – Jal el Dib: Back when there was no fuss about tea and its varieties in Lebanon, there was Thea. As a person that prefers tea to coffee, I loved spending afternoons at this tearoom, and being introduced to different blends of tea. Also, drinking the tea in lovely teaware makes it all the more appealing.

 

Crepico – Zalka: Now, this is fine Belgian chocolate. Callebaut. The chocolate is incredible. Needless to say, this is what decorates their crepes and waffles. The salty and sweet crepes are fine, but their sweet waffles are the reason one has to go to Crepico.

 

Des Choux et Des Idees – Achrafieh: Do you like French patisserie to be subtle, light, and delicate? Well, this is the opposite. The individual pieces look really dainty and pretty, but where there is fruit, the flavor is overwhelming to the degree of tasting like perfume. In addition, the creme patissiere is so heavy that it makes you forget you are eating French pastry. It was a one time visit, and that is all it is going to be.

 

Popcorn – Grand Cinemas ABC Dbayeh vs. VOX City Centre Beirut: I did not want to include non-eatery posts, and especially ones with comparisons; but I could not help it. Food is food. These two photos are begging me to be in a battle together, so I will concede. VOX wins hands down, for both the popcorn crunch and flavor, as well as the slush taste and consistency. The slushy in ABC seemed to only have sugar as an ingredient, while the one in VOX was truly refreshing with every sip.

 

Sursock Museum Resto – Achrafieh: Sursock Museum should be visited; it makes Lebanese proud to have a museum space that is of international standards. As for the restaurant, it is what you expect a restaurant at a museum to be like; with a creative menu and placemat. The homemade potato chips provided as a side in our dishes were really good, actually they were much better than the beef in the sandwich. Let’s just say that I am more a fan of the museum itself than its resto.

 

La Table du Gand Chalet – Zaarour: We spent a night at a hotel called Le Gand Chalet at the Zaarour Club, and we had dinner at the restaurant located there. The decor was minimalist, which I liked. Also, the service was really good. However, the food needs to be majorly improved, in my opinion. The spices in my pasta dish seemed to be more of oriental than Italian based, which was really off-putting. I would expect more from a “luxury boutique hotel”.

 

Vanilla Bean – Beirut: To end this Bits and Pieces blog post on a sweet note, I can choose nothing better than the talented Vanilla Bean. The custom-made cakes turn out to be exactly how you envisioned them in your head, and even better. The pastel colors, the attention to detail, and the perfect finishing is attributed to the craftsmanship of Ms. Layla Jamal. I would just like to add that the cakes do not just look like pretty works of art on the outside; they taste just as good as they look.

Bits and Pieces – Belgium

Chapter 6

 

La Belle Maraichere – Brussels: On the place Sainte-Catherine, you can find a charming restaurant that also happens to be on the Michelin Guide. Since 1974, it has been serving its delicious meals. We were dressed very casually and sheepishly stood at the door of this elegant eatery with its fine dining napkins, table cloths, and utensils. However, we were welcomed in and treated with the utmost respect. I adored the ambiance. At tables beside us, there were men and women that had lived long lives. They were dressed well and it seemed as though they just needed to come in, call the waiter by name, and say that they wanted the usual. They started us off with tiny shrimp that you had to peel with your fingers in a specific way; the waiter demonstrated it for us first. That was an interesting experience. Then came the dishes we had ordered; I really loved the lobster fricassee which was a specialty of theirs. I regret that I did not try any of their desserts.

 

Bistro Maurice – Bruges: After exploring Bruges, which is beautiful by the way, we stopped at Bistro Maurice for some dessert. The creme brulee and chocolate fondant were delicious. The service was good, and sitting outside was very pleasant.

 

Eccetera – Brussels: An authentic Italian restaurant with a chalkboard for a menu, Eccetera is a great place to eat at. Let me just say that I have been searching for an Italian place that would give me the same amazing tagliata dish that I had there, but none have even come close. Of course, it also did not hurt that they had one of my favorite desserts ever! The heavenly softness that is an Ile Flottante was the sweetest finish.

 

Au Vieux Saint Martin – Brussels: A favorite area of mine in Brussels is the Sablon; Au Vieux Saint Martin is located there. The fish and chips platter they prepare is very tasty, and to add Salted to Caramel, I then had a Belgian chocolate mousse that was delectable.

 

IMG_3141Noordzee Mer du Nord – Brussels: If you feel like eating fresh seafood while you are standing up, then this is the place for you. After the staff behind the kiosk counter prepares your order, you find a round high table to place your plate and drink on. It is a good thing that the convincing taste of your food makes you forget that you are still in a vertical position.

 

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L’Entree des Artistes – Brussels: Yes, on my hunt for the Ile Flottante, I ended up coming to this restaurant. I had spaghetti first, but just as a stepping stone to splash into the yellow sea surrounding my floating island. Alas, the swim was not worth it; the dessert was mediocre. I won’t be visiting this island again on my next vacation.

 

Gaudron – Brussels: I enjoyed my breakfast at Gaudron; the atmosphere was comfortable. However, I did not like the Hollandaise sauce on my eggs, so I ordered oeuf a la coque to eat instead of the Eggs Benedict. I would have liked to try something else on the menu in the future, yet it is a pity that now Gaudron has actually shut its doors.

 

Bistrot ‘t Zeezotje – Oostende: We were lucky it was a sunny day when we decided to visit the North Sea. After strolling around the beach, we decided to eat creatures captured from its depths. I had a shrimp dish which was flavorful, and washed it down with a chocolate-flavored milk produced in the Netherlands called Cecemel. This bistro had a comfortable ambiance as well, and I wouldn’t mind going back there on another occasion.

 

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Fritland – Brussels: When you go to Brussels, you have to taste Belgian fries, or probably just fries as the locals would call them. I have tasted them in the classic paper cone from three kiosks (other than in restaurants, of course), and Fritland does well in comparison to the others. However, having said that, the fries were usually on the thick side, and I am sorry to say I prefer my fries cut thinly (allumettes). I did enjoy eating this potato snack though, especially after dipping the individual constituents into the accompanying sauce of my choosing.

 

Manhattn’s – Brussels: Belgium has a lot of native food to offer, but sometimes you just want to sink your teeth deep into a Manhattn’s New York style burger. Their buns are filled with grass-fed Irish Angus beef that is thick enough to not be overpowered by the sauces and other ingredients surrounding it. On the whole, the burger is juicy and tasty, and the simple concept of a burger joint comes across as a success.

 

La Brace – Brussels: Pizza anyone? A hearty Italian restaurant, La Brace offers a wide selection of pizzas. They serve a decent pizza with a thin crust that would surely extinguish your craving for dough baked in a wood-fired oven and garnished with various toppings.

Bits and Pieces – Portugal

Bits and Pieces the Third:

 

Guilty by Olivier – Lisbon: This restaurant is among other restaurants owned by well-established Portuguese chef Olivier da Costa. We went to Guilty by Oliver on the first night we arrived in Lisbon, and I am so glad we did. It is a place dominated by the youth, but not in a bad way. This eatery has a vibrant ambiance with great service. Its salads and pizza were delectable, and I really enjoyed my night out. It makes me want to try other restaurants by Olivier.

 

Time Out Market Lisboa – Lisbon: This historic market hall houses different food stalls, each with their own concept and cuisine. It is very interesting to stroll around and choose various items to create your own collage of a menu tailored to your preferences. After you find a space at a table (which was a miracle on the night we went; Portugal was playing football on a big screen), one of you offers to utilize himself/herself physically as a reservation pawn, while the other orders food. When the person comes with his/her buzzer awaiting to be summoned when the meal is ready, you may have your turn to do the same. Hopefully, you would both end up eating at the same time together on that common wooden table.