Usually, I am not a fan of dining at a restaurant in a mall (especially on the weekends) because I feel that the location can ruin the whole ambiance. Yet, sometimes you find yourself in this circumstance. Casper & Gambini’s tries and succeeds, to an extent, to preserve its own identity and mood within the bustling shopping scene. We found a table and got our usual high chair, and then had a look at the menu items. A weekly special caught my attention as my eyes wandered off the page and onto a flyer standing on the table; it was Chich Barak. That was definitely a good wholesome meal for my toddler. The rest of us opted for the Fresh Crab & Shrimp Soft Buns appetizer, followed by the Tenderloin, the Veal Escalope, the Provolone Steak Sandwich, and finally one order from the Salad Bar. Their salad bar is healthy, fulfilling, and rich with different flavored constituents. We started with the appetizer, which was delicious. I always welcome fresh crab instead of the less than mediocre imitation. A well-seasoned sauce was drizzled on the fresh crab and shrimp, and taking a bite of that within the soft bun was very tasty. Since they first placed this item on the menu, every time I go to Casper & Gambini’s I have to order it as a starter. As for the mains, the Chich Barak was served with rice, and the sauce was amazing. I hoped that they would add this platter to the permanent offerings of their menu. Unfortunately, the meat in my steak sandwich was cooked to a medium (how I like it), but weirdly the result was not tender. I have had this sandwich many times before, and it had become a kind of craving I satisfy at Casper & Gambini’s. However, this time it took forever to cut and chew, so I gave up and informed the waiter. The manager visited the table, and the consensus was that I order a new item on the menu. I chose the Chich Barak, which as previously mentioned is really good. For dessert, I decided to order their Pain Perdu, which has been one of my all-time favorites. I wasn’t disappointed; the texture of the moist bread is how I like it, and their ice cream and caramel sauce combination satisfied my sweet tooth. Now, it was time to leave. Here, I have to mention that the provolone steak sandwich ended up being removed from the bill. Due to my past positive experiences of eating at Casper & Gambini’s, I would revisit in hopes that it was just a one time affair that was bound to happen on a rare occasion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rarely are both the interior and exterior of a restaurant charming. With Liza, it was the case; the outer entrance portrayed the elegance that was to come. You could tell that what was waiting for us inside was going to be decorated with refined taste. It did not disappoint. From the adorable courtyard, to the elevator leading upstairs, and the hallway adorned with lighting; they all maintained a coherent theme. At the end of the corridor, you are greeted with high ceilings and rooms embellished with wallpaper, flooring, lighting, and furniture that are extremely pleasing to the eye. Whichever way you look, it is all well thought of to the tiniest detail. It made me hold my breath in anticipation, awaiting the beautiful presentation of the food we were going to order.
We ordered several mezze items, of which my favorite was the kibbe; it fell apart easily inside your mouth revealing its goodness. The hummus and the kafta arayess were really good as well. The shanklish was tasty, but it was a tad spicy. The fries were homemade, which is always appreciated. The fattoush and cheese rolls were fine, but not great. However, I did love the neatness in presentation, which consolidated the fact that Lebanese food can be presented in an appealing way. The mix of metal and pottery vessels used to display the food was creative and lovely. I do not remember a Lebanese restaurant that showcased the grilled meat, kafta, and chicken in a better manner to date. The coffee and desserts further retained the elegant presentation. The rice pudding was good, and the chocolate cake was simultaneously rich, dense, and brittle. As for the service, the hostess and the waiters were welcoming and friendly. All in all, I enjoyed my meal at Liza. Although the concoctions on their own are not outstanding, the presentation, decoration, and the whole ambiance all complement the food and each other wonderfully making it more of an experience than just about eating.
After all the hype for this restaurant, we decided to try Meats and Bread firsthand. The eatery stands out on the street by being a noticeable color on the outside, setting it apart from the mostly dull boring colors nearby. So, the first impression was inviting and we were tempted to go inside. The interior feels cozy and the decoration creates a nice comfortable ambiance, but the fiery pit is what captured my attention the most. We were close enough to the fire to feel its warmth, and the smell coming from the open kitchen was very appetizing. It was definitely time to order. The waiter was very friendly, but it was disappointing when he had to ask the chef about the constituents of items on the menu several times. He did apologize and say that it was because he was new, yet it would have been much better had he been thoroughly trained beforehand (especially knowing the menu inside out). Anyway, without further ado, let us talk about the real reason we found ourselves here: the meat. We ordered a brisket tray and a specialty burger. The barbecue sauce coating the brisket was amazing; it was the right amount of everything and not overly sweet. However, the truffle taste in the accompanying truffled mac and cheese was not evident, which was a shame. As for the meat patty inside the burger, it was juicy and tasted very good, and the bun was surprisingly soft lending an element of lightness to the burger. The fries on the side were well-seasoned and addictive. On the whole, it was an enjoyable meal. Glancing at the dessert menu, no item was striking, so we opted to satisfy our sweet tooth elsewhere. We left Meats and bread feeling like true carnivorous cavemen after a hunt.
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.
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.
Sometimes you feel like ordering in instead of going out, that’s when you know it is time to pick up the phone and dial the number that will feed your hunger. After a few times of doing that, I decided to put the “dialees” in a post clustered together. They are still food, you know. Where there is food, there is Salted Caramel.
Chopsticks: From this Chinese restaurant, we ordered the fried shrimps and fish, egg fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, beef with green pepper, and chicken with bamboo shoots. The order arrived in paper bags; the food was packed neatly, and kept warm. The food is as good as it is at the restaurant; satisfactory, but not over the top. However, I would order from Chopsticks again.
Crepaway: Let me just say it, Crepaway’s ordering and delivery process is worth commending. They are always professional on the phone, and in their delivery service. They do not ask for directions to your home over and over again, the food arrives on time and is kept at a good temperature. I also have to add that they have only made one mistake with my food order, and this is over many years of ordering from their restaurant, being a picky eater, and them being human! Seriously, when we want a swift delivery, this is our go-to restaurant. Of course, one shouldn’t forget to mention that within its dining category, Crepaway has really good food. The chicken sandwiches we ordered were great, and their crepes are tasty. This time, I ordered a salty crepe, but I have to mention that their chocolate crepes are delicious.
Deek Duke: YUM!! Ok, if you want a chicken sandwich that is really amazing, you should try the Beiruti sandwich at Deek Duke. It is the right amount of chicken and the right amount of garlic, and tastes the right amount of home-made. The chicken is moist and tender in all of their chicken sandwiches. The other sandwich that I like is the barbecue one, the sauce is really flavorsome. If you are craving “chicken goodness”, this is it. Although, I would just like to add that they should expand their delivery coverage to share their food with more areas in Lebanon.
Roadster Diner: The revamped Roadster Diner delivery packaging is neater than before, yet it makes me question their identity coherence. Anyway, I still appreciate getting good food presented well. Based on my experience, the dining-in journey with Roadster has been a bumpy one. I have received sandwiches with incorrect ingredients, and burgers with unpleasant chunks in the meat patty. Although, mistakes were dealt with, it made me pause on ordering from their diner for a while. After some time, I have decided to try it again, and this time the order went smoothly, and my food was good. One of my favorite sandwiches at Roadster Diner is the cheese steak sandwich, but I like to place the constituents inside a soft bun instead of the baguette. So, after the success of this delivery order, they have partly redeemed themselves in my eyes. Yet, I will give them more chances to achieve a full recovery.
Zaatar W Zeit: The barbecue steak sandwich at Zaatar W Zeit is the reason I order from their restaurant. Seriously, after trying many items on the menu, for me Zaatar W Zeit and barbecue steak sandwich are one and the same. The only other thing to add here is the delivery is unsatisfactory. The driver never makes it to our building without calling us for directions, even though we have ordered from them repeatedly. To be honest, this is a factor we consider when choosing which restaurant we want to order food from.
Lord of the Wings: I do not know why we ordered from Lord of the Wings that night, but I was pleasantly surprised. The last time I ordered boneless chicken wings from there seems like a decade ago because I felt that the quality was slowly deteriorating. When we ordered them this time, the chicken reminded me of when I first tried them at Lord of the Wings, which is a good thing. I might just order from there again, I’m still thinking about it.