Pearl Island – Byblos

For a meal by the sea, we went to Pearl Island in Byblos. It is a seafood restaurant with a great view. Looking at the vast blue sea calms the mind and relaxes the body. The ambiance is friendly and you feel that families are welcome there. If you have a little one, you will be relieved to know that the high chair does indeed have a table and wheels. I can not stress the importance of the addition of a table to the high chair enough; it is so annoying when a toddler does not have his/her own space. More space for children to enjoy is a stretch of green grass and a small yet effective playground. Moving on to the service; the waiters are very helpful, to the extent where it can get a tad uncomfortable. They do not set food on the table after making it hover above your head as you dodge the upcoming platters, in hope that the sauce does not drizzle from one of those dishes and land on your head. If you are Lebanese or have experienced a traditional Lebanese restaurant, you know what I mean. However, sometimes you feel that the waiters are trying way too hard. In some instances, it was a bit comical, and I felt that the waiter might as well sit with us at the table and pass me the food.

Speaking of the food; the mezze dishes (or mezza, as I call it, are somewhat akin to tapas) were well presented, such as the hummus dollops and the small fish (called bizri) placed into a crunchy pita bread, acting as a bowl. After we feasted on the variety of appetizers, we ordered fried fish which was accompanied by fried pita bread, which I absolutely love. The fish were crispy on the outside and tasty on the inside. Then, a variety of fruits and desserts, that are free of charge, are placed on the table. They were a pleasant way to end the meal. All in all, Pearl Island is a lovely setting with good seafood, though not outstanding in taste, yet successful in satisfying one’s appetite for the creatures of the deep.

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.

Nicolas Audi – Rabieh

The best piece at Nicolas Audi’s patisserie is the oversized bright pink macaron, hands down. This pretty macaron is filled with juicy yet firm raspberries enclosing heavenly cream. Seriously, there is nothing else you would rather have than this fresh sweetness inside your mouth during the Summer. Another favorite of mine is the double chocolate tart; it is smooth with the right amount of intensity. As for the eclair, the pate a choux is light, as it is meant to be, and the cream does not heavily weight it down. Describing their pastry makes me wish their service was up to par. They desperately need better equipped staff to handle the patisserie on location. On the whole, the pastry at Audi is delicious and looks the part. The tarts, eclairs, cakes, and macarons all look appetizing on display behind the glass counter, and by just taking one glance at them, you know you have to take them home.

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.

Al Hindi Restaurant – Beirut

All throughout lunch I kept debating whether I like the butter chicken or the shrimp malabar more. They are both delicious. The Indian food at Al Hindi Restaurant, in the Warwick Palm Beach Hotel, is extremely flavorful. The melange of spices creates a harmonious symphony that plays inside your mouth. It all started with their tasty papadum. Then, we ordered the dal, butter chicken, shrimp malabar, murg tikka, and pilao (rice). The murg tikka is really tender and nearly melts in your mouth. The creamy sauces of the butter chicken and the shrimp malabar are to die for. The meal ended with the usual loud churning of the machine punching in numbers to produce a paper with the amount due to be settled (for those of you who have been there, you know what I am talking about). However, I will be returning to Al Hindi to enjoy some more of its comforting wholesome Indian cuisine.

Four Seasons Hotel – Beirut

Afternoon Tea is served daily in The Lobby Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel. When we arrived, we were welcomed and seated at a table, while the waiter prepared another one for us. It was transformed into an elegant setting ready to receive the tea and its delicacies. We were provided with a set menu of what was to be expected, and we chose our tea from the various options we had. The service was very good, and the waiters poured our tea for us into the teacup using a sieve. My English Breakfast tea was how it should be, and now it was time for the treats. First came the savory sandwiches and quiches, then came the dessert pastries. Both came with scones. I absolutely loved the scones. They were delicious and I still daydream about them, long after I have had them. As for the sandwiches, quiches, tarts, macarons…all the rest, I expected more from a fancy hotel. They were mediocre in my opinion, especially the macarons; they were borderline amateurish. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I resorted to my comforting hot chocolate with vanilla. A better experience at the Four Seasons Hotel would be the breakfast they serve.

Fred French Bistro – Achrafieh

I would not go back to Fred French Bistro because if you are looking for a French bistro there is a better one that I know of. On a positive note, I thought that the interior was nice, with its stone walls and arches. Also, one of the walls was divided into a grid encompassing different painted plates; I thought that was a pleasant artistic feature. We commenced with bread and butter, served in a basket. For a starter, we ordered the home smoked salmon salad. The only thing that had a fresh taste in that salad was the salmon; it was like they had removed a ready-made cold salad from the fridge, and added the salmon on top of it as a cover-up. For mains, we ordered the fish and filet (steak) platters. The fish was overcooked and dry, and the vegetables and sauce failed to moisten it. As for the meat, well, it was delicious and tender. However, it was comically small (especially for the price tag); I would call it a bite which could easily fall under the starters’ section. We then ordered the creme brulee for dessert, which was good, and it came in an interesting glass vessel. Honestly, apart from the cuisson of the meat, our taste buds were left unsatisfied.

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.

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

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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.