Casper & Gambini’s – Dbayeh

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.

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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.

Deliveries – Around Lebanon

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.

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.

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.

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 – 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.

Aprons and Hammers – Dubai

We weren’t armed with our aprons and hammers on this boat docked at sea. Aprons and Hammers has a regular restaurant location, but we opted to try the one on the boat to make the experience more authentic. Well, I am glad we did because the breeze coming from the sea with the serene view made it so relaxing. The service was mediocre; they never provided us with aprons and hammers, although the utensils provided later to break the crab legs with was sufficient. I just thought even if the aprons and hammers were useless, they should still be offered to all its customers (a nearby table had them), since that was what the restaurant was named. Anyway, enough with the cutlery, let’s talk about the food. We started by ordering icy strawberry drinks that were very refreshing. I also found the breaded shrimps delicious. When it came to the mains, well, the crab was better than the lobster. I felt that the lobster was way overcooked that it had become very dry ruining the taste. The crabs were good, although I believe that they could be even better. However, the setting does compensate for what is lacking in the food. All in all, it was a lunch that left me feeling calm and happy.