CafeSho – Achrafieh

The first thing that comes to mind when I want to describe CafeSho is: home away from home. If you are looking for a hearty meal that feels like it is home-cooked, this restaurant is a good option as a destination. The interior is very basic and humble; it makes the eye long for more details to look at. Although, if you sit next to the glass border, the transparency allows you to feel like you are on a street abroad. The whole mood of the restaurant reminds me of those small European eateries that locals would visit to escape their mundane work routine, during their lunch break. The menu is scribbled on the wall. I like the authenticity of that; it makes me feel that words can be erased and added depending on the availability of fresh produce or just the chef’s state of mind (this was reinforced by some chalk smudges I noticed on the black ‘canvas’). The waitress was very friendly and I appreciated her honesty when she told us we were ordering too much food for just the two of us. We ended up choosing the Brochettes Beef Sate with the rice and peanuts side, the Brochettes Salmon Yokitori with the Indian curry noodles side, and the Brochettes of Caramelized Shrimps. After hearing the ongoing whirring of the juicer, I was enticed to order a fresh orange juice (unfortunately, it was a bit sour). My husband enjoyed a Japanese beer. Our food arrived; each platter had three skewers of their respective constituents, which can be considered generous. My favorite was the beef sate dish—I am a fan of peanuts or peanut sauce to complement my meat. The meat was tender and flavorful, and it went well with the accompanying rice. My second favorite was the shrimp dish, which also had pronounced flavor and was tasty. As for the salmon, the doneness was great (I detest overcooked salmon), but I felt that it was the least flavorful of the three. Sometimes one craves something homey to eat, and CafeSho ticks the box for that.

PZZA.CO – Downtown Beirut

We were craving Italian food, and we remembered that there was a good Italian place; one of renowned Chef Hussein Hadid’s eateries. As usual, PZZA.CO did not disappoint at all. The service was great too. The weather was nice, so we sat outside this time. For starters, we ordered the Buffalo Mozzarella with Basil Pesto, the Baby Spinach Salad, and the Charred Corn Salad. The buffalo mozzarella was truly fresh, as was stated on the menu, and the basil pesto matched its freshness. However, the really flavorful dish was the Charred Corn Salad; it is perfectly balanced and also echoes the freshness in its ingredients and tangy citrus dressing. I love when there is a play of texture with the same kind of ingredient made differently. I enjoyed the crunch of the corn nuts with the taste of the charred corn together in the salad. As mains, we had the Linguini Pesto Basil (we added shrimps to it), Roasted Chicken Breast, and of course you can’t but have a pizza from that artistic mosaic statement piece oven of theirs —we had The “Prosciutto”. As previously mentioned, their pesto basil sauce is really good, and I thought the pizza was good as well. Although a side, the french fries are worth mentioning. They are thin and crispy, just how I like them. For dessert, obviously we had to order the Salted Caramel Ice Cream. We also asked for the Soft Italian Chocolate Cake (fondant), and the Chocolate Mousse. The Salted Caramel Ice cream was not too full-bodied and creamy, yet it managed to retain the flavor (although not intensely rich). The mousse was chocolatey and good, but the fondant was my favorite. The chocolate flowing from the inside of the cake was thick and dense. If you want chocolate, this is it. We left PZZA.CO having had a meal that had satisfied us from beginning to end. It was now time for my toddler to run around.

P.F. Chang’s – Hazmieh

We went to P.F. Chang’s in Hazmieh to make my sister forget she is going through the routine of a regular work day. The interior is predominantly wood; the ceiling is embellished with lights. I preferred choosing a table located next to the windows because it was brighter. As soon as we sat down, they provided us with a high chair and a booklet made especially for children (along with some crayons). I could actually take my time choosing what I wanted to eat because my little one was preoccupied. As appetizers, we ordered the Shrimp Dumplings, the Crab Wontons, the Shrimp Tempura, and the Dynamite Shrimp. They were all delicious and flavorful; the seasoning and the combination of ingredients were great. Then, we had the Sweet & Sour Chicken, the Mongolian Beef, and the Crispy Honey Shrimp. My favorite among the three was the Crispy Honey Shrimp, the sauce was tasty and I loved the crunch of the rice sticks. The components of the Sweet & Sour Chicken seemed fresh and the chicken was tender. Unfortunately, the Mongolian Beef had good flavor, but the meat was a tad tough and chewy (usually the caramelized beef in this platter is crispy on the outside and more succulent on the inside). We opted not to have dessert because we had tasted them before and we were not in the mood for something heavy this time. I have to note that the service was very good; our waiter was friendly and everything was done efficiently.

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.

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.