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.