Risotto, risotto, risotto. The only thing on my mind when it comes to food these days is risotto. I love indulging in a lemon risotto with shrimp, especially during this phase of my pregnancy. Goutons Voir has one of the best risotto I have tasted, if not the best (I did remove the asparagus ingredient though, but that is a matter of preference). It is so creamy and rich, and in addition to the shrimp lurking inside, they have placed a few shrimps at the top. This latter subtle component enhances the taste by providing a sort of lovely grilled flavor. I also ordered french fries on the side, and their fries are certainly the correct amount of salty and crispy. Feeling very full, I ordered half a portion of their pain perdu for dessert. I love the whole Goutons Voir, Charlotte, Cafe Gourmand, and Nonna enterprise, so I had tasted the pain perdu at Charlotte before yet I recalled that it was good but not out of this world. Still adamant to give it another try, I did. The caramel sauce smothering the bread is very good, without being overly sweet. However, I realized what it was that I found a little lacking. The bread was moist, but I prefer a pain perdu that is more soaked and filled with the milky mixture. Hence, I would still rather their heavenly moelleux au chocolat. Last but definitely not least, an important issue noteworthy of stating is that the waiter was very friendly and professional. We felt comfortable and we will definitely be back to Goutons Voir and all of the sister eateries that never disappoint!
Med – Hazmieh
Tavolina – Naccache
I recalled that I had been to Tavolina in Mar Mikhael but, weirdly, the only thing in my memory from that experience is the transparent plastic curtain that, in my opinion, took away from the charm of the restaurant—I don’t know if it still exists. Anyway, Tavolina recently opened its doors in a new complex of restaurants called Zero 4 in the Naccache area. I decided to go try it again there, and I was pleasantly surprised. I wondered why I had not remembered that the food was actually good at this eatery. We started off with the Frittura Mista. I have had this platter at several Italian restaurants elsewhere, but it is here that I loved the battered eggplant and zucchini the most. They were sliced thinly and that resulted in the vegetables being less oily and more crispy. Obviously, the battered shrimp were also good, but I wish they weren’t so outnumbered by the calamari. Sometimes I am in the mood for a homey spaghetti bolognese and so I ordered their Spaghetti al Ragu. I fell in love with it. I know it is a simple dish, but so many restaurants get it wrong. I was happy with the “al dente” pasta, as well as the well-seasoned sauce. In addition, the pepper sauce of the Filetto di Bue al Pepe was deliciously thick and creamy. The service was friendly and the waiter readily answered our questions and adjusted food constituents based on my restricted diet (me having to eat for two), such as cooking the steak till it was well done (not how I would usually order it). I will definitely be back to taste more items from their menu!
DIVVY – Hazmieh
For another eatery to whisk my sister away from work on her lunch break, we headed to DIVVY in Hazmieh to try out items from their new menu and not so new menu. We started off with the Crispy Strips and an appetizer we always order: the Brie and Blueberry. I love how the purple color of their signature blueberry dip is so vibrant, and needless to say, its delicious taste went perfectly well with the melted cheese cubes. Another way to visit this lovely coupling is in their tasty DIVVY Brie and Blueberry Burgers. In fact, that specialty burger was the reason that I decided to try out the new burger on their menu; the Grand Burger. The meat was juicy and if you like your patty on the thicker side, this would do. However, the component I couldn’t get enough of was that bun! It could not possibly get any softer. Also, the sauce was good, but all in all, I do still prefer their Brie and blueberry burgers. We also ordered the Beef Teriyaki platter, which has great comforting flavors, and the Caesar Sandwich. For dessert, I was very excited to try their new Salted Caramel Pain Perdu and I was not disappointed. It was decadent. The moistness of the pain perdu chunks topped with the salted caramel’s just right sweetness was a delightful end to our meal. On the whole, it was a satisfying lunch, and one shouldn’t forget to commend the presentation of their dishes, as well as their friendly yet professional service. Additionally, although I did not order it this time, I would like to recommend their Countryside Steak Sandwich, which never ceases to awaken my taste buds with its bursts of goodness.
Cafe Gourmand – Achrafieh
As soon as we went in, we could sense how friendly the staff working there was. They made sure that we had a table that we liked and directly provided us with a high chair for my fidgety toddler. As we were waiting to be given our menus, the manager came to our table and apologetically told us that it was their first day so we should expect the service to be slow. Honestly, we were not annoyed by the service, and we could see that everyone was working very hard amidst some confusion. However, the issue that was a tad bothersome was that so many of the items on the menu were unavailable; it became difficult choosing what we wanted to eat because of that. Already familiar with Nonna’s pizzas and the other restaurants brought to us by the same owner, I stuck around for the food. The pizza was really good, and the crust was thin and crunchy. Also, the meaty Beef Tataki appetizer with the ponzu sauce was tasty. As for the Steak Frites, the meat was tender and the fries were crispy. I just felt that the sauce was slightly bland and could do with a bit more flavor. The fish in the Fish and Chips platter was fresh and moist, yet the outer crust layer was oily. Unfortunately, they were out of tartar sauce which was needed to enhance the platter, in my opinion. When it was time for dessert, the only available item was the Nutella roll, and they kindly gave us an extra one on the house. In general, the food was good, and I know that it was the opening day and a lot of effort was being put in to make it work, but I believe that they should have maybe tried to wait until they were more prepared for a stronger start.
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.
Swiss Butter – Gemmayzeh
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.
Brass Beirut – Achrafieh
We went to Brass for a brief escape from the responsibility of parenthood. Luckily, we found a parking space right at the base of the staircase leading to the restaurant. There is an exterior seating area, which is lovely, but we opted for the cooler inside. The interior makes you still feel you are outside. There is a majestic tree sprouting from the center of a table, with its branches reaching up towards the sun’s rays coming in through the skylight. However, stealing your attention away from all of this stands an impressively long bar that runs the length of the room. It made me imagine how this place would be transformed during the evenings and nights, when the moon and stars shone through from above. I liked the whole environment that was created indoors, and after sitting at our table, I was ready to eat. Some restaurants really outdo themselves in the appetizers section; Brass is one of them. The appetizers we ordered were delicious; we had the La Poutine, Beef Carpaccio, and Raspberry Lava. The La Poutine was so comforting with the melted cheese and warm gravy. Yet, it was the Raspberry Lava that stole the show—from all of the savory platters, not just the appetizers. The berry sauce smothering the oven baked Brie cheese seemed very fresh and authentic, and the combination of flavors of the sauce and cheese was marvelous. It felt like intense bursts of goodness exploding inside your mouth. We chose the Asian Grilled Salmon, Roasted Beef Fillet with Red Wine Sauce, and Steak Frites as our main dishes; they were all good but not as noteworthy as the preceding platters. The Roasted Beef Fillet was succulent and the Steak was tender, although the meat of the latter was cooked more than the cuisson I had asked for. I should have informed the waiter, but due to the service being slow, I refrained from doing so. Instead, I spent the time waiting for the Pain Perdu to arrive, and that was time well spent. This dessert was worth it; I guess good things do happen to those who wait. The “lost bread” found its way into my mouth, where it felt right at home. The bread was saturated with the deliciousness it had been soaked in, it was just how I like it–I really detest a dry Pain Perdu. Add the vanilla ice cream to that, and you have a symphony playing on your tongue. I was glad that the first sweet option I had previously decided on, the Chocolate Fondant, had been unavailable when I was there, although I should admit I am still curious as to how it would have tasted.
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.
Indigo on the Roof – Beirut
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.