Seeking a high chair and a non-smoking area, I called Diwan Beirut in Antelias. I was pleasantly surprised when I was told that there was a smoking floor and a non-smoking floor. It had been a while since I had craved Lebanese cuisine throughout my pregnancy, but since I felt like having that, I dragged my family along with me. Wanting to try a new place, and relying on the fact that it comes from the same people who brought us Al-Sultan Brahim, we reserved a table for lunch. The man on the other end of the phone was very welcoming and professional, and when we arrived this great service continued until we were seated and ordered our food. However, after that, it was a miracle if we could find a waiter to help us out and when we did, it took us 3 times of ordering a diet soda to eventually receive it. Also, I had requested that no fresh vegetable garnish our food due to my current non-existent immunity, and it went well until the breaded shrimp platter arrived. We asked for another platter instead but we received the same shrimp constituents with the lettuce removed from underneath them. Let’s just say that we had to keep the “tarnished” shrimp on our table as hostage to make sure we received newly fried ones! As for the actual taste of the food, mostly everything I tasted was very good. The hummus was creamy, the fried kibbe was delicate, the fries were crispy, and the breaded shrimps were tasty and seemed fresh. I made it a point to try their mixed grilled skewers, and all three of the variations were delicious. The kafta was extremely tender, the meat was juicy, and the chich taouk was also succulent. In addition, the spices and marination were well balanced. When we were done, it took a really long time for the waiters to clear our table so that we could order dessert. However, when they did remove all the plates, we received an array of complimentary fruits and oriental sweets. The fruits looked very appealing, but when I spotted the lazy cake that I am familiar with from Al-Sultan Brahim, I had to have two slices, along with a piece of nammoura. They were a satisfying sweet end to the whole meal. All in all, although the service deteriorated towards the end of our lunch, the food rescued the whole experience at Diwan Beirut…this time.
Leila Min Lebnen – Dbayeh
Food Aversions. The fortunate culprit: Pregnancy. They are still present, but at least now I can actually look at my photos long enough to enable their description to formulate in my head. The most notable aspect of my experience at Leila Min Lebnen was the service. The waiter was extremely understanding of my current diet restrictions and accommodated the platters’ constituents accordingly, and all this was done with a smile. I felt comfortable eating at the restaurant. I liked the Hummus with the hot soft bread served on the side. I also enjoyed the small bites of Stuffed Kibbeh with yogurt. However, the Lebanese Diced Veal stood out with its pleasant tartness. The meat was tender and with the appropriate sourness of the pomegranate molasses sauce, it was very tasty. In the mood for fish, we ordered Grilled Fish instead of the usual mixed grilled platter. Honestly, I felt that it was a tad too oily. For me, I like the simplicity of the flavor profile of a moist yet pristine piece of fresh grilled white fish, with maybe only the addition of salt and a squeeze of lemon to preference. We finished the meal off with Maamoul Bel Jebneh and a bowl of Meghle. I am not a fan of meghle, but do like stuffing maamoul with cheese. Maybe another option could also be maamoul with melted chocolate insides….Just a thought.
Loris – Gemmayze
Finally, a Lebanese restaurant that awakened my taste buds! Since I began writing about my experiences at established and also more recently opened restaurants, I have been craving really good Lebanese cuisine—I left Loris satisfied. The service and the ambiance were pleasant, but a more important topic to be discussed is the food. I loved the fresh out of the oven hot bread that was served at the beginning. Their Fattouch is zesty and their Hommos is creamy. The Rkakat bi jibne had tasty melted cheese enclosed in the crispy shell, and their mini Kebbe are delicious bites filled with flavor. Their Kebab Bil Karaz is a great dish with a twist, yet it was their Lahmeh Ras Asfour Debs Rimmein that was to die for! It is the best Ras Asfour platter I have had to date; the sauce was perfectly balanced, and the meat was so tender akin to biting into a succulent piece of steak. As for the Mixed Grill Platter, the chicken was seasoned with a nice blend of spices, and the chicken, meat, and kafta were juicy and moist. For dessert, I wanted to taste the Em Ali but unfortunately it was unavailable. However, I forgot all about that when I tasted the Maamoul Bil Jibne and felt the delicate crumble fall apart underneath my teeth to reveal the softness of the cheese inside. We left Loris on a sweet note, knowing we would be returning to try more of their creations.
SUD Restobar – Mar Mikhael
(Special: Sundays Brunch)
After trying SUD’s superb Fondue & Stone Grilling dinner, I was very excited to try out their famous Sundays Brunch at their Mar Mikhael branch. The service was really good as well, and the staff was friendly. There was a live D.J. playing music which was nice, although it was a bit too loud. I liked the high “ceilings”, and from where I was seated, I could look up to see the sky above me. Time to eat! At the place you get your plate and cutlery, you can have fresh juices, cold milk, and hot drinks. When I saw the colorful cereal loops, I had to have some with milk, and I also had a glass of refreshing orange juice. Then, I started off with the croissants, which were flaky and had very tasty stuffing. Their black rice salad and sauce were flavorful, and next to the salads, you can choose from a selection of cheese and hams. From the corner of my eye, I spotted the raclette—who doesn’t love melted cheese, seriously! You also have a live pasta cooking area and a stand where shawarma is ready to be served upon your request. Right next door, is a mankoushe baking section where you get your mankoushe freshly made. I opted for a zaatar and cheese one (better known as the “cocktail”); I liked the dough, but the zaatar was a tad more oily than it should be. Of course breakfast isn’t complete without eggs, and the chef happily prepares your choice of eggs and toppings; I had the sunny side up (which satisfied my constant runny yolk craving). When you can’t possibly eat savory food anymore, you know it is time for sweets. Alongside the dessert buffet, is a big tray of cheese knefe. The desserts include items such as tarts, eclairs, pancakes, fruits, and an array of candy you can place on a stick under cascading melted chocolate from an ongoing fountain. Want even more chocolate? On the side, stands a transparent cylindrical vessel holding thick hot chocolate within it. For me, that decadent hot chocolate was the best thing that I had had for dessert, then came the sort of bread pudding in a tray they had, which was moist and delicious. In general, the brunch offerings covered most of what a rich breakfast should have, but my taste buds were left partially “un-awakened” by some of them.
Nicolas Audi at La Maison d’IXSIR – Batroun
We were looking for a serene place to relax in, away from the mundane daily routine, so we decided to go have lunch at Nicolas Audi at La Maison d’IXSIR. Located in the Ixsir winery and Nicolas Audi being a prominent chef in Lebanon, we thought that it was a restaurant that should be visited. When we arrived, we scouted the area, and then we were lucky enough to join the tour of the winery, where we were led underground down a spiral staircase. The tour guide seemed well-trained and after being fed with information about the whole wine-making process, from grapes to barrel to bottle, we savored the end product in glasses on our table. Sitting under the shade of the tree, we enjoyed our Grande Reserve red and white wines, awaiting the opening of the buffet.
I rushed to take photographs of the untouched food, in order to capture their presentation before they were destroyed by the hungry people. Success, for the most part. There were a variety of salads and appetizers, of which the hummus was really good. I also really liked the salad with peppers in it because their flavor stood out. Moreover, the mashed potato tasted great with embedded onion bits within it. The fattoush, vine leaves dish, and beans salads were fine, but not exceptional.
Moving to the mains, I think I am adamant on melting my phone by taking pictures next to fire, but the skewers of meat being licked by the flames made me feel like a moth (if you know what I mean). The doneness of the grilled meat and chicken was great; they were juicy and tender. Another great item was the rice and creamy sauce, it was a tad spicy but delicious. The pizza squares and chicken nouille lacked flavor, and the kibbe and fish were okay. Let’s just say if I had not been leaving some space for dessert, I would have filled up on the grilled meat and chicken, as well as the rice and creamy sauce. There is something that I should note though; when you change your plate, you keep the same knife and fork. That is not great, but maybe acceptable when you have a placemat to put them on. However, we had no placemat so you had to put your dirty cutlery right on the table which is not hygienic for you nor the table.
So, here comes the dessert which was mostly a mixture of oriental sweets and French pastry. The ice cream was good, but not memorable. The baba au rhum was delectable; it was my favorite dessert hands down. I can’t get over their heavenly whipped cream (if you have read my Nicolas Audi patisserie post, then you know I am a fan). Another intense dessert was the chocolate cake which was as chocolatey as it could get, and my advice is to eat it slowly to be able to appreciate each bite. That was the taste I left Ixsir with.