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.
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.
Emotions – Achrafieh
I travel from one province to another, within Lebanon, to get to EMOTIONS Artisan Patissier & Glacier. When I arrive, I know that Mr. Gaby Bustros will be there in the kitchen perfecting his creations. When I first saw the triangular tart, I was intrigued to try the constituents of this rebel among its mostly circular species. I was not disappointed. The tart with the mixture of berries is sublime; the freshness of the berries with their bed of creme patissiere complement each other perfectly. The crumble of the tart border is the ideal vessel to hold them in, while being delicate in itself. If you wish to satisfy your darker desires, you would need to venture into the underworld of the chocolate tart. It is quite the opposite of its berry friend; within the triangular crunch of a border, there is more chocolate awaiting inside. The different textures of chocolate come together in intense decadence; the biscuit meets the ganache and oozing goodness seeps through the top subtly cracked chocolate layer. Ok, it is time to leave the world of tarts, and showcase the Tahitian vanilla eclair. It is fragile and light, yet rich and creamy, and the hardened caramel threads wonderfully break underneath your teeth. I think this eclair might be my favorite piece, but then again why put pressure on myself to choose a favorite. One of the times I went to Emotions, I was lucky enough to taste a sample of a chocolate macaron in the making; the crust parted to reveal delicious chocolate filling inside. Now, let us proceed to the other section of delicacies at Emotions; their ice cream. I love how the flavors contained in the 1L transparent tubs are described with handwritten labels. The cubes are filled with ice cream made from the finest ingredients. The sorbet of berries has fruit tidbits in it, which make the flavor more pronounced and lets the freshness shine through. As for the coconut ice cream, it is also made from fresh coconut with a subtle hint of Malibu rum and a touch of toasted coconut shavings. Whether it is pastry or ice cream, Emotions really satisfies my sweet cravings. I can not wait to meet more of their flawless confections.
Four Seasons Hotel – Beirut
Afternoon Tea is served daily in The Lobby Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel. When we arrived, we were welcomed and seated at a table, while the waiter prepared another one for us. It was transformed into an elegant setting ready to receive the tea and its delicacies. We were provided with a set menu of what was to be expected, and we chose our tea from the various options we had. The service was very good, and the waiters poured our tea for us into the teacup using a sieve. My English Breakfast tea was how it should be, and now it was time for the treats. First came the savory sandwiches and quiches, then came the dessert pastries. Both came with scones. I absolutely loved the scones. They were delicious and I still daydream about them, long after I have had them. As for the sandwiches, quiches, tarts, macarons…all the rest, I expected more from a fancy hotel. They were mediocre in my opinion, especially the macarons; they were borderline amateurish. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I resorted to my comforting hot chocolate with vanilla. A better experience at the Four Seasons Hotel would be the breakfast they serve.
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.