Paname – Saifi

I don’t usually wait so impatiently for a restaurant to open, but that was the case with Paname. The reason for this impatience: Chef Youssef Akiki. For me, Burgundy’s chef is one of the best, if not the best chef in Lebanon. When I saw the opening announcement, my heart skipped a beat. I had to reserve. Finally, I was walking around in the pleasant Saifi environment with this Almost French restaurant as my destination. When we arrived, we were greeted with people casually sitting outside and a very friendly staff. We were led to our table and given our menus. I scrutinized all of the listed items and wanted to taste as much of the variety provided as I could. We ordered the Seared Bluefin Tuna Ceviche and Scottish Salmon Carpaccio as starters. For mains, we ordered the Spaghetti with Speck, the Wagyu Beef Burger, and the Grilled Plaice. We wanted to order the Grilled Black Angus Tenderloin but it was unavailable. The first items that were placed on our table were a basket of bread, and the wines we had asked for. Then, it really began. The appetizers arrived. The presentation was beautiful; it was reminiscent of Burgundy’s finesse. Both the salmon and the tuna were delicious. The seasoning was well-balanced and the combination of flavors all coming together in one bite was delightful. I loved how the mango tidbits complemented the tuna perfectly. We proceeded with our main dishes soon after. The spaghetti was cooked just right and the sauce was light and creamy. As for the burger, the doneness of the meat rendered it juicy and succulent, making it stand out despite its simple flavor profile. The fish was also extremely tender and moist, and the other components on the plate along with the dressing enhanced the taste even further. When it was time for dessert, the waiter informed us that they would be complimentary. They even refused to charge us for an additional dessert we wanted to pay for. We had the Strawberry Panna Cotta, the Tiramisu, and the Chocolate Mousse. The sauce smothering the cream in the panna cotta was fresh and intense, and the Tiramisu was rich and tasty. Honestly, I preferred both to the mousse dessert, although it was still really good as well. All in all, the service was great and I enjoyed my meal from beginning to end. My taste buds were left widely awakened and longing for more of those creations with flavorful ingredients, especially those fishy appetizers that will keep me coming back for more.

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.

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.

Tagide Wine and Tapas Bar – Lisboa

The more I see my photographs of food I ate in Lisbon, the more I realize how much I enjoyed eating at their restaurants. Tagide Wine and Tapas Bar, the casual counterpart of the more formal Tagide restaurant, has a great comfortable atmosphere. The waiters were friendly, much like all of the Portuguese people, and the food was delicious. I loved the goblet-like cup and the hammered metal bowl. As a dessert option on the menu, they had their special take on a famous traditional Portuguese pastry. Their pastel de nata was served warm and instead of cinnamon just being a topping with powdered sugar, they added a scoop of cinnamon ice cream on the side to further reinforce the taste of the cinnamon. An additional interesting element they had was the wine dispenser. You are provided with a card on which your wine selections and quantity are recorded. If I ever visit Lisboa again, based on my experience with the wine and tapas bar, I would like to try the Tagide restaurant this time.

Burgundy – Beirut

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One restaurant in Lebanon that is worthy of being on the Michelin Guide in my opinion is Burgundy. The ingredients used are of the highest caliber and the chef pays attention to details. The items on the plate are meticulously displayed in an appealing way that makes you not want to touch them. However, then you think of how appetizing they seem and you know you have to have a taste. I have visited Burgundy twice and both times the food was delicious. The in-house smoked salmon appears to be done being smoked right in front of you on the table when the cover is removed and the salmon is revealed under the cloudiness. The salads are filled with flavor and the mashed potato served with the steak is silky smooth. It was the first time I had ever tasted a soft-shell crab and it was an interesting experience for a person with arachnophobia. We had a selection of cheese before the dessert. I am a person that really likes cheese so I enjoyed that platter. I also loved the chutney provided with the cheese; I adore the marriage of taste that cheese and chutney create in my mouth. The desserts were delectable, especially the chocolate souffle. I think molten chocolate is one of the greatest creations ever made. Actually, writing this blog post now makes me want to go to Burgundy again very soon.

L’air du Temps – Liernu

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Another tasteful experience in Belgium; L’air du Temps is a two Michelin-starred restaurant with dishes prepared by chef Sang-Hoon Degeimbre and his team. He describes himself as “a Korean born, a Belgian man and a citizen of the world”; I believe this description extends into his culinary creations. You can see the Korean influence as well as the Belgian one throughout his cuisine.

Situated in an area far from the hustle and bustle of the city, in a peaceful area with gardens, L’air du Temps truthfully makes you feel as if you have stepped into a different world. It was a nice touch to present a card with our choice of set menu highlighted on the page before the food arrived. Garnished with colorful pristine flowers, the dishes are inviting. I love the element of surprise when you have ordered a set menu; it makes a person long to see what will come next. This was the case here, I would be eager to see how art and food come together in the plate to follow. In some instances, things would even seemingly appear to be something that they aren’t because they would be presented in a different texture or form than we are used to seeing.

To describe the service, one can only say that it was truly impeccable. The staff was knowledgeable and alert; explaining the constituents of our meal as well as that of the wines or waters being paired with them. Yes, I did say waters in the plural form. Something I really enjoyed and found interesting was that you could choose to pair different naturally flavored waters with what you were eating; they came in various colors that also brightened the table. As it turns out, the minimalism of the decor had been misleading; it had just been the platform from which these intriguing complex inventions could be showcased.