CRAVE Fusion Cusine – Well that Sucked!!

CRAVE

I have heard about this place so many times and I was always tempted to go and try it. The images of their food and the mixes they offered seemed tempting. Yet for some reason I never got the chance to actually visit and that restaurant managed to get forgotten until I recently saw a failed Lebanese movie where one of the staring characters had a date at crave. She was presented with a very nice plate. Tempting, delicious looking, alluring. I had to make an effort and go try that place.

I made reservations for 4 and arrived on time. Crave is located in a quite side road in Monot area. The signage is bright red and its hard for anyone to miss it. The entrance and outer terrace where shielded by a plastic curtain which protected the restaurant patrons from the cold winter wind. Yet it was not a good first impression to be greeted by a muddy and dirty curtain upon arrival.

The restaurant was totally empty and we were the only diners for that evening (Yet we were later joined by another group that was loud and was watching comedy show clips on an iPad-high volume). The waiter seemed bored and bothered by our arrival. I guess he was hoping for a quiet night with no diners and no work. I always thought they depended on tips, thus the more they had diners the more money they make. I guess I was wrong. interior

The restaurant had a nice modern décor, yet it was very dimly lit. We literally needed to use our cellphone lights to be able to read the menu. The table was lit solely by the street light and a red lamp directed to the wall. The bored unprofessional waiter saw us struggling with reading the menu and just smiled and walked away. We moved ourselves to another table which had a suspended light over it and indirect lighting on the wall behind it.

The menu, which had pixelated low quality photos,  was rich and diverse, it was definitely a fusion cuisine restaurant and things started looking promising. We ordered the Tartars from the appetizers, the Arugula and tenderloin, Salsa verde shrimp skewers with artichokes, grilled Salmon fillet, and the apricot stuffed chicken.

What made things weird was the waiter that chuckled idiotically as we were discussing our order and deciding on the dessert. He said that we shouldn’t get over excited because they don’t have everything on the menu.

About 20 minutes into our order (the waiter is behind the bar playing with his phone) a loud siren comes out. The waiter goes into the kitchen comes out laughing and turns off the alarm. Few moments later the siren goes off again. After few times, the waiter manages to shut the alarm. He explained that the chief had burned something in the kitchen and the smoke set off the alarm.

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The food arrived naturally starting with the appetizer plate. It was generous and had three different kinds of tartars. Smoked salmon, marinated salmon, and marinated tuna. Presentation was nice and each of the different tartars came with its own sauce. Flavor wise the dish was less than average. Nothing too special in the salmon and the tuna had a very fishy quality to its taste.CRAVEThe grilled salmon fillet dish was served with some grilled vegetables and rice. The fish was dry and over cooked. Nothing special with the flavors.

CRAVE

Apricot stuffed chicken paillarde. Nice presentation of what I first assumed to be a tortilla wrap with the chicken and apricots inside. The flavors were very interesting and very nice. I would have loved the dish a lot if the wrapping outside wasn’t actually the chicken flattened thin and cooked super dry. I literally soaked my chicken with the sauce to be able to swallow it.

CRAVEArugula and tenderloin. The Menu read the following: Grilled US prime beef, carved on an arugula and cherry tomatoes salad with balsamic dressing. Topped with garlic crisps , our signature potato cake, demi glace reduction and vegetables skewer. Sounds good, no?

Lets start with the presentation, for a $25 cut of meat you kinda expect something better than the pile of meat  piled over some greens. The signature potato cake is actually mashed potatoes (tasted heavenly) and the vegetables skewer was non existent. Moving to the taste, the plate was very good tasting and although lacking in the presentation, it was very well seasoned and done to perfection. The people at crave need to take care of details and not any plate be presented in such a way.

CRAVE

Salsa Verde Shrimps and artichoke Skewers. The menu had an image for this dish. Very tempting indeed. What we received was a sloppy cheaper cafeteria style presentation of a dish. The noodles were literally dumped on the plate with runny sauce under it. Opposite to the other dishes where the presentation was good and the taste was below average, this plate was my favorite that night. It was really flavorful in spite of its unappetizing look.

At the end of our evening , we wanted to have desert. The absent minded waiter was asked by my friend to get us the menu. He went away and came back with the bill. With despair, we just paid and left to another restaurant and had our tea and dessert.

I don’t think I will be visiting Crave any time in the future. It was a huge disappointment.

They need to pay way much more attention to details, definitely change their staff, and add some lights to that dim place.

SHAME.

 

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La Strada Pizzeria, A New Star is Born!

La strada

Few weeks ago a friend of mine told me that a new pizzeria opened in Burj Hammoud and that I should definitely try it. La Strada is Italian for the street. Pizza is indeed considered as street food in Italy and a staple in any Italian home. To us its fast food, to the Italians its tradition where less is more and quality ingredients are what make all the difference.

Any person that ever visited Italy knows that real traditional pizza comes served on a thin crust dough, crunchy, not over chewy, and with minimal toppings. The Americans have succeeded in pushing their variation of the pizza and turning something very delicate to the very symbol of  junk food. (They did the same with sushi, not junk food yet definitely not Japanese)

La Strada

La Strada is a small pizzeria in the main road branching from Burj Hammoud’s main square. We were greeted with a nice manager/owner at the door with a big smile and seated. The big brick stone oven was being served by a round faced chef and a young sous chef. A nice simple interior, although not traditional Italian and more New York pizzeria it made you feel relaxed and ready to eat. f8b065ffd96394787e0c27a89997420c_1421411238_200_thumb

I tried everything on the menu. Yes, everything. The pizzas were generous in size and relatively cheap in price. The menu was handed to us by the manager and we got lost in the many options they had. The options are basic , as should be, yet they are diverse and would sure meet all tastes. They even have a dessert pizza with chocolate on it.

We ordered the Four Cheese Pizza, Basturma Pizza, Margarita Pizza, Pomodoro Pizza, Mushroom Pizza, Goat Cheese Pizza, Vegetarian Pizza.

The crust was spot on perfect. The toppings did not go over the top and were not non existent, just a perfect balance.

Margherita: Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella Cheese. Perfect balance, simple and straight forward. I only wish they would add a few fresh basal leaves to the top before its served.
Pomodoro: Its basically the same as the Margherita pizza yet they added cherry tomatoes to the top and a sprinkle of dry oregano and topped with fresh arugula.  Its very nice and a fresher version of the Margherita pizza.

Mushroom Pizza: Loaded with fresh mushrooms and topped with fresh arugula leaves. One of my favorites.

Four Cheese Pizza: A mix of 4 cheeses topped their tomato sauce. It was very good, however it wasn’t clear what the four cheeses were exactly. I would perhaps have one of the cheeses diced into cubes instead of being shredded with the other cheeses and add more of the blue cheese to make the taste more distinctive and texture more diverse.

Vegetarian (Veggie) Pizza: My favorite between them all. Rich with flavors and ingredients which are not “”loaded”” on the crust. Zuccini, eggplants, mushrooms, green peppers, and olives rested on that tomato sauce. The vegetables were thinly sliced and didn’t overpower each other nor the sauce. A definite must try.

Basterma Pizza: My second favorite. An Armenian twist on the Italian tradition. The spiciness of the basterma compliments the tomato sauce and its balanced by the fresh arugula. I would suggest that they shred the basterma to make eating the pizza a bit easier since when you bite to the slice of pizza you end up with one bite that pulls the basterma off the crust and you eat the remainder of the slice with no toppings.

Goat Cheese: My least favorite of them all. I couldn’t taste the goat cheese on that pizza, so it just seemed like I was eating the Margherita pizza with something odd.

La Strada is here and its here to stay. I really hope they don’t change their prices and they don’t expand too much the manager was talking about adding pastas and sandwiches. If you they maintain the high quality and they manage to keep the prices down , I’m sure they will bloom and stick around for a long time.

Go try it, and as their slogan says : Keep your family close and your pizza closer.

Koi Lounge & Sushi Bar: Its closing soon, not soon enough though!

Just few days ago we received a promotional invitation to test Koi Lounge & Sushi Bar. Its a marketing strategy that most newly launched or suffering businesses do to promote themselves and get the word around. Since Koi isn’t newly launched, I understood that night why it was suffering.

We were welcomed by a very friendly young lady who directed us to our table which happened to be right at the window. This would encourage the passing by patrons of that street to enter the place, after all who wants to dine in an empty sushi place? Except for our group, there was another table occupied also by the venue’s window.

The atmosphere was nice and the music playing was lovely and wasn’t too low nor too high. The drinks were good and the sushi we ordered (the invite included drinks only) was average at best. for some reason, we were sent the check before our order was even processed.

About 2 hours into the night, a friend called us from the bar adjacent and asked us to drop by to say hello, so we did. While there we took a shot and 15mins later got back to Koi.

The owner/manager was standing at the entrance looking angry and offended that we left for a while and took the shot at the neighboring bar. He refused to let us back in to join our friends and requested that we call them and tell them we are outside and we are leaving. I have never been ever ill treated and offended in my life. Isn’t he familiar with the term “bar hopping”. We didn’t even move to another bar, we took the shot with our friend and had every intention to get back and enjoy the reminder of our night at his establishment

Disregarding what is mentioned above and that incident, I can see why Koi is suffering. The manager is rude and the quality of sushi this “Sushi Bar” is serving is over priced and below average. Who would ever want to get back to a place that literally kicked you out without sparing any words.

Koi wont be around for long, I wish its owner better luck running his next business down the toilet.

Shame, really. What was supposed to be an action to promote this business resulted in 10 people bad mouthing the place.

PAUL: From France with Love

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I sat at the corner entrance of Gemmayze with my laptop and started clicking away finishing few things before my day starts. An orgasmic buttery scent quickly got me distracted. A croissant melted in my mouth with a million St.Paul church ringing in my ears with every Edith Piaff song … an express Parisian trip that starts and ends with every bite of that amazingly well baked breakfast suitable for Gods!! I wish I can meet that PAUL guy personally and French kiss him for this place. I’m addicted and totally in love!!!

PAUL  is basically a fast casual/Bakery-café,  with a menu including several varieties of bread , bagels, loaves, and muffins, cold sandwiches, hot panini, salads, soups, cakes, croissants, soups, quiches, tarts, crepes,  and eggs. They also have tea, wine, beer, mineral water, soft drinks and coffee-based drinks. What more can you ask for! (10/10 for the Food Variety)

The baker’s assistant uniform the waiters wear is very nostalgic and charming. They are always super friendly and very helpful. Although this time I had to ask for sugar two times and the check was very late to arrive. I have noted also on many occasions the waiters being loud and disturbingly chatty among each other. (7.5/10 for Service)

The clientele varies in age and is very diverse, yet it seems that PAUL has succeeded in attracting a certain level of food lovers. That gave the place a special identity and status among the other eateries. You would rarely find a loud group or the annoying crowd that would ruin your dining experience.

Although prices are not particularly cheap, they are not ridiculously over-priced. You are paying for a good meal, and that is what you receive. (9/10 for Value)

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Normally I’d count till ten and think twice and thrice before I order an omelet in a restaurant. I decided to go out of my usual comfort zone and go for a water fried whites only omelet.  It’s a very tricky variation, one mistake in the kitchen and the chef will deliver a plate of rancid eggs. To my delight, I was presented with a fluffy cloud of egg goodness! Just cooked to perfection. Freshly ground pepper was added by the waiter and I indulged myself in a nice feast. The croissant was light, flaky and airy, with a tinge of crisp bite. As a die-hard bread lover, the baker’s basket is always enticing with a quartet of breads (sesame flute, plain flute, country bread and 6 cereal breads) alongside tubs of aromatic French butter and jam.(9.5/10 for the Food)

PAUL is a definite must visit. Chapeau bas pour PAUL et  bon appétit pour vous

Olio: Pizza, REAL Pizza!!

It was my birthday; excuse me for not saying how old I am. My cake said I was twenty two and who am I to argue with something as truthful as a cream filled dessert??
A group of my best friends were all gathered and waiting for me to celebrate that glorious day. One of them was supposedly out of town and surprised us all (I’m looking at my gym and clubbing buddy :)).

After a short stroll in Gemmayze, we ended up walking in into Olio. Funny enough, we all secretly felt like Italian all along and were too polite to say anything about it.

A pizza is a pizza. Well, we aren’t kids anymore — and we definitely are not in college anymore. We all remember those days, getting the cheapest and biggest pizza possible. As a kid, I always thought, the more toppings a pizza had, the better it was — all the meats, all the veggies. Don’t even get me started on the crust — I didn’t believe in it and I didn’t eat it. Now that I am older and wiser, my take on pizza is a little different. I am all about fine ingredients, and the crust is the main event. Yes, I am talking about Neapolitan pizza, the real stuff.

Neapolitan pizzas are made very simply. The crust is thin, yet tender, as the dough is very fragrant of yeast. Toppings include only the simple ones: garlic, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and olive oil. You will rarely find a Neapolitan pizza with the works. Traditionally, Neapolitan pizzas are eaten with a knife and fork, hence, they are not sliced into slices. Walking to Olio, Gemmayze, Neapolitan style pizza is what I came for, and that is what I got.

Olio has a very urban Italian feel to it. Which made it’s intrior stand out compared to the other restaurants which always seem to aim for a rustic rural traditional feel. I understand the nostalgic notion behind that, yet Olio’s interior was a bit of a fresh breeze of air and a nice change. I loved the fact that I can see the chief working and preparing our pizzas (9/10 for the interior)

It was late at night and almost 2 hours into closing time. Yet, the staff at Olio made us feel very much welcomed. They were energetic and very attentive to our needs and the whole “we are celebrating a birthday” chaos. Our waiter was super patient and very friendly. The service was simply flawless. (10/10 for the service)

As I have already mentioned, pizza was the main attraction. Although Olio serves a lot of pasta and risotto dishes, we were on a mission.. Mission Neopolitan. Those were a couple of our choices for the night:

The pizza “Salmone” had Smoked Salmon, Mozzarella, Ricotta Cream, Dill, and Capers. My ultimate favorite pizza. Very rich and subtle flavors, everything was well balanced to perfectly compliment the flavor of the salmon.

The pizza “Genovese” for my vegetarian friend. It had Pesto Sauce, Eggplant, Mozzarella Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Cheese, and Cherry Tomato. Pesto with anything is heaven, the mixes of cheeses and the pesto just made a match in heaven.

Pizza “Margherita”. It had mozzarella, basil, extra virgin olive oil. At first look, it seems very simple, but this is where the pizza shines. The flavors are perfect and fresh on its own, but together, they make a perfectly flavored pizza. I made sure to have some basil with every bite — the floral essence gave the pizza a nice rounded out flavor and finished it off nicely.

In all our pizza choices the crust was crispy, yet tender with a nice chew. The mozzarella is actual mozzarella, not the fake partial skim milk you find on all other pizzas.

Olio makes amazing pizza. Their ingredients are fresh and authentic. Nothing is left for second best. Every pizza is made with care and the taste shows. They really managed to impress me, with moderately priced wine and beers available, it was an affordable dinner. The pizza was definitely the star — you can come here and not have a pizza. Along with some of the best and authentic Napoletana style pizzas around, you are eating something worth eating.

I didn’t mind the food stealing the attention that night. It was well worth it.

Thank you my friends and Olio for giving me a nice dining experience on my Birthday! (9/10 for the entire dining experience)

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P.F Chang’s : When Americans Cook Chinese RIGHT!!

 

On the 29th of March 1974, to the east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province a group of farmers were digging a water well around 1.6 km east of the Qin Emperor’s tomb mound at Mount Li, China. They stumbled into what could be easily called an artistic wonder of the world, an entire army made of terracotta clay. The figures varied in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. And here at the entrance of P.F Chang’s at ABC Ashrafieh Mall stood an over sized replica of one of those Terracotta horses. A genius work-of-art that wowed me in china and still managed to wow me here in Beirut.  Proud, majestic, and strong.

 

For you who are not familiar with this restaurant, P.F Chang’s is an American Chinese themed Bistro. You read it correctly people, the best Chinese restaurant in Beirut is actually American! Our newly opened branch comes as an addition to over 204 world wide branches.

 

After sampling it in Dubai Mall a couple of years ago, I was very thrilled to know it was finally opening in Beirut. We were a party of five, an interesting group of serious hardcore food lovers.

The interior was very modern and warm, lavish yet not pretentious. The space offered many private corners for your more intimate dinners. The lighting was not too dim and not too bright. A perfect balance which makes you comfortable enough to relax in a warm surrounding and still see your food. An out doors open smoking area and a smoke free indoors. The restaurant was buzzing with life, always a good sign. (9/10 for the interior and mood)

 

The hostess greeted us with a nice warm smile (I’m a sucker for a good smile) and led us to our designated table. The waiter approached us with his very well poised manner and welcoming smile and offered us the menu. The trademark black uniform with red trim, delightful. We were very engaged in our discussion and debate over what to eat, it didn’t seem to bother our very patient waiter. I just hate a waiter that keeps asking if you are ready to order when it’s so very clear that you didn’t even get the chance to read the menu! Another waiter approached us and demonstrated how to prepare the P.F Chang’s special sauce (a mix of vinegar, hot wasabi mustard, soy sauce, and hot chilly oil). The demonstration was so theatrical and un-necessary, yet it added a touch of humor to our dining experience. (9/10 for the service)

 

Our choices for this meal were as follows:

Crab Wontons which were simply a creamy mixture of Crab meat, green bell pepper, and green onions wrapped in wantons and fried. Anything fried tastes good. Try something fried wrapped with dough and served with a sweet plum sauce. Heavenly.

Dynamite Shrimps and Dynamite Scallops. Again, FRIED! Juicy shrimps and Scallops made crispy and served in a big martini glass with a hot zesty sauce. Just delightful.

Crispy Honey Chicken, and Crispy Honey Shrimps. Two dishes that are lightly battered, fried and served over a crispy bed of noodle covered with a honey based sauce. Perfection.

Kung Pao chicken. It was chunks of chicken breast stir fried with peanuts, small hot red chilli peppers and scallions. Although the chicken was tender and moist,  it was a sauce-less dish. Very odd.

Mangolian Beef. My least favorite. It was a Tender flank steak which was wok-cooked then tossed with scallions and garlic. It was very dry and too salty for my taste.

Lo Mein Noodles. A simple yet very balanced combination of egg noodles, vegetables and black mushrooms. It was so good that we asked for another portion. One order was just too little to share!

(8/10 for the food)

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The menu is very rich and full of choices that would definitely please any taste and palate. I’m sure that anyone would at least find one dish that would please his/her taste buds. And since they are an American chain, their menu has been really adapted to suit a more of an international taste. Their menu managed to offer wine, specialty drinks, Asian beers, sake, cappuccino and espresso.

I found it very remarkable that they even included some gluten free options! How smart and thoughtful.

For me P.F Chang’s (although a bit pricier than your average Chinese restaurant) was a very good dining experience. They managed to raise the status of the notoriously cheap heavy cuisine to a more elite status and a very enjoyable dining occurrence. P.F Chang’s, Kudos and welcome to Lebanon!

(9/10 for the entire dining experience)

 

I see why that horse is standing with royal arrogance at the entrance, those damn Americans made the Chinese proud.

 

 

Gustav: When Gods Demand Dessert

Nigella Lawson is a British celebrity cook made famous by her show on the food network. When she first aired her show in the US, critics created the term “Food Porn”. I think the guys at Gustav Innovation Sucree managed to redefine that term and acquired it as their own!

Sensational endless list of desserts that starts with simple cakes, tarts, ice cream sandwiches, special profiteroles brisée, special order cakes, Buches and never end with surprises and innovations that keep on coming.

In a small two story patisserie they launched their establishment. A daring location which is hidden, cramped, and always crowded.

Few days ago I walked in to Hamra’s best little hidden secret with a group of friends. We each dove into the many options on display and got lost in endless possibilities. I drowned in my own drool. I can’t help it, I go stupid when I’m in that place and I act like a little boy in a candy shop. Oh wait….I kind of am in a dessert wonderland!!

Followed by the very pungent vanilla and fresh baking aroma, a very polite and calm -may I add VERY patient- young man welcomed us as we entered. Although he was occupied with other customers he still made the time to greet us and ask us to look around till he is ready to serve us.  Simple down to earth unsophisticated décor, very unpretentious and real. An open kitchen which is buzzing with life.

I ordered the Pistachio Cherry cake this time, they pet name it Pitchou. Ok, that’s both sweet and cute!! Let me describe this work of culinary art. The Morello Cherries they import from Belgium and the Sicilian Pistachio combination brings a creamy wooden flavor of the pistachios nourished by a southern Italian sun, to a dark sour cherry from Belgium. The creaminess is punched through by the sourness of cherry flavor, while the Felchlin Swiss chocolate rounds the whole experience and brings it to familiar grounds. Have you ever heard the term, “Death by Chocolate”? Ok… imagine that you died and reached the land of eternal bliss and happiness, this dessert is what you will be served there!! “After-Life by Chocolate”

Pitchou is one of the many new interesting combinations that they have lined up at Gustav.

The other cake I have tried was the Pavé. This is a unique cake with very special properties. It’s a Sugar-less Flour-less cake specially designed for people suffering from diabetes, and celiac disease. Thus people looking for desserts that are gluten free and sugar free can find a rich dark Swiss chocolate cake with all the pleasure and none of the inconveniences traditional cakes can cause them.  However of course the pleasure of pure chocolate are a common ground to all sweet lovers, with all the virtues of quality chocolate can bring to our body, mind and soul.

We left Gustav with an authentic pleasurable sugar rush. The costly imported pure ingredients explain the prices which we paid with no remorse what so ever.

Gustav is a definite must visit and an experience everyone should have over and over and over again……

I rate this place as a solid TEN.

I was informed that they were moving their kitchen to a bigger space and remodeling (I’m sure I will miss the fresh baking aroma). However this will mean that they will have a bigger seating area for us to sit and enjoy their godly delights.