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)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

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)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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.