PAUL: From France with Love

PAUL-Big-Logo-Edited

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)

 Paul-Bakers-Basket%20

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

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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.

Enab: From the Heart of Mar Mekhael to My Heart

They say that it is of bad form to say yummy over food. Excuse me, but YUMMY!!

For months I’ve been having the urge to visit this relatively new place in the heart of artistic district of Mar Mkhael. For months I’ve been failing. Few days ago I finally got the chance to do so, and boy was it so worth the wait.

A renovated old traditional Beiruty house with art-deco furniture that gives you flashbacks of Sabah’s old movies with Farid Al-Atrash.  A fresh vegetable cart welcomes you at the top of modern urban entrance. A young hostess with a bright big smile greets and shows you your seating options. The place is packed yet she smiles warmly and says: “I would never send anyone back; we can always manage finding you a place.”

I walked in and rested in my comfortable seat in a nice corner that was midway between the interior side of the restaurant and the spacious terrace. Moments after I sat down, a waiter came with a welcoming gesture and presented a creatively designed menu. It resembled a series of advertisements that escaped the sixties and survived in a way to reach this era. Nostalgia at its best and a fuzzy warm feeling creeps in to your heart and makes you feel more comfortable. With its creative interior design it can accommodate groups of two and groups of a 40! (10/10).

The crowd is very diverse and of different age ranges. The place is spacious, so although the restaurant was literally full, it was not crowded. It was buzzing with life, yet not noisy. I loved that! I hate dead dull restaurants where people are just…eating.

Traditional Lebanese cuisine. I have to admit, not creative yet very rich with many options. Fattoush, Hummos, Pastrami Cheese Rolls, and Grilled Kebab, that was my dinner of choice for the night.

 

The very attentive waiter wrote my selection carefully and disappeared into the crowds. I observed him… elegant yet not very creative costume (extra points and a wink for Café Blanc and Babel for their creativity in creating their waiter’s costumes), long dirty nails (excuse me but that’s nasty), good manners, very polite, very attentive. (7/10)

Literally 5 minutes after my order was taken, my Fattoush, Hummos, and rolls arrived!! (kudos 10/10)

Freshly delivered from the kitchen of heaven with a basket of warm freshly baked Lebanese bread! Orgasmic freshness, crispy vegetables, perfect dressing.

On of the things I must make clear about myself, I’m very anal when it comes to fried foods. I understand that they were dipped in oil at some point, yet I hate receiving oily food. Fry them correctly, you will avoid that problem, and draw a smile on my face.

The pastrami cheese rolls drew a BIG smile on my face.

A crispy exterior with a soft melting heart that melts your heart along with it. A perfect balance between the saltiness of the pastrami and the milky flavor of the oozing cheese.  Aziz was smiling with satisfaction.

Conveniently 10 minutes later, my kebabs arrive.  The smoky aroma tickled my nostrils and teased my salivary gland. It was juicy, succulent, and seasoned to perfection. I would have died happily right then and there.  (10/10)

That Lebanese feast couldn’t have ended in any way other than a cup of hot black tea.  I noticed the waiters carrying around small traditional style tea pots. I requested one from my long nailed and well-mannered waiter. He arrived 10 minutes later (more time than it took him to get my freshly fried rolls, I guess boiling water needs time) with a cup of hot water and a Lipton teabag. I was disappointed. He later explained that those pots were exclusively for green tea. I wonder why it was hard for him to explain that when I specifically requested a POT of tea. My guess is that he just messed up my order and didn’t want to send the tea back to the kitchen. It wasn’t a major issue, but I felt cheated for some reason (8/10)

Enab is a true Lebanese restaurant with great food and affordable prices. It was a lovely experience which I’m eager to have again really soon.  A definite must visit.

Enab, as a master in Lebanese Cuisine, has clearly deserved his place in Mar Mekhael among his peers of designers and artists.

I rate the food as 10/10 and the entire dining experience as 9/10.

Excuse me, I have to listen to Sabah’s song “Aziz ya Aziz” now.

Margherita: My Dining Hell, Take Your Hard Earned Money Elsewhere

I entered Margherita’s new branch in the mall ABC, Ashrafieh with positive vibes and high hopes. I was met with an establishment so astoundingly grim you want to congratulate the kitchen on its incompetence. Mabrouk, no one can do it like you did. You managed to change a fine Italian dining experience to what resembles a cheap Chinese food take out at best.

During my daily route to my office in Gemmayze, I have been passing by Margherita for what must be years now. I have always admired Margherita’s trademark window display of fresh ripe red tomatoes and the occasional deep violet aubergine. I heard so many mixed reviews about it, yet I never got the chance to try it personally. So naturally I felt really ecstatic to know that it opened in ABC and that I will finally get the chance to try it after watching a movie. The movie ended and I hassled and made my way to my guilty night treat.
There it stood with its trademark window display and traditional Italian interior. Having visited Italy on numerous occasions, it felt nice to sit there even though there is a dim voice at the back of your head reminding you that you are still in a mall and not in a small pizzeria in Tuscany.

My Italian nostalgic experience sadly ended right there and then, at the entrance admiring the décor. We were seated at the table of our choice and handed our menus. All good up till now…. Wait, I’m just getting warmed up!

Three minutes after receiving our menus, a handsome young waiter approached our table with a smile, which soon changed to a snarky grin. He gave us a look which said, “You seem lost, let me help you” and then he said, “You seem lost, let me help you”.
Seriously???
Who does he think he is talking to?? Where was he when not only I visited Italy, when I worked in a small Italian bistro as a part of my Italian experience! How can a waiter approach a client which such a condescending attitude. My friend and I both glared at each other with disbelief and chose to ignore his attitude and to try enjoy the promised Italian feast. Less than two minutes later, the handsome young waiter approached us again with his pompous smile and asked if we were SURE we didn’t need help. I assured the young man with a calm voice and a warm smile that we are doing well.

The menu was versatile and very inviting. Everything sounded great and I wished I could try everything in it. Our choices were simple, a Risotto dish with lemon sauce and shrimps, and a Calzone Margherita. The young gentleman took our order and explained in un-necessary detail the two choices of water they carried. Much appreciated, just get me a bottle of Soha.

Like any fine Italian restaurant, came a basket of complimentary Italian bread. Just delightful and light. The coarse salt just bursts in your mouth with mini explosive flavor attacks. I was disappointed that I was never offered any extra virgin olive oil or balsamic vinegar, yet it was not such a big issue compared to what I had to deal with later.

My risotto arrived. Where is my risotto? With an $18 price tag, I expected to actually eat and not just taste the risotto! I understand a small portion gourmet meal, but looking at that sad grim plate made me giggle. At the end of the day, risotto is just pretentious RICE!! Before I even touched my plate, I noticed how unclean it was. It was full of fingerprints and smudges. That was appalling. I called my handsome smiling waiter and expressed my feeling towards my smudgy plate. His reply was more appalling. “No, we wipe the dishes well before presenting them”. What does that mean? I’m blind? I’m lying? I smudged it myself? He then grabbed my plate and went back with it to the kitchen. Few minutes later, arrived my friends Calzone. They say a Burger with any other name is still a Burger. I say a Manou’she with any other name is just expensive. I do admit, they present well. The Calzone was an elegant looking generous piece of cheese pie with a coat of velvety rich tomato and basil sauce. The Calzone itself was very bland and rather tasteless, yet the rich tomato sauce saved it from being a total insult to the taste-buds.

Hurray, my risotto arrived again. Yuck, my risotto arrived again.

A single smudge few centimeters wide circled my plate as the kitchen staff wiped it with a rag and sent it to me. An atrocious sight. I’m sure that Queen Margherita of Savoy would have felt so offended by such an establishment holding her name. She turned in her coffin.

The waiter automatically noticed the shock on my face directly as the plate left his hand in front of me. He asked why I look so disturbed. I simply requested that he looks at my plate. He presented his charming smile (a shy version now), took the plate and headed to the kitchen again.

Damn it, I’m hungry.

The floor staff manager approached me and asked me to be patient, and promised to take care of the situation. I didn’t explain the situation. I guess he must have read my mind or eyes. Yes, some people can do that!!

Rejoice rejoice, here comes the risotto again.. and in a clean plate. I’m impressed it took them only three trials to serve such a simple dish!!

Oh wait, remember how I said that the portion was amusingly small?? Ok, they managed to make it smaller now!! Don’t ask. I didn’t comment. It was getting drained; I guess it was the hunger and my low blood sugar levels. The risotto was good! Yet again, I wish I ate it rather than just sample it. Half way through my plate (that’s about 2 mins after I received it) the manager arrived with her warm kind smile and requested to know if everything was up to my liking. I said that all was fine (I repeat, at that point I just wanted to eat). She wondered why my risotto was kept going back. I briefly expressed how the plate was smudgy with greasy finger prints. She smiled and said, “Well, I’m glad you finally are enjoying your meal.”

Mmmmm, did she study management? Well, I studied marketing and Public Relations. That’s not a reply your client expects.

My dining experience came to an end at Margherita, and I was ready to leave.

My advice to all of you, don’t go to Margherita. Keep not going. Keep not going a lot!!

I rate the food as a generous 7/10 and the total experience as 4/10.

Shame.