Casa akil, casa service, casa ambience…

October 30, 2010

… w Casablanca. Located on the second floor of an old Lebanese house in Ein Mreisseh, this place opened back in 1997, and Deedee’s been going there since. I have to give kudos to Johnny & Cyn Farah, consistent in food quality and standards… and you certainly pay for it.

The staff is well trained and most have been around for a long time, so that makes a difference in the ‘knowing your diners’ domain. Mind you, they’re not perfect, but pretty good for Leboland.

I like having my business lunches there cuz the sunlight enlivens the place and the view to the Grand Bleu is mervellieux. The other day Deedee O.D.’ed with lunch and dinner at Casablanca… ma ‘am bithadda!

The wine list is not too long and has a well balanced selection. The usual European choices (French, Italian, Spanish), and a medley of New World wines. Deedee blesses the list. Lately I’ve had whites, the Sancerre is fresh and crisp and the Gavi di Gavi is wunderbar, as you’ve read several times in Deedee’s previous blogs. It hasn’t been time for red yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s one thing I really enjoyed the other day… Casa actually makes a bloody good Bloody Mary! OK, it was missing horse radish, but “Honey, whatever you put in there, just write it down cuz you nailed it!”

Their meals are preceded by a plate of olive oil with dried fresh zaatar sprinkled in the middle.

Deedee enjoys the “Lunch Box” for lunch. Her other favorites are: Summer Rolls (shoo refreshing and light); Calamari Salt & Pepper; and Grilled Octopus. There was a delicious Unagi Roll on special the other day.

The Organic Greens salad is a crisp combo of peculiar leaves straight from Johnny’s garden; the pasta dishes are generally fun; and the Stir fried seafood with veggies was palatable… inno btittékal.

How bizarre, though, I just realized that I haven’t had meat there in a while!

For dessert, I salivate over their cheesecake… some like the créme brulée, but it doesn’t really do it for me.

They always have distinctive art on rotation. I liked the four Maboumga’s on display. That crazy man from Congo really brings out the twisted in me.

Casablanca’s open Tuesday through Sunday (yaani closed Monday). Sundays they serve brunch and you’d better book in advance. For reservations: 03-856111 or 01-369334


Simple, straight to the point, and…

October 22, 2010

… no messing around. That’s exactly what Le Relais de l’Entrecôte is all about. You get wine, salad, steak and fries… if you want more, they let you have a second serving… w khalas!

The salad is comprised of a few iceberg lettuce leaves, whole and ‘spooning’ (yaani, layered on top of each other) drizzled with a mustard vinaigrette and sprinkled with walnuts. Simple, good, and a perfect starter to the meat galore. Tasted just right… can you tell?! (sorry ma lahha’it sawwira)

AEN and I had that with their house wine, which is different from the one they used to carry, and much better, if Deedee may say so. Château de Saurs, medium bodied, balanced and served chilled, this ruby red is fine with the meat if you don’t want to spend too much money and go all out. Yaani, price quality ratio is good. The palate is red berries with slight cinnamon in the finish.

You know what you’re getting, so the only decision you have to make in this place is: Shall I have a second serving? and the answer usually is: Yes!

Reliable and consistent… and reasonable in price, Le Relais de l’Entrecôte is on the corner of Monot St. and Abdel Wahab el Inglizi St. For reservations: 01-332087/8

Something smelled fishy…

October 10, 2010

…and Okaïbé was it! Last Sunday, Deedee left her fan club back in Batroun, and on the way stopped at the seafood vendors in Okaïbé to pick up a couple dozen of those sweet little scallops when she found a bunch of crab sittin’ there screamin’ “Deedee, take us with you!” So I did and they really enjoyed that hot tub I made for them with lemon chunks, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and some whole pepper. Deedeelightful! Grab them while they’re in season.

This Sunday, I was in the mood for fish, so I snatched away that gorgeous 800 kg redish amber Loukkoz Sakhré (rock fish) or Hafshé as the gang calls it (thanks T for the tip). So turns out Loukkoz may actually be Grouper rather than Sea Bass. There’s a debate going on about that, so if you know the answer, puhleez enlighten us. Anyhoo, Deedee thinks the sakhré rocks! It’s much meatier, in a chunky sort of way, than the ramlé (sand fish).

Decided to bake it, so chopped coriander and garlic, shredded ginger, lemongrass, and red chili pepper, then added lemon slices. Put some inside the fish, some on the outside and bake for 20-30 mins,  depending on the size of the fish.

On the side: Basmati rice, with a herbal concoction to add aroma (bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and cloves)… I had grated some lemon rind which I forgot to put with the fish, so threw that in with the rice and it gave a great kick!!

When serving, drizzle some soy sauce on top of the fish. It culminates the dish with an Asian motif.

Deedee literally screwed open a bottle of Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. This wine, from Vintage in Saifi Village, is a light greenish yellow and smells of citrus and some vanilla. It is round and full in your mouth tasting of both citrus and passion fruit. A very suitable partner to Deedee’s Hafshé à la Asiatique.

I totally understand…

October 9, 2010

…how Eve must’ve felt. I mean, being banned from Eden sucks! I don’t get it? It seems there’s always an “Eve Convention” there, but I must’ve fallen off that mailing list. Was it the mangoes I ate? Should I have given them away to the less privileged? The mango-less? I just hope at least the serpent is missing me.

Now that I got that off my chest, let me tell you about the two bottles of Herederos del Marqués de Riscal 2009 – a Spanish white wine from Rueda made mostly with  Verdejo grapes and some Viura – that Cha got from Enoteca the other day. This straw yellow colored white has a very floral nose with passion fruit. Well rounded with a full body, the palate is passion fruit, citrus and the finish is close to unripe apricots.

A pleasant young wine that went purrfectly with the Stir Fried Shrimp & Romaine Lettuce. This time Madame Mrad didn’t have coriander, so basil and sprouts subbed for it. In a separate pan, sautée the shrimp with garlic and ginger.  Then in a wok drizzle olive & sesame oil, add ginger, garlic, toss in the lettuce and sprouts until slightly wilted, then dump in the shrimp. Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, a tiny bit of fish sauce, sesame seeds and season with pepper. Ékhir shee, throw in the shredded basil so it doesn’t cook and stays fresh and crisp. Madame Mrad’s having so much fun playing around with this dish and giving it a different twist every time. Never a dull moment, n’est ce pas?

Ta’a w la tiji… Oh well, I still have hope that there’s an apple (or ashta) ripening on a tree waiting for me to pick it.

Fout ‘azzaroubé w ‘a eedak-ishmél…

October 8, 2010

… you’ll find Dany’s Bar. Around shi 3 years now, Dany’s was one of the first to venture into the Hamra bar scene. Cocktails are good and Deedee approves cuz she knows the bartenders and where they’ve gotten their training. Sometimes the shabéb are a little too ambitious, like the time they made this Watermelon Martini, but considering how hot it was, the cocktail was quite a refreshing initiative.

Open champagne is Lanson Black Label. Not a bad choice, this non-vintage brut is made of the usual pinot noir & meunier, and chardonnay. It’s strong on the bubbles and crisp. Fun to drink a couple of glasses, but I wouldn’t have more.

There’s a live DJ (or DJette) every night. If you’re not into smoke, you can seat yourself outside on the tiny stools. Downstairs is another small “underground music” section where they’ve had a few fun gigs over the past year. I saw three of the Mashou’ Leila guys jam there one night and loved it. The Leila guys get it…

Now, even though Dany’s has a few sandwiches for you to feed on, I’d make sure I’ve had something to eat before I go there, if you know what I mean. Yaani, hashi msareen.

Dany’s is open all day and has WiFi, so you can hang out there with your laptop… or iPhone… or android! No need to reserve. Deedee’s favorite time there is in the afternoon/early evening for a drink to unwind after work. Késkon!

killo l’ha’ ‘at-tillién…

October 6, 2010

…or so we like to think, bas I have to say this time bayyadoua.

Last week I went to Osteria il Mattarello in Gemmayze with B and Z. We were very warmly greeted by the waiter who Deedee knew from another place, therefore, she figured service was going to be good. Even the friendly Italian chef came to welcome us and recommend a couple of dishes. Benvenuti!

For starters we had the Beef Carpaccio – delicious and raw (hint hint), then the Oven Baked Scallops that came breaded and served on a shell – a little cliché and, personally, I like my scallops raw or seared… yaani, this dish didn’t go down too well with Deedee. 

For mains we had the Pumpkin Ravioli – on the sweet side with sage to give it a kick… nice touch! We also had the Seafood Linguini which consisted of a fun combo of fresh seafood in a light white wine sauce… just as it should be.

Alla fine, we had the Crudiola pizza topped with parma ham, cherry tomatoes, rocca and parmesan shavings… yaani this was a fabulously deedeelightful pizza that hit the spot in terms of comfort food to end the fiesta.

Vino wise, we went for the Villa Rocca Soave 2008. You can’t go wrong with a light, crisp bottle of Soave. The nose is fruity with melon, vanilla and light oak. On the palate, we got melon and pink grapefruit, with a smooth almond creamy finish.

Overall service was very pleasant. I’ll definitely go back to Osteria il Mattarello again to try some more of their menu items. That will be test # 2. For reservations: 70-898987 or 01-570075 open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner… so what’s with the cheesy #’s?

Niyyalkon shakilkon mitl el ajanéb…

October 2, 2010
… said the old man to Deedee and AEN when they walked into the “boutique hotel in the making” that he was guarding… haram, ‘ando WIC (yaani Western Inferiority Complex!)
We were exploring the old city in Damascus and checked out 12 of the ’boutique hotels’ that have mushroomed in the old city over the past four years. Some hotels are done with style, others trying too hard, then you’ve got some that are just ostentatious. The following could be worth a try: Beit Mamlouka (the first one and owned by a Syrian architect who was inspired while writing a book about old Damascene houses; 8 rooms); Beit Rumman (recently opened; 6 chic rooms; quaint courtyard); Talisman 1 & 2 (the fanciest and priciest of them all; large couryard with small pool to cool off in; rooms are furnished with style; and Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt stayed there!); Beit Rose (small courtyard, 6 simple rooms, down to earth… probably where Deedee would stay). Also possibly worth trying: Hanania (7 rooms – bathrooms not too cool, iron beds, small courtyard); Dar Al Noor (opened in April 2010, medium sized courtyard, 11 rooms – some are over decorated and verging on tacky); there are lots more, bas khalas bi kaffé.

As for the grub, I wanted typical Damascene food so one night we had Hirrak Isba’ou (lentils, Quadrettini – flat square pasta, coriander, toasted bread, garlic and fried onions), a Vegetarian Kibbé stuffed with spinach or swiss chard & onions, Fatteh bi Hummous (a warm dish of  fried bread and chick peas topped with yoghurt and drizzled with pine seeds cooked in lard), Fattit Makdous (small eggplants stuffed with meat, some tomato pasty sauce, topped with yoghurt).  We also had Kibbé Nayyé (raw meat) with chopped condiments. A traditionally scrumptious meal! I fell in love with the Arak serving tray, smart and practicle, with round holes for the glasses on the rim area and a bigger one in the middle for the ice bucket! Shoo hal moufaja’a el mahdoumé?!

Can you believe the Syrians have banned smoking in restaurants? Well, “Homsi” style… yaani some places allow hubbly bubblies?!?! But in general, they got the right idea.

Went to the Four Seasons Hotel, where the woman security guard was very friendly and polite. AEN wanted to show me their XO Cigar Lounge. They banned smoking in the Cigar Lounge too, therefore… there was no one there!

Their wine list was quite impressive, so was their selection of malts and grappas/eau de vie. The sommelier they hired to put the list together knew his stuff. My favorite part was the wide selection of champagne, and to top it off, they carried most of them in half bottles!! Now how smart is that in champagne upselling!

We ordered a bottle of Beronia Rioja Reserva 2005 from Spain: a tannic deep red wine made of 90% tempranillo grapes. It carried aromas of nuts and toasted bread within its oakiness. Gentle velvety on the palate, we got deep dark red berries and ripe fruit, and a little vanilla. This bottle was sexy in a smoky way, with minerals lingering around till the finish. Good call AEN!

All good things come to an end… and they sure did when we ordered a plate of assorted cheese to go along with our Spanish Rioja. To make a long story short, the only thing that was missing on the cheese platter was La Vache qui Rit and Picon!! Naza’touha shabaab!

Kudos to the Syrians for preserving their old city… or maybe it was by accident cuz they didn’t have much of a choice ;-)!! But seriously, at least they have an old city with an authentic oriental character. Ahlein yaamo! Ma tzourounaa?