Tfaddalou ‘al terrace…

February 4, 2012

…said Madame Mrad to Deedee and her guests. It had been ages since they’d been chez Madame Mrad, so she went out of her way to pamper them.

Warnink arrived with his signature bottle of pink bubbly (he went for Veuve Clicquot Rose this time), and a big bag of bread (BBB) from Bread Republic Bakery in Furn el Hayek, Ashrafieh. Shah came lugging 2 huge boxes of 961 beer! “Yee, merci kteer! La shoo azzabit halak?!” One box of Porter, a creamy chocolaty smoothness that makes me melt and left with coffee lurking on my palate. The other was a fresh batch of Red Ale, that brilliant amber colored ale with its signature refreshing splash in the first gulp ending in just the right bitterness. Zouzy strolled in with Oslo Ice cream. They have great flavors, and their vanilla will be the right companion with dessert.

Futurine, a UFO from planet Gluttonus, had heard about Madame Mrad’s cooking and Deedee’s gastronomic nonesenses. She put together a “Culinary Task Force” that she dragged with her onto her spaceship and flew to Leboland to observe their techniques. She was beamed onto Madame Mrad’s terrace with a bottle of red wine in one hand, home made guava jam in another, debs el rimman in her third hand and a bottle of henn bles liqueur (yaani, yellow holly berries) in the fourth hand! (Futurine is an alien after all, so she can have as many hands as I want!! ;-))

Her task force beamed in next. These bizarre aliens were ready to observe and document Madame Mrad and Deedee’s every move. One alien’s eye was big and round like a camera lense that ogled Madame Mrad the whole time. The other alien’s head lit up like a torch, so bright you needed sunglasses every time you turned his way! The third guy had long antennae for ears that enabled him hear things miles away.

Deedee and Madame Mrad winked at one another and smiled coyly… they were ready to put on their show.

The guests were served an apperitif, including Pimms & 7up with a splash of lemon juice, garnished with cucumber and orange slices; Campari & Soda also with a dash of lemon juice and garnished with an orange slice; and 961 beer while they nibbled on Boursin stuffed Mushrooms. These are easy to make and taste deedeelightful: choose bite size mushrooms, remove the stems and stuff the hole with Boursin cheese. The regular (garlic) flavor has enough spice and aroma in it. You could also substitute the boursin with Feta or Chevre and mix with fresh zaatar, rosemary, lemon rind, basil, I mean, just go wild with it! Then throw these babies in a pre-heated oven and let them cook for about 10 minutes until the juices have dried out (check on them regularly, akeed).

Madame Mrad announced that everyone is to be seated, “Tfaddalou ‘al tawleh“. Lunch was about to be served. She had prepared a coursed meal for them.

They started with a Carrot Ginger Orange soup… with a twist: she added pumpkin, since ’tis the season. The pumpkin gave the soup a thick hearty texture. Drizzled with coconut cream and served with a large parmesan cheese crouton.

Next came her famous Sauteed Greens with Shrimp, a mixture of chard and romaine lettuce tossed in a blend of sesame & olive oil, chopped garlic, ginger and chili; drizzled with Soy Sauce and lemon juice, season with pepper (no salt – the soy sauce should be salty enough), and throw in a handful of chopped fresh coriander at the end. Sautee the shrimp in a separate pan with garlic, ginger and a splash of white wine, then add to the green mix and sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds. Toss and serve.

The first two courses were served with a crisp Italian white wine from Enoteca: Villa Antinori Bianco 2010 from Tuscany:  straw-yellow color with aromas of flowers in the nose and a fresh crispy finish.

Next Madame Mrad took out the carefully carved Lamb Chops that she’d been marinating overnight in mulberry sauce (sharab ‘l tout), a dash of balsamic vinegar, rosemary, chopped garlic, dried chilis, salt and pepper. She grilled them in a pan on a high fire so they were crisp on the outside but medium/medium-rare on the inside. In the meantime, she opened a bottle of Chateau Qanafar 2008 and decanted it, while her famous Rosemary Potatoes were baking in the oven. She slices her potatoes like chips, chops garlic and onion, drizzles olive oil, salt, pepper, and lots of rosemary – the nice curly ones which she picks from the small bushes that grow near her building.  Throw these in the oven and keep tossing so they get nice and golden crispy.

The Chateau Qanafar 2008 (which you can find at Bread Republic in Hamra) was an excellent match with the Lebanese lamb. A dark burgundy red that’s been aged in oak, this new local favorite of Deedee’s is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and the rest Syrah. The nose develops from red berries to dark cinnamon and pine forrest, ending with a ripe prune and cocoa finish.

We took a short break while Madame Mrad tossed the salad she had prepared: Fennel & Orange salad with dry roasted Pine Nuts. The combo of radish, orange, cilantro and fennel is refreshing and elegant. Toss in a handful of dry roasted pine nuts in the end. This salad with its tangy dressing is the perfect palate cleanser.

She opened a bottle of Lagrein 2009, a northern Italian red from the region of Alto Adige that you can find at Enoteca to go with the cheese. This full bodied Italian is elegant and smooth and has fine tannins with notes of blackberry. Its velvety complexion has licorice and espresso combined with clear oakiness. She picked out two simple cheeses for this early-autumn-but-still-feels-like-summer afternoon: an Egyptian Roumi and Comte. The Roumi has the subtle sharpness she wanted, and the Comte is creamy and mild. Madame Mrad serves her cheeses with dry almonds, walnuts, raisins and apricots, along with a generous spoonful of honey and a gob of that perfectly sweet and sour Guava Jam that Futurine’s space-mom had made.

It was finally time for dessert, so “bring out the champagna ya Abdo!”  For dessert, Simon’s Clove-studded Apples: 5 green apples peeled, cored, and cooked for 5 minutes in water and a dash of lemon juice. Then butter those babies up, sprinkle them with brown sugar or, better yet, massage them with honey, then prick them with rows of clove pins, place them in a pan (on aluminum foil) and cook in a pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes. You don’t want them to get too soggy. Take them out, half them, and serve each one with a generous scoop of vanilla icecream… from Oslo… get it?

The Pink Veuve, like all the Orange Lady’s fabulous concoctions, was fresh and deedeelightful with a perfect citrus twist bursting in your mouth.

Khalas, ma ba’a feena! Anjad ‘ntafakhna! Bas hallak fhimna ‘an shoo ‘am yihko,” said Futurine in her cute alien Lebanese accent.

Baad ma hkeena shee! Deedee and her friends started raging about the gastronomy scene in Leboland. Yaani, ma fee consistency, ma fee training, ma fee creativity!!  How is Leboland supposed to live up to its reputation as a tourism haven in the Middle East, when we don’t deliver the basic professional ingredients?

Most of what this country thrives on is the service industry, but unfortunately, we don’t give our servers the tools to help them do their job professionally: yaani training! For example, restaurants can have their staff taste the food and wine that they’re serving so they can at least describe it properly to clients, and hence, sell it!

Most restaurants in Leboland offer pretty much the same menu: “Baddik Rocca Parmesan walla Endive Rocquefort, Madame? We have International Cuisine.” Wallaw? How embarrassing! What happened to getting creative and trying new things? What’s wrong with your chef, gringo? It’s not all that difficult. Invest in your people! They’re what can make or break your place.

This obsession with Classic French Steak au Poivre is out and New York style Skirt Steak with Roasted Beets & Horseradish Cream is in!

That said, credit is due to those who have kept up their standards, trained their people, and still serve good food. We all know who they are. Some I’ve written about, others I will write about.

Consistency… it’s so under-rated!

The aliens had heard enough. They were ready to head back home to practice what Deedee and her friends were preaching. “May the Force be with you“, they said and got beamed back up to their spaceship and zoomed back to planet Gluttonus.

Eedu’a, eh? Nanu Nanu!


Woohoo and moohoo…

January 30, 2011

… that’s right, time to celebrate cuz you can finally get a New York style burger in Leboland!

Cow and Apple – funky name! A butcher/bakery/restaurant… khalas bikaffé, this joint is hidden in an alley off Hamra Street (right before where Modca used to be). It’s actually got 2 entrances, one on Hamra main St. and another charming one through an alley as you’re going down Abdel Aziz St. opposite HSBC.

An open kitchen (bravo Walid for following the latest trend in the food biz), this place feels rugged… or at least it tries. You’re there for the burger and the apple pie… that’s if there’s still room for it in your stomach. A few booths, a communal table (beautiful plank of wood), and the bar. Not so sure about the wanabe graffiti on the walls though… who’s sense of humor was that?! Aaahh, drop it.

Deedee and Mad went there for lunch. She thought there were way too many items on the menu… considering the name implies that the concept is “straight to the point”. Besides, none of the burgers are described, and you don’t want to sit there guessing, soooo we drilled our waiter with questions and he pleasantly complied.

“Shoo ánad bira?” “Fee 961 on tap.” What?!? Why didn’t anyone tell me you could get the stuff on tap? OK guys, I want one of those in my apartment… NOW!

Kint jiáné w nseet sawwira... sorry, éh?

The service isn’t bad, bas the waiter didn’t ask us what temperature we’d like our burger… Actually, to give them credit, the menu tells you to ask for your preferred temperature, bas Deedee didn’t read it! Overall, good burger. Really. Try it.

To moo the Cow 01-740528.

Deep in the bushes…

January 16, 2011

…of lush Sri Lanka, Deedee treated Madame Mrad to a fadstastic adventure. Bas before getting on the plane, they did their usual trip up to the bar at Beirut International Airport for a Campari Soda to set the tone right for that long ride to the tear drop island (the bar is up the stairs opposite the passport control area.)

They only had 12 days in SL, but they certainly got around… the island, that is. The adventure started off in Mt. Lavinia, a small town below Colombo – an OK spot to rest for a day/night before embarking on your journey. Next day, they took the train south to the old fort town of Galle, beautiful colonial architecture and a very small community, small enough to do in one day. In the morning, they grabbed the bus to the very tiny village of Mirissa where they decided to chill by that gorgeous beach for a few days.

When at the beach, seafood and beer are your default consumables. The local brew is Lion Lager (they also have a stout that didn’t impress Deedee much). Made by Carlsberg, this beer is – if you’re lucky enough for them to serve it cold – refreshing with a bitter finish and basically the only choice you’ve got. The grilled fish at Rajeen’s Antartic View shack is one of the best meals you can have on that golden sandy cove, which btw, boasts quite a few restaurants catering to us aliens. After four days in Mirissa, Deedee looked at Mme Mrad and said: Shoo, hazzaynéha? So they took the 6 hour bus headed to Ella to check out the mountains and tea plantations.

Rice and curry is the main food in SL. The curry can be either vegetarian, seafood, chicken, or mutton and is generously served with rice, papadams and about 5-6 side dishes including a few single veggie curries (e.g. okra, pumkin, eggplant, beans), dahl, a salad, Pol Sambol, and chutney (mango mainly). Sort of like mezza or tapas, if you will. Pol Sambol  is made of shredded fresh coconut mixed with chopped onions (or shallots) and a chili mix. You sprinkle it on top of your food.

Madame Mrad was thrilled to discover new vegetables and fruit. Dambala, also called winged bean, looks like a star fruit but longer and thinner and green. She tried it in a vegetable curry. Another fruit she’s never tried was the Jackfruit, which is also served as a sidedish with the “Rice and Curry” mezza. Its texture and taste is similar to artichoke hearts.

To burn off all that food, Deedee and Mme Mrad did a couple of hikes in Ella, one short walk to Little Adam’s Peak (where you walk through fields of tea plantations) and another much tougher hike to Ella Rock which, when you reach the top, boasts magnificient views as far as the eye can see (depending on the weather and clarity, akeed). They were awestruck by the rawness of this land.

A couple of days later, after a scenic 7 hour train ride to the bustling mountain city of Kandy, Deedee found herself suddenly surrounded by these Deedivine Nénuphar – Water Lily’s. She felt right at home amongst the colorful nymphs. They were all being sold as offerings to the Buddha in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Deedee had a lot to offer, so she grabbed a few and went to say hi to Buddha.

They bid farewell to the lovely smily people of SL and enjoyed their last sunset of 2010 in the seaside town of Negombo which is close to the airport. They had their last supper at Lords Restaurant, an Asian fusion restaurant/gallery owned by a lively British fellow, then headed back to Leboland for some concrete.

Go and come, yaani see you later bi ‘es-Siri Lanké.

After a hysterically out of control…

December 11, 2010

… shopping session, Deedee and K were starving. They headed to the East Village to try out Momofuku ssäm, a Korean fusion restaurant. We asked for a couple of glasses of bubbly to go with the Mattaki Oysters, BC (yes, I’m outta control!) served with sliced fresh wild cranberry to garnish and give it a tang. Comte de Gascogne, Blanc de Blancs, NV (France) is a sparkling Chardonnay with refreshingly lively bubbles, citrus, and green apples. Next we had the Steamed Bunsstuffed with pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers, scallions… yislamoulé ‘l buns tab’ak shoo taybeen. Last we had the Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes with chinese broccoli and sichuan peppercorn, which was killer spicy… yaani soooo harra that we couldn’t finish it, and believe me, Deedee loves her harr (chili). To put that fire out, we drank a couple of Avery “White Rascal” ales – a Belgian white from Boulder, CO. The label on this beer cracks me up; it’s a pale straw colored wheat beer, light with coriander aroma and a lemony fruitness in the mouth.

For brunch on Sunday, Deedee, M & JA decided to check out Freeman’s Alley. Hidden in a zaroubé on the Lower East Side, this place feels like it should be out in the country somewhere. With a hunting club motif, it’s cozy, cluttered, and makes you feel like you want to live there. For starters, akeed we ordered Bloody Marys while we nibbled on Devils on Horseback, which are bluecheese stuffed prunes (some use dates) wrapped in bacon… wipe that drool from the side of your mouth, please. The second round of Bloody Marys set the tone right for that Hot Artichoke Dip with Crisp Bread, apparently a signature dish. Chunky bits of artichoke in cream topped with cheese and just the right comfort food to start your morning with. We had an order of Thick Cut Bacon and the Bitter Greens Salad with Grated Egg & Warm Bacon Vinaigrette before we got our mains. Deedee asked for the Fall Vegetable Hash with pan fried eggs & herbed crème fraîche bas I had them with scrambled eggs instead… ‘nuf said. Can’t wait to go back for dinner on my next trip. I’m sure it’s a whole other level of orgasmic terrain. Freeman, habibi, where’ve you been all my life?! Definitely goes under “my new favorite place” category. Thanks for the tip, Warnink.

Met up with AEN later for a walk in Central Park. It was just the right thing to do on that beautiful cold sunny day and just what was needed to help digest the feast. It’s such a luxury to have such a huge park in the middle of the city, bas akeed it doesn’t compare one bit with Jnainit Es Sanayeh. Yaani shoo mfakreen halon el Amirkén?!

Last but not least, M & Deedee literally tumbled into Jeffrey’s Grocery – Luncheonette & Oyster Bar.  Yaani, wihyét Bob we were innocently walking in the West Village when some force just drew us inside. Shoo mahdoum hal mahal… it really is a grocery store, bas in the back there’s a bar and one high communal table. We had two rounds of a dozen oysters. The first time we had two of each of the oysters on offer. Second time around we picked three and had a dozen of those: the Blue Point oysters and the Beau Soleil, both from the East Coast, were briny and you could taste the sea in them. The other was Hood Canals from the West Coast, which are always sweeter. To quench our thirst we tried the Tröegs “Dream Weaver” Wheat Ale from Harrisburg, PA. I’m sensing a pattern here… you notice how many wheat ales Deedee’s had over the last few weeks? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had other types of beer but I think wheat beer wins. This cloudy orange Pennsylvanian Dream Weaver has the usual cloves, citrus allure with a hint of banana.

Jeffrey’s Grocery also offers a variety of cheese and charcuterie with a handful of salads and sandwiches for lunch versus appetizers and entrees for dinner. A short menu, but just right amount of items for this charming gourmet grocery store/luncheonette. Deedeelightful!


Round two… ping!!

December 7, 2010

You guessed it, Deedee was back in the Big Apple for round two of her food orgy, and get ready cuz I’ve got a couple of new hot tips for you!

I have to admit, I get giddy with the flawless service at restaurants and bars in NYC. Yaani, pretty much everywhere in the US was impressive, bas NYC has an alternative take… a new dimension of professionalism, sophistication, and refinement in dining and service.

Spitzer’s Corner, located on the Lower East Side, serves around 40 beers on tap!! So I had to drag my beer drinking buddy, RLM, along. Not much of an adventurer, RLM had the Weihenstephan Hefe-weissen and stayed there. A South German wheat ale that tasted and smelled of tropical fruit, citrus and cloves. Deedee on the other hand, had to try as many different beers as she could handle. To start with, she had the Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner from NY. A light beer with earthy hoppiness, hints of herbs and honey. Next was the Lagunitas A Little Sumpin Wild from CA (if you say it fast enough it sounds like a little something wild… get it?), a pale ale with notes of pineapple, mango and melon. By that time, we’d ordered their Pork Fat Edamame to nibble on while we waited for our Kobe Burgers (made with 100% Kobe beef and medium rare, akeed) and the Hand Cut French Fries. After that, Deedee had to try that Allagash White from Maine cuz she couldn’t believe the description of that witbier: Banana, grassy wheat, creamy, and balanced… they were right! Last, but not least was the Pretty Things Baby Tree from MA: big plum, red wine, cinnamon raisin bread, and brown sugar. Thanks for the tip Cha, it was a hop-pennin’  experience!

Later Deedee miraculously found herself at The Spotted Pig… it’s a must, after all. M & M joined her. Hog Island Oysters, I couldn’t help myself, from northern California, these babies are sweet, tender with a briny finish. Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi with Basil Pestooh my Bob! The way these melt in your mouth is so sensual, they should be forbidden from consumption in public! Whatever you’re eating, you can’t not order the Shoestring Fries with rosemary. This time Deedee tried the Grilled Skirt Steak with Roasted Beets & Horseradish Cream, the slices of meat are cooked medium-rare and so tender you barely need your knife. The beets are roasted with kale, and drizzled with Horseradish cream… life is good.  (btw, for those of you who read The New Yorker, there’s an article about the chef in the November 22nd, 2010 Food Issue. Read Burger Queen. She really makes the best burger in the world… amongst others. A Deedee must-have.)

We were around 7 for dinner at Public, another one of Deedee’s regular do’s, so it was the perfect opportunity to try many items on their menu. As we waited for the gang to assemble, we had an aperitif at the bar. Deedee was curious to try The Chook NV, a sparkling Shiraz from SE Australia. The bubbles on this dark ruby red were subtle and light, the nose and palate are cherry, ripe berry and herbal spice ending with a tangy kick. We were then seated and the feast began. For starters: Grilled scallops with sweet chili sauce, crème fraiche and green plantain crisps; Pan-seared foie gras on spiced french toast with mango chutney, maple glaze and crispy bacon; Fried green lip mussels with shiso, sansho pepper, and wasabi-yuzu dipping sauce; Lavender cured ham with a salad of frisee, mirin glazed pecans, pear, pomegranate, and truffle dressing; Beet gnudi with whipped lemon ricotta and a smoked almond and celery leaf pesto. We ordered two different pinot noirs to go with our appetizers: Four Graces 2008 from Willamette Valley, OR a light/medium bodied ruby red, with vanilla, flowers, and light oak aroma, rounded palate flaunting red berries, fruit and light tannins. The other Pinot Noir was the Neudorf “Tom’s Block” 2008, Nelson, New Zealand, a lively bright red with hints of lavender and licorice, this wine is svelt with a mineral palate and fine tannins. With our main courses, we had the Craggy Range “Te Kahu”, Gimblett Gravels, 2007 a Bordeaux blend from Hawkes Bay, NZ. Deep crimson red and has complex aromas that hint at cinnamon, ripe fruit, and pine forrest. The body is full and layered in the mouth. Well rounded and tannic. A good transition. We culminated with Lang and Reed, Cabernet Franc 2008 from North Coast, CA, with aromas of ripe plum and sage, this Cab Franc is dry and tannic but well balanced with dark cherries. Altogether a selection of robust wines that were exquisite with our gamy main course choices. Deedee went for the New Zealand Venison loin, Cabrales dumplings, oyster mushrooms and salsa verde. Oh Bambi, you taste so fine!

Stay tuned… the NYC dining extravaganza isn’t over yet!

Start spreadin’ the news…

November 28, 2010

… cuz Deedee just ‘touched-down’ in the Big Apple. (It’s football season, I couldn’t help myself!)

Upon arrival at Penn Station, I headed straight to the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle to meet up with CL. We went up to the 3rd floor and landed at the Bouchon Café. Deedee wanted to nibble on something, so we ordered the Rillettes aux Deux Saumons made with fresh steamed & smoked salmon, served with toasted crôutons, and to die for. We had a couple of Ommegang Abbey Ales to go with that. That dark amber ale had a dried fruit and spice flavor that was just perfect in the cold weather and married with the Salmon Rillette, which I confess we devoured instantaneously.

Later that evening, Deedee met up with JA at their usual spot: OTTO. A nice change from the summer menu, their updated menu had delicious winter vegetable dishes waiting for us to choose from. “Me, me, me” cried the Brussels Sprouts and Roasted Beets & Saba. So we picked both. Then we moved on to a Cured Fresh Bacon and Red Cabbage salad and for pasta we had the Rigatoni with Spicy Cauliflower which had chili flakes, garlic and pecorino cheese. The sommelier picked out an elegant but young full bodied oaky dark red wine from Tuscany: Il Gentile di Casanova 2005. The palate has smoky, balsamic tannins with dark cherries and plum. A fine well rounded finish.

A great start for round one of my food orgy in the city.

More later…

I just can’t get enough…

November 22, 2010

… Oysters!

Deedee landed in Washington, DC, checked into her hotel, and rushed to Georgetown’s Sea Catch Restaurant & Raw Bar to grab herself some oysters. They serve them ha, ha, ha, yaani: half priced, on the half shell, during Happy Hour. 

Though the ‘old maid’s tale’ says to eat oysters only in months that don’t have an R in them… well, it IS an old maid’s tale because oysters are now grown in shellfish farms and harvested when they mature so… ‘nuf said.

That evening they had two varieties: Atlantic coast Tomahawk, Martha’s Vineyard, MA which are usually briny and Pacific coast Hunter’s Point, Washington – usually creamier and fresh sea sweet.

For liquids, she had the Blue Moon Belgian White on draft, a wheat beer that’s got coriander and citrus in the palate, served with a slice of lemon. Refreshing and a perfect compliment to the oysters.

After gobbling down two dozen of the little suckers to satisfy that craving, I needed to satisfy my other craving (amongst many) so I had the Pan Seared Sea Scallops which were served with Grain Mustard-Wild Mushroom Risotto.

Feeling stuffed and terribly sleepy after that long flight from Beirut, Deedee finally decided to retire and sleep off those ‘afro-deedee-yaks’!