If you’re planning a trip to New York City…

October 17, 2012

OMBob do I have a coupl’a tips for yoooou!

The Modern: its the restaurant at the MOMA. I’m feeling giddy just thinking about the food, wine, service and ambience. A must… if you’re ready to splurge! There’s a set menu in the “fancy” restaurant area, and I would go for wine/beverage pairing if I were you. You could also opt to hang out and eat in the bar area. More casual menu, but just as delicious!

The Americano at Hotel Americano in Chelsea – they’ve done a good job renovating this place. Americano Hotel Restaurant - day timeThe dining area is right behind the reception and serves a scrumptuous meal. I went there in the evening but I imagine, with that huge window, this place would be lots of fun during the day. In fact, I just Googled it. This is what daytime there looks like.

Forty-Four Bar & LoungeForty Four bar and lounge located at The Royalton Hotel, takes you back to the early 1980’s. What a place! I haven’t eaten there but love hanging in the bar or lounge area for a delicately made cocktail… or two…

And since four seems to be the lucky number at the moment, you must try Four Seasons Restaurant wow… oh wow… oh my Bob!! Why haven’t I heard about this place before?!! Can I live here? Please? Four Seasons Restaurant Pool Dining area

OK, I can’t begin to tell you how this place, that opened back in 1959 and was designed by Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe, is a celebration of the genius of creative design. As for the food, it is an exceptional culinary voyage… and I would go with pairing beverages with your food in this case too. All I can say is that you must experience this place at least once in your life. I know I’ll be experiencing it a lot more… says the hedonist in me.

The Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station. How many times has Deedee been to Grand Central unaware of this place, and how right C was when he said, “I know you’ll love this”… Put on your flapper dress, your cloche hat, your long bead necklace and take a step back to the 1920’s! A hidden jewel of the good old times!

The Spotted Pig is always a must…. at least once a trip. Don’t forget to order the Gnudi’s… sometimes I wonder what life would’ve been like had I never tasted those succulent little balls of wonder… sigh…

Tala, this one’s been on the shelf for a while and it’s going public just for you, sweetie. Enjoy the city! I want to hear all about it!


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!

Todo por la Revolución…

August 26, 2011

'nuf said

… said Fidel to Deedee as they were sipping on a Mojito and listening to the band playing in the background. She looked at him and smiled wryly, “Seriously, Fidel?”

Deedee’s still trying to find the vocabulary fit to describe her latest adventure in the land of salsa, rum, cigars, colonial architecture, lush nature, and total oppression.

After a short roller-coaster of a plane ride on Cubana Airlines (the cabin screws loose and shaking, condensation forming on the aisle ceiling, and dew dripping from the overhead seat fan) Deedee arrived in Havana Airport, a dark sullen place. Passport control asking his “strategic” questions, “Líbanesa?”… “Si”; “Tourista?”… “Si”.

Deedee got in the taxi heading to Habana Centro, where she had (against her will) pre-booked a hotel online: Hotel Bellevue. Well, bellevue was right, but that’s about where belle stops. Not Deedee’s kind of place… but then again, she wasn’t planning on spending her time in the hotel, so yalla, ça va.

Checked in, dropped off her bags, and went for a walk on the Malecón (yaani el Corniche taba’ Havana). She stopped at Prado No. 12 for her first Mojito and live Cuban band session. She sat at the bar to watch the bartender making her Mojito. In the end, he tops it with a dash of Angostura… hmmm, an original touch that gives it the perfect bitter kick. It was actually the only time during her trip that anyone made a Mojito that way. Gracias por el “tip”, amigo.

She spent the next two days discovering the capital. Havana Vieja is á la Solidere, yaani Legoland style. Some of the buildings have been renovated by the government and the area caters mainly to package tourists… Deedee hates package tourism… in fact, she has come to the conclusion that tourism in general just spoils travel for people like her. It spoils the natives as well. Suddenly any foreigner becomes a walking Dollar sign… dommage.

Centro Havana is poor, worn out, and feels deserted. There is a sense of melancholy in the air, a defeated expression in the red eyes of the drunken old men hanging out on the street. The shop windows haven’t been cleaned or re-dressed since 1960-something, but then again, there’s hardly anything in the shops to display in that window, so why bother. Why not kill time playing a game of dominos.

Vedado is a whole other world. That’s where the big hotels, theaters, casinos and extravagant life of the 1950’s took place. It’s like going to a whole other city. Wider, cleaner, well groomed avenues, grander colonial residences, and more modern architecture. Coco Taxis (three wheeled vehicles) lined up on the side of the street waiting for passengers. A slightly more vibrant neighborhood, yet still mulling in that melancholy.

Deedee had one special dining experience in Havana during those three days. She actually had to reserve a “table for una” at the Paladar La Guarida as it turned out to be a hot spot for foodies (“thanks” to travel guides and the Oscar nominated Cuban film “Fresa y Chocolate” which was filmed there). Located in an old colonial mansion in Centro Havana, the entrance is manned by a huge black bouncer. You walk into a hidden oasis filled with sounds of playing children, crying babies, and chatting mothers, then climb up the spiral staircase to reach a deserted floor adorned with the family laundry. One more flight of stairs and you reach a door, ring the bell and they let you into their home turned restaurant. Paladars are privately owned family restaurants that are usually located in the family living-room-turned-dining-area. The decor was decadent and warm, the food is “not bad for Cuba” considering ingredients are not easy to come by. At the end of the meal, Deedee had a glass of Havana Club Añejo 7 Años and a bottle of sparkling water. This became  the digestif of the trip.

More later… hasta luego!

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!

Wasn’t me!

September 21, 2010

Cellar? What cellar? Aaah, Beirut Cellar! They have a cellar? ‘nTs’

Met up with T at the “newly renovated but nothing’s changed” Beirut Cellar… Yaani please, if you wana change the decor, how about you change the menu while you’re at it!!! I just thought that was a no-brainer, but I guess it wasn’t in this case. Heik államoukon bil École Hôtelière? As T put it: “the only thing that changed on the menu is the prices!”

We started off with a Vodka Martini and Campari Soda… and a bottle of Pellegrino. Then moved on to Gotto d’Oro’s Frascati Superiore 2008, an Italian white that’s lively and verging on bubbles but not. The nose is blue cheese, nuts and grapefruit. The palate is slightly fruity with peach and apricots ending with a balanced finish. Good price quality ratio. Deedee recommends.

That said, the food is mediocre but edible. The Grilled Calamari’s good but make sure to ask for baby or medium sized calamaris, otherwise it’s too chewy. The Carpaccio Poulpe (octopus) was not raw!? Why they call it carpaccio puzzles me. They have Daily Specials, which is a nice change from the regular menu, but sometimes their specials aren’t ‘daily’… if you know what I mean.

I’ve had their burger and it’s not bad. Their pasta dishes are sometimes good and some risottos are worth a try.

The thing I like most about Beirut Cellar is that they’re open during the afternoon, so when you want to have a late lunch/early dinner you always find a spot and the place is all yours! Khai, ma fee hada!

For reservations: 01-216990

Yislamli hal…

June 28, 2010

 … Jammal!

I have to admit this is one of the most beautiful settings by the beach. It was a long kept secret, but has -in the last few years –  been discovered. If you have a boat, you can drive/sail there and ‘Popeye’ will pick you up in his dingy. You can eat and swim… they’ll even put tables in the water for you!

The food is your usual mezza but with additional Jammal treats, including: a pickled cabbage roll, Octopus provencial (yaani, cooked in olive oil, coriander, garlic and lemon),  huge potato wedges, and potatoes provencial, to name a few. Their seafood can be grilled, fried, or oven baked – your call.  The quality of food has improved tremendously (though still pricey, but at least price-quality ratio’s a bit closer now).

Joe’s been running this place for over 15 years, fluctuating in quality over the years, but yesterday was a real treat. His son, Mickey, and daughter are now helping daddy out and they’re doing a great job. Mickey is running the new bar downstairs and making great cocktails, including this Peach Daiquiri is the perfect refresher upon arrival!    

He told me he’s got a few other cocktails up his sleeve, but I didn’t try them. I like that he’s into perfecting the art of the cocktail. Kudos to you, Mickey! Otherwise, you can have beer (they actually have a variety), local wine or arak.

Oh, and did I mention that you get mouth watering Batteekh on the house at the end? What a culmination!

Happy Birthday T, or: “O tanjō-bi omedetō gozai masu”, as they say in Japanese 😉

So close, yet so far away… Jammal is located on the old road to the north, before you get to Batroun. It’s open daily. For reservations: 06-74 00 95

Sitting on top…

June 26, 2010

… at the roof  in Albergo Hotel (Ashrafieh, Rue Abdel Wahab el Inglisi) with T. Haven t been there in a while, and you know what? Though you can’t see much of the view if you’re sitting down, it’s a real pleasant atmosphere. Great to hang out in the afternoon and get away from the horrendous traffic in the city.

The service is a little slow but good. We had Dry Vodka Martinis. They do a good job on the little suckers! I adore that you get your Martini in your own personal mini shaker. Ain’t that just darrrlin’!!

Price quality (at least for the drinks) they get a B+.

For reservations: 01-33 97 97