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!

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Deedee had a little lamb…

April 3, 2011

… actually it was a lamb shank, and it was all so unexpected! You see, Deedee and A were supposed to have dinner at Madame Mrad’s, who was planning to cook lamb shank, but by total coincidence Peter calls and says he’s already cooked dinner… and when Peter invites you to dinner, you don’t decline!

So we grabbed a cab, stopped at Enoteca for a couple of Deedee’s recent favorite discoveries: L’Avenir Stellenbosch Classic 2005 by the French Laroche wineries but from their vineyards in South African, and the Crianza 2006 from Bodega Marqués de Velilla , then headed to Peter’s place for a binging session.

For starters, he’d prepared a Mixed Greens and Peach Salad garnished with walnuts tossed in a White Balsamic Vinaigrette – white balsamic vinegar is made with white wine, as opposed to the regular balsamic which is made with red wine. Absolutely refreshing and deedelightful!

After that Peter snuck out his latest creation: Homemade Butter! Oh my Bob!! I can’t believe it’s not butter… well, it is but Peter makes it and gets totally wild with all sorts of flavors such as rosemary, peach, etc… oooh… I get deedelirious reminiscing about that butter melting in my mouth!

We had the L’Avenir Stellenbosch Classic 2005 with our starters. This silky South African deep dark purple blend is made mainly with Cabernet Sauvignon, then some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The aroma is blackcurrent and chocolate, and the palate is raspberry, blackcurrent, licorice, with fine tannins and a smokey oakey finish.

While we were sipping our wine, Peter started plating his Spring Lamb Shank and Gratin Dauphinoise. He likes to salt his meats at least 2-3 days before he cooks them! This naturally adds flavor and cures the meat. Then he does all sorts of sacrilegiously wild things to it et voilà, out comes a mouth watering feast. To go along with that, we had opened that bottle of Marqués de Velilla’s Crianza 2006. This elegant thick Spanish deep red is made with 100% tinta del pais (an alias for tempranillo) grapes and has an oakey aroma, with velvety chocolate, blackcurrent and a smooth raspberry finish.

Danke schön Peter, es hat sehr gut geschmeckte!


Aaah, I totally felt it…

March 20, 2011

…thought Deedee as she looked up at the moon. She knew something was up: it was a full moon. It turns out this is the closest full moon to the earth that we’ve had since 1993. No wonder it’s looking so cosmically glamorous!

The Road Runner drove Deedee into the old city of Byblos (Jbeil) late that afternoon as the sun was preparing itself for a magnificent departure. This old city is so enchanting and the architecture is better preserved than in other nearby villages. After a little snooping around she felt hungry and so headed to é Cafe for a bite. Luckily it was empty and too early for dinner time, so she grabbed a small quaint table inside and ordered her meal. Straight to the point: Filet Mignon, medium rare akeed, comes with Rocca salad and potatoes, complimented by a bottle of Epicure 2005 (a red bordeaux from Enoteca – see previous blog entry for description), and topped with a special touch of good service to go with that meal. Turns out the staff is actually trained! When Deedee asked,  she found out it was her friend A who was behind it all… not surprised, since she was one of the initial creators of this place.

Deedee enjoys the choices on their menu, but she doesn’t understand why they give you two menus to choose from? Personally, I wouldn’t go for the Italian… menu, that is. There’s another é Cafe in Sursock, Ashrafieh, but this one has a different kind of charm.

Psst, don’t flatter yourself… it’s purely business. For reservations: 09-542224.


Was that a cheesy lunch or what?

March 13, 2011

… Literally, and you’ll see why!

Cha, Loomi and Deedee were skiing in Faraya and decided to grab a bite at Le 1700. D had told Deedee about this new place near Faqra in Kfardebian, and since D actually knows what she’s talking about, Deedee decided to check it out.

The place is spacious and has huge windows that flaunt an awesome view (especially on a clear day). Wood everywhere, thank Bob, cuz I’d hate to see plastic in that kind of setting. It’s cozy and the staff is friendly and trained, at least as far as we could tell. Surprised, though, to find the place empty for lunch on Saturday, but apparently they fill up at dinner Saturday and for lunch Sunday, which is logical for that area, so if you really want personalized service, head there when the crowd’s away… that’s what Deedee would do.

Once you sit down, you’re served warm bread with a piece of smoked Feta cheese topped with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts… yummy, and a refreshing alternative to the usual bread and butter. We asked for the Magret de Canard Salad and the Foie Gras – homemade, served with a fig confit and deedelicious. For our mains we had the Raclette and the Cheese Fondue (told you it was cheesy). The Fondue is pretty good, and you can’t really go wrong with Raclette which is served with a mixed green salad. Overall, it was fun and hit the spot after that short day skiing – considering there wasn’t much snow a few weeks back.

Deedee had a bottle of Epicure, a 2005 Red Bordeaux by Hubert de Boüard, that was just right for the meal we picked. You can find it at Enoteca, this Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend is medium bodied, rich and elegant with a nose of earth and spice. Along with its fine tannins it had dark red berries, prunes, cinnamon and licorice on the palate with a caramel finish. Le 1700 actually has it on the menu but Deedee asked if they’d let us drink our own bottle and they said “Walaw?!” They didn’t even charge us a corkage fee! I love those guys! Anyhoo, their wine list is not bad and the prices are pretty reasonable, yaani they don’t triple charge you, which is a good strategy for up-selling.

Deedee will do Le 1700 again cuz she’s eager to try the other intriguing items on their menu. Recommended, even if only for an aprés ski aperitif.

Great shots, Cha. For reservations: 03- 44 1700 (shway cheesy?)


I love how the…

February 6, 2011

Électricité du Liban dude comes to collect money when the electricity’s out!! Are these guys serious?! He actually climbed the stairs all the way up to Madame Mrad’s apartment to give her the bill! She didn’t open the door.

I also love how people who know diddly about wine end up opening wine bars! Don’t you? Deedee headed to Cru in Hamra, the second wine bar to open in Leboland, and owned by a ‘sweet’ couple who have yet to learn a lot about the wine bar business. Didn’t I tell you people that sweet just ain’t enough?! You leave me no choice and I have no mercy.

With the wonderful variety of world wine choices out there, Deedee was distressed to see a menu made up mainly of French wines. She did, however, like that they chose small local wineries for their Lebo wine selection. They actually don’t have Ksara and Kefraya on the menu, which is a refreshing change. But guys, please, “lovely and nice” may be used to describe Deedee but they’re certainly not wine descriptions, especially not in a wine bar! Baadein, how about you consider writing about the body of the wine?

While waiting for Tamatim, Deedee felt like a glass of bubbly but was outraged by the LBP 54,000 they charged for a glass of Moët & Chandon. We’re not at the Four Season here. I mean if you want to sell the stuff, you’ve got to reconsider your pricing… OR just offer a cheaper champagne by the glass!  (‘Walaw’ moment: Deedee had to teach them how to pronounce Moët… Yaani, either take it off your menu or learn how to say it).

So Deedee decided to go for a glass of Miolo Cuvée Traditional Brut, a sparkling wine from Brazil. This Chardonnay & Pinot Noir blend is produced by the champenoise method and only in exceptional years. A straw yellow color with butter and honey aroma, it has fine bubbles and is creamy on the palate with a burst of fruit and a refreshing finish. A great discovery, reasonable price-quality ratio, and Deedee’s first Brazilian bubbly. You can find it at the Joël Robuchon wine store in the new old Souks of Solidere.

When Tamatim arrived, she asked the barman what wine he would recommend… “Killo tayyeeeb”… huh? “arrib á-t-tayyeeeb”?! “Lakan áteeni kés máa sahin hummos w awarma, iza bitreed,” is almost what she said to him.

We ordered a bottle of Château Tour Seran 2003, Médoc. This French wine is a full bodied and tannic bordeaux made from a blend of 65% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon & Franc, and Petit Verdot. The nose on this dark ruby red is roquefort and damp earth, the palate is dark berries, black current and chocolate with a smooth velvety finish. Also from Joël Robuchon.

To nibble we had the Spinach Artichoke Dip, which was actually good but too bad about the bread they serve it with. We also ordered and looked horrifically at the Wild Mushroom Bruschetta… what in Bob’s name was that thing they served us?? I’ll spare you… and them for that matter. Just pass on that order, is all Deedee’s gotta say.

To alleviate the trauma from their minds, Deedee and Tamatim headed around the corner to Dany’s for some champagne therapy. Nothing that a few bottles of their Lanson Black Label Brut Champagne couldn’t cure. This pale yellow blend has soft bubbles and is not too acidic, with a touch of toast and honey. The palate is citrus, red berries and nuts… or were we just nuts?

It was a blast hanging out widju Tamatim!


Deedee went to the zoo…

January 26, 2011

…the other day and was astonished to see the Lemmings getting into a scrimmage then committing suicide for a reason they didn’t understand. The poor suckers are socially retarded… but then again, so are all the other rodents out there. Then she came upon Ammo the Orangutan who was hysterically blabbing away but no one understood what he was saying… probably because he wasn’t making any sense in the first place! The poor soul suffers from mental constipation.

She did a double take because she almost missed the cute Chameleon up in the woods, who keeps changing color… so much, that we can never find him! He’s metamorphosing all the time… and all because he’s upset that Turbanitis and PMS don’t want to play in the same cage.

Deedee looked at the animals in the zoo and said, “Chill out boys, I got a great recipe that will make you all feel giddy.” She had been to Souk el Tayyeb on Saturday and bought a cute little pumpkin, actually a butternut squash. She decided to make pumpkin soup and turned to her friend Jamie Oliver‘s recipes for assistance.

Superb Squash Soup with Parmesan Crouton. This spicy soup is the perfect twist from a regular pumpkin soup and just the right comfort-food after a trip to the zoo. Cha suggested we drizzle some Coconut Milk on top, and OMBob was he spot on with that combo! Top with a piece of parmesan bread melted in the oven; and garnish with the fried sage from the recipe. Deedeelish!

Cha was craving Fettucini Alfredo, so Deedee waved her magic wand and whipped up an Alfredo à la Fads – chopped garlic and red chili tossed in olive oil, throw in pancetta or cubes of smoked schinken. Take out the cubes to be added to the recipe later. Pour over a pack or two of crème fraiche and a spoonful of Labné (haida el secret) to give it thickness. Add your spices (salt, pepper, rosemary, basil), a handful of grated parmesan, then drop the ham cubes in at the end. Careful not to overcook the sauce otherwise it breaks up. Before you drain the fettucini, throw in fresh or frozen peas, to give Alfredo a little color and a burst of freshness. Serve topped with roasted pine nuts (for that smokey flavor) and garnish with parmesan shavings, akeed.

To wash away the stench from the zoo, they drank a bottle of Marqués de Velilla, Crianza 2006. A full bodied, elegant and complex Spanish red made from 100% Tempranillo. The palate has fine tannins and strong notes of dark berries and chocolate, with a long velvety finish. You can find this one and a 2004 vintage of the same wine at Enoteca.

“Yalla, kilkon n’dabbo ‘al beit”, said Deedee to the Lemmings, so they obediently scurried back to hide in their little holes.


Tinzakar w ma tin’ad…

December 18, 2010

… is how A, P, Cha and Deedee felt when they walked out of Osteria il Mattarello in Gemmayze the other day.

We started with the day’s special: Burratta which was LBP 80,000?!?!? It must’ve been made with haleeb enNawar, cuz that’s what it brought out in A after he saw the price on the bill. I have to admit, that even the Burratta in “oh-no-lio” tasted better and was less than half the price of this one.

The Crudiolla Pizza was nothing to write home about. The cheese was already cold and chewy, the topping was proscuitto and rocca with cherry tomatoes, so you can’t really go wrong there… or can you?

The Basil Gnudi with basil ricotta stuffing was to basil-y, and nothing to compare with the ones Deedee had in NYC. What a pity cuz they’re usually pretty succulent so this was just an anti-climactic moment.

The lamb chops were a total flop! Too gamy/meaty, I mean, Deedee loves her game but this Australian friend of Mary’s must’ve been defrosted too quickly (or cooked then microwaved, as P guessed), hence the off taste. The Italian Chef couldn’t handle the comment and went off sulking with his tail between his legs… éh ma badda hal ad ya bambino.

 

The food was as bad as this picture!

Ma iltillik stick to Libnéné?

said Madame Mrad to Deedee… ma’ik ha’… Yaani, Deedee gave this place another shot and, as she feared, no consistency in food quality at all. Domage, because the server (Mo) tried his best to impress, considering the pressure he must’ve felt with 3 nightlife veterans on that table. Kudos to Mo… bas I guess I’m going to put el ha’ át-tillién after all!