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!


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?)


Hamdilla ‘as-salémé…

January 19, 2011

… said Cha to Deedee and Madame Mrad, as he walked in with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rosé 2002 to toast 2011 with the ladies. Cha loves his Rosé’s. Yee shoo mahdoum! Léh ‘azzabit halak? This bubbly Rosé, created by Madame Clicquot in 1818, was revolutionary for its time and made from both black and white grapes. A salmon-copper colored wine, this mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend is dry with an elegantly rounded balance on the palate and a nose of complex aromas. Its fine red fruitiness mainly hints at strawberries and raspberries ending with a spicy finish and a fun kick.

Cha was bearing many gifts that night, including a bag of Funghi Porcini Secchi. These dried earthy tasting mushrooms got soaked in a hot water tub before diving into the very spicy tomato sauce they cooked in. As he peeled and sliced the garlic, Cha told Madame Mrad that you should remove the green pits from the garlic cloves so they don’t give off a bitter after taste. Thanks for the tip, Cha. Wa minkom nastafeed! The garlic slices were tossed with the mushrooms and shredded red chilis in olive oil, then topped with fresh chopped and canned peeled tomatoes, seasoned to perfection, and served with Spaghetti and Garlic Bread made with rosemary flavored garlic butter.

In the end, they nibbled on a piece of Testun Al Barolo cheese that Deedee bought for Madame Mrad from TSC Signature. This pricey piece of blended cow and sheep’s milk cheese is semi-firm and covered with pressed Nebbiolo grapes (which are used to make Barolo wine). Aged in oak barrels, this Italian cheese crumbles nicely and enjoys complex flavors from the pastures of the grassy alpines.

Kteer mbasatna shifnék, ya Cha. C’est toujour un plaisir to cook with you.