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!

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Off the beaten track…

December 13, 2010

… and going ethnic.

So the part of Deedee’s time in the United States that you haven’t heard about yet is the when she had ethnic food at mom ‘n pop type restaurants.

Ethiopian food is a must when Deedee does DC. First time I tried it was 22 years ago… of course, I was 8 years old at the time!! 😉 Nothing fancy going on here, just good old comfort food. Ethiopian bread, called Injera, is like a pancake or crepe, in fact, its very much like atayef but really thin and shi 8-10 inches in diameter. It’s usually placed on a flat tray and all the dishes are scooped on it in piles. Ethiopian food is very spicy and you eat it with your hands, like us Lebo’s eat mezza with bread. You’ll find most of the Ethiopian restaurants in Washington, DC in Adams Morgan (18th st., NW) and on U st. b/w 9th & 7th st. NW.

When Deedee arrived in Seattle it was late, wet, cold and she’d been flying all day. So she had a quick bite at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront  hotel’s 2100 Bar. The menu featured a Hot Chili Pepper Shrimp & Hummus with grilled pita. Now I never ever have hummus outside Leboland, but with Shrimp?!?! Ma bsaddi’! Deedee had to try it and… oh my Bob!!!! They’ve de-virginized hummus… in a sexy way. Gotta try this at home.

Now, you can’t go to Los Angeles and not have Mexican, I mean, you’re almost there… better yet, they’re everywhere! One night Booboo took me to Hacienda del Rey, a really kitchy family style restaurant. Everything piled on your plate, yaani the meat, the beans, the rice, the guacamole, the salad, and served with a side of either corn or flour tortillas (fresh and soft). A frozen margarita is liquid to sip on. As authentic and you’re gonna get that many miles away from the border, hombre.

Deedee’s last stop was Boston. Some clients took me to try this Senegalese restaurant called Teranga. First time I’ve had Senegalese and interestingly enough the owner (a young, cute and determined Senegalese woman) told us that their food has Lebanese, Moroccan and Vietnamese culinary influences! The place is simple and cozy. We shared a few appetizers at first, including Nems (spring rolls), Fataya (yaani like fatayer but filled with fish), and sweet potatoes.  Deedee had Michoui, a marinated lamb shank in a caramalized onion reduction served with couscous (so tender it falls off the bone and melts in the mouth). Do try it if you’re in the Boston South End area.

w khalas Amérka! Toot toot ‘a… Beirut?


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?


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


Could it be? Possibly? Perhaps? Maybe?

June 22, 2010

a decent meal in Leboland? And decent service, too? La’ mish ma’oul!! I almost fainted right there at Le Gray – Beirut, but I decided to spare W and M the embarrassment.

We started off at the Cigar Lounge. Both W & M had a Martini Rosso – which came with an orange slice (garnish!) and I had a Campari Soda. When the waiter arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes… he brought the Soda on the side, and I didn’t even have to ask him!!! Bravo!! I wanted to give him a standing ovation.

Then we walked over to check out the pool area… WOW! I want to swim in that pool (naked ;-))! I’ll definitely go back to have a drink at the Pool Lounge one afternoon.

We decided to check out Indigo on the Roof restaurant. We saw the menu and immediately decided to stay for dinner. What a wonderful idea that was! The service was impeccable and the food delicious… This gang is actually trained!!

Rosé was the mood at dusk. I ordered the Coeur de Grin 2008, Domaine Ott, but they were out, so we went for the cheaper version, the Moncigale, Côte de Provence 2008. The nose is strawberry and red cherries; the palate I got berries and citrus, W got licorice and Halle Berry!

The bread comes with olive oil… nice. Tangy and citrusy, this oil was very similar to an olive oil from the Hermel that a friend and her husband make. So I ask the server, and it turns out its an organic olive oil from Akkar!!! Zejd. I have to find out where I can get this stuff – will keep you posted.

I’m enjoying my seared scallops (nice big ones, on a bed of mashed potatoes garnished with a few chive straws) listening to the jazz in the background and having a conversa… what? what? I can’t hear you!? I can’t hear anything! It’s an orchestra of braying muezzins. Does R2D2 really have to be this loud???

When the boys quieted down, we got our second course. Turns out we all ordered the Filet, which is aged for 18 days, and melts in your mouth. I had mine with sautéed mushrooms (a combination of portobello, shitake, and Oyster) and the three mustards (grain, English, and dijon); W had his with the grilled veggies and Bernaise sauce; and M took it straight up with mashed potatoes. 

Out of respect for the filet, I asked for a glass of red wine. The sommelier came over to recommend a few. I decided on the Chateau D’Archambeau Grave 2003. I took one whiff of that and told the boys they had to try it. We decided to go for the whole bottle. Tannic, metallic and earthy nose, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, the palate was velvety with deep dark berries and plum. As it breathed, the body took shape and rested at a comfortable medium to full. Exquisite!

For dessert: we shared the Lemon Tart with a scoop of Mascarponi ice cream… there was something orgasmic about that ending and perfectly refreshing after the meal.

 

Mabrouk Ammo Gray, you’ve taken Leboland a step further. Cant wait to try the rest of the place (i.e. Bar ThreeSixty).

For reservations: 01-971-111 or email: reservations@legray.com

 


What part of…

June 13, 2010

…’summer has begun’ do the rooftop places in Leboland not get?

Z and I wanted to have a sunset drink, so Bubbles (rooftop in Palm Beach Hotel) was one suggestion. Closed. What? Yeah, we dont open till next week… ?!?!@? are you kidding me?

Oh, wait, how about we go to Riviera? I like that corner bar right at the end cuz you dont see anyone and the sun sets right infront of you… It’s actually called the Sunset Bar. Sooooo, Z and I trot over… la la la…

Now, imagine this: I’m rich, I want to open up a restaurant/bar/beach club… you know, that sort of thing. I rent/buy the place, get architects to design it, pay shitloads of money to get it set up and furnished, I do my PR and marketing, I make a big deal about launching it, then… then… when everyone’s there I remember, “Ooops!!! I forgot to train my staff!!!”

KHALAS! I’m sick of unprofessional badly trained (if even trained at all in the first place) servers. For Bob’s sake we’re in the freakin’ service industry in this country. Why the hell cant anyone get it right? I have to give a few places credit – but it shouldn’t be a few… ALL is the right word.

If you don’t know how to run a freakin’ place DON’T open one!!

Z and I get to the bar and the manager is chatting with his staff – I mean, its sunset time… at Sunset Bar… right? Did I miss something here?

The bar is totally filled with crap, glasses, wine bottles waiting to be stored, etc… yaani a mess. “Pardon, feek t’zeeh el ghrad hatta shouf el sunset?”

“Merci, kteer!” 🙂

Finally the server comes. I said, first please a small bottle of water and a Pelegrino… disappears, comes back with menus…. bas ma fi Pelegrino…. tayyeb ‘indak Perrier?? dawwit el lamba! Yes! OK bring me Perrier, law samaht.

Z had a Vodka with fresh Watermelon (refreshing bas no garnish… garnish is nice, no?). I got my Campari (Soda on the side, akeed)… wait, that’s… Tonic? “please baddi Soda”… and why in Bob’s name is my Campari in a short glass? Lemon slice? (did I mention garnish?) Barman, its a simple Campari Soda… So, who did you say trained you again?

Too bad. The place could have potential. I MAY give it one more chance but I’ll have to be in a real good mood to tolerate their lack of professionalism.

All I’m asking for is good service to go along with the nice ambiance.

Life’s too short. You only remember living it once. So live it! I say, bring it on!


Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall…

May 21, 2010

… that’s right, last night it was the Four Seasons with M.  We went straight to The Bar/Lounge on the 2nd floor. One section overlooks the land fill in Solidere (that’s supposed to be The Lounge) and the other part is a red bordello’ish area (The Bar). We sat in the part with the view.

Apéritif was a flute of Moët et Chandon Brut for M and a Negroni for me (Gin, Campari & Sweet Vermouth)… basic and served with smoked almonds, cheesy cashews, and dried fruit (cranberries, apricots, and strawberries). The bar menu had a couple fun sounding items: Shrimp Knefeh (a little oily, but a nice touch of mint in there) and a Sumac Tuna man’oushé (didnt try). Speaking of menu, the waiter kept insisting on taking the menu back and I really like to take time going through my menus…. so I couldn’t help but torment the poor guy 😉 In the end I got my menus from another server… he almost had a conniption. Ma badda hal ad!

We ordered a bottle of 2007 Sancerre “Les Romains” (light, fresh and crisp – you can get it at Aziz), served with a bowl of parmesan cheese cubes – a pleasant surprise! We had that with our Club Sandwiches…. What?! Club Sandwiches? Well… their Lounge menu was (yawn) booooring. I mean, if I had a room and wanted room service I could live with it, but puhleez just a bit of creativity here…  I mean, the usual continental menu you can get at any regular hotel?!!  Hmmm, shoo… Stormy Weather? tsk tsk!

As expected, it was overpriced, by hey, it IS the Four Seasons after all. Thanks M for treating me – the company was great!

Now, just to be fair, I will check out their other restaurants (one day) and keep y’all posted.