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Showing posts from January, 2013

Beirut's Nejmeh Square Losing its Luster

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My office is a stone's throw from Nejmeh Square (Place de l'Etoile), so I often stroll there on my lunch hour. It's saddening to see how almost every food outlet that once thrived with throngs of locals and tourists has now gone out of business.

Last year, Costa Coffee and TGI Friday's shut down, testament to the fact that even big British or American chains can fail in a dire economy. Don Edwardo, a mysterious steak house, sushi lounge, and salad bar all in one and across from Al Balad, also threw in the towel.

Le Relais de l'Entrecote, the renowned Parisian steak-frites restaurant with two other locations in Lebanon--Monot and Verdun--closed, as did Scoozi, its next-door Italian-Japanese neighbor. Both restaurants were operated under the Boubess Group, which is now launching new dining projects like Metropole in Minet el Hosn and Pomodoro in Zaituna Bay.

Duo is now suspiciously Don, but it seems the salad bar was a permanent fixture because it stayed put. Cleve…

Tip Talk

Has anyone ever noticed how everything in Lebanon requires a tip?
You stop at the pump for gas. The gas station attendant squeegees your car's windshield. You tip him.You go to the car wash, and suddenly five attendants are scrubbing, drying, and buffing your car. You scratch your head as you hand each of them a tip. Your house water tank depletes and you call a water truck to replenish it. You tip the provider.You take a taxi from point A to point B. You pay your fare and tip the driver.You visit the salon to have your hair coiffed. You tip the apprentice to wash it, and you tip the hair stylist for not singing it with the straightening iron.You buy groceries from the supermarket, and the bag boy insists on toting your bags to your car. You tip him.Your concierge rushes to your side when he sees you unloading the groceries from the car. He helps you carry them to your doorstep. You tip him.You order a cup of coffee from your favorite coffee shop. The coffee's already overprice…

Green Falafel Revolution

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Green Falafel is a new diner concept that recently opened off the Jal el Dib main highway. It is the brainchild of Christine Assouad Sfeir, CEO of Meeting Point (Dunkin Donuts Lebanon) as well as Treats Holding (Semsom). I'd been reading for some time about Green Falafel's culinary philosophy, which is to offer an unprecedented grilled falafel wrap, as well as its broader social responsibility, to make it eco-friendly. Always on the prowl for a new food adventure, we fixed on trying it yesterday.

The restaurant proposes a classic falafel sandwich--fried or grilled--in a pita (2,750LL), in sajj bread (3,500LL), or in a soft bun (4,500LL). You can also decide to make it your way for a small additional cost, where you select a preferred sauce (tarator, hummus, etc.) and filling (cheese, sauteed eggplant, etc.). The menu features grilled falafel burgers with a variety of toppings, as well as a signature fajita sandwich (6,500LL) concocted from the falafel mix.

We placed our order…

Khabbaz Makes the Mark

Georges Khabbaz has a new play out: "Mish Mekhtelfin." We saw it last night, rather spontaneously, at the old Chateau Trianon in Jal el Dib. The plot is very real and riveting: young Ali from the Bekaa region goes to London to study engineering, and there he meets and falls in love with beautiful Christina from Achrafieh. Conflicting religious backgrounds do not inhibit their affection for each other, and they court for two years before determining the time ripe to fly home to Lebanon and declare their marriage intentions to their parents.

In Lebanon, however, the magic is lost, as their news startles their parents and they become stricken with panic at what such a union will bring. While both sets of parents ultimately leave it to the young couple to decide their connubial bliss, Christina opts out, visibly perplexed at the potential implications of a Muslim-Christian household, and returns to London. Ali is shattered, and the play, which is actually set two years after th…

Next in Beirut Scam Line-up: Al Falamanki

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Readers who've regularly been following my blog have no doubt caught on how much I detest price scams. Maybe this vehemence goes back to my grad school days--three years to be precise--when making ends meet was advisable and getting conned was not. Everything had to be budgeted. But I prefer to think it was an MIT course called "Pricing" that shed light on the mechanics behind pricing and replaced my consumer emotion with enlightened reason. Pricing is an art, and you can get away with charging a pretty penny for any product, but you'd better back it up with exceptional VIP service, unparalleled ambiance, or some form of tangible concessions. Al Falamanki restaurant and cafe can't hold a light to any one of those, and it pains me to see business beyond booming inside its Achrafieh stronghold.

Yesterday evening, three of us went for a spot of tea and a play of tawlet (backgammon) at Falamanki. While we were warned that the place can be expensive, our options in d…

Restaurant Watch

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Anyone who's met me knows how passionate I am about good food. I follow a variety of general and local food blogs, and I'm constantly leafing through TimeOut Beirut magazine for the latest on restaurant openings across town. Often when going out to dine, I can be known to hesitate for an hour or two before deciding which food establishment to pay homage to. Here's a glimpse of ten places where I'm eating, as well as those I look forward to trying in the near future.
The Classics: La Gargote (Broumanna): A quaint French restaurant specializing in steaks and a few French specialties like escargot, gratinĂ©e a l'oignon (onion soup), and tarte a thym. You feel like you're inside a cottage in the Swiss Alps, staying warm next to a fireplace, with French oldies playing softly in the background. As in France, the waiters are seasoned men, prompt yet inviting. Prices are very affordable, as most of the steak dishes are under $20. They could, however, do well to enrich th…

Happy 2013

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I always anticipate New Year's with both eagerness and anxiety. How wonderful it is to make it to the start of a fresh new year, with promises of adventure and challenge, but how unfortunate that the end of the holiday season has drawn near. With Christmas as the opening act, New Year's is the irrevocable finale.

As a child, Christmas was my favorite holiday. The few weeks leading up to it, presents would magically appear beneath the tree, maybe a few each night, until by Christmas Eve, a mountain of gifts had formed. We'd tuck our fingers into the wrapping paper to try and feel the enrobed objects. In successive years, Santa got smarter--either the wrapping paper would be firmly taped at every gap, or gifts were concealed in boxes, preventing the penetration of our little fingers. But as excited as I'd be for Christmas morning, when all the goodies would be unmasked, I was ambivalent. I feared the end of all that was warm, cheerful, and cozy. Radio stations would imm…