Restaurant Watch

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:
  1. La Gargote (Broumanna): A quaint French restaurant specializing in steaks and a few French specialties like escargot, gratinée 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 their dessert selection, which is presently limited to ice cream.
  2. Eddé Yard (Souk Byblos): Part-Italian, part-French, this restaurant seems to do everything right. You'll immediately notice the outdoor grill, where the wafting smell of meat entices passerbys. I am fond of their welcome bread and pesto dip, which must be had with a starter of buffalo mozzarella. Don't miss out on the filet de boeuf, a sightly cube of steak accompanied by perfectly seasoned pommes de campagne.


Steals:
  1. Provincial (Jounieh, across from ATCL): I've yet to try something at Provincial that isn't either delicious or sensational. Their salads are massive and heavy on the real stuff (i.e., protein): go for the goat cheese, chef salad, or bresaola. Their chicken dishes (ginger, curry, or simply chargrilled) are equally satisfying, and their cheese fondue is out of this world. I love the starter bread with tri-dip (grated parmesan, fresh thyme in olive oil, and balsamic). But aside from the excellent food and price/quality rapport, what keeps me coming back is their top-notch service and friendliness of the staff.
  2. Karem 3a Dareb (Faitroun): Fresh Lebanese food in a cozy ambiance tucked away in the mountains leading to Faraya. Their sajj is a smash hit (try the kishek, which is folded into a big triangle), and the hommos with ras asfour is divine. A trip there without labneh or jebneh baladieh is incomplete. 



New Obsessions:
  1. Basilic (Maameltein, Jounieh): They may only do two things, but they do them well. The restaurant is primarily Italian, specializing in pizzas (there's no pasta on the menu), but they also offer an entrecote formule, priced at 33,000LL ($22) complete with iceberg salad, meat, and pommes allumettes (fancy for fries). The restaurant's interior is cozy and tavern-like, perfect for a date night.
  2. Paname (Gemmayze, Beirut): I was wildly impressed with the quality and authenticity of fare at this French bistro, situated on the first stretch of restaurants on Rue Gouraud. You can't go wrong with any of their principal dishes: boeuf bourgignon, coq au vin, steak tartare, baked salmon, or confit de canard. They also have the classics, like entrecote, filet de boeuf, croque monsieur/madame, and escargot, and their salads can be copious (try the fresh tuna nicoise). Don't sweat the bill, as prices are very reasonable, and dishes, hearty and generous.
  3. Ichkhanian Bakery (Zokak el Blat, Beirut): Armenian lahmadjun (la7meh b3ajjin, or meat pies) at its finest. This bakery opens from 9am to 3pm Tues-Sun. Try the pomegranate lahmadjun, marinaded in pomegranate syrup and topped with pine nuts. They also feature manti and boerek.

To Try:
  1. Schnitzels (City Mall, Dora): This may very well be Lebanon's first German restaurant. Their fare is quite simple, as they serve only schnitzels: freshly breaded and fried filets of chicken, beef, or fish. Sausage imported from Germany is purported to soon adorn the menu. The waiters are dressed in traditional Bavarian garb, which is an added bonus.
  2. Classic Burger Joint (multiple locations): You're probably dumbfounded that CBJ has made it to my "to try" list, as almost every Lebanese raves about the place. Believe it or not, I've only been to this chain once when it first opened, and my memory of the burger is neither particularly vivid nor satisfying. I recall the burger as nothing more than a glamorized fast food offering, but I'm willing to give it another shot (even though I tend to steer clear of chains). The whole-wheat bun studded with sesame seeds and oat seems promising.
  3. Cookery (Byblos): I've been on the prowl for an understated raclette restaurant, and this one may prove worthy. Their formule includes a salad; unlimited chicken, beef, zucchini, eggplant, onions, cheese, and bread; and chocolate fondue at 42,000LL ($28).

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