Showing posts from May, 2015

COSTA NAVARINO: The Premier Destination Out of Lebanon For Summer 2015

Nothing could have prepared me for the paradise that awaited us at Costa Navarino as we alighted from a two-hour flight from Beirut to Athens early one Friday morning in mid-May. The three-hour-and-some-odd-minutes drive from the airport exposed a lush, hilly landscape that became only more verdant as we left the mainland and penetrated the 4,500-year-old region of Messinia in the southwest Peloponnese.
Olive trees graced the topography in every direction for as far as the eye could wander and particularly prominently in Kalamata, where a local airport will begin operating nonstop flights to Beirut this summer. Glimpses of perfectly-manicured golf courses, dubbed Dunes and The Bay and ranking among the best in Europe, teased us with unobstructed sea views of Navarino Bay as we approached our destination.

At first sight, The Westin Resort at Costa Navarino doesn't come on too strong in façade or grandeur to an unsuspecting visitor. There are no towering buildings, lofty signage, or…

Tales from Overseas: Five Types of Lebanese Guys You'll Meet Abroad

I lived abroad for the first twenty and some odd years of my life. Over the course of young adulthood, I ran into my fair share of Lebanese boys. I remember at first, if I as much as heard Lebanese chatter on campus, my heart would leap with joy, as though I were reuniting with long-lost kindred. But getting to know a Lebanese guy was a far less exhilarating experience. In fact, they nearly always proved to be major disappointments, and I started to dodge them with a wary vigilance.

From the very arrogant, self-obsessed type to the wannabe playboy, from the cologne-drenched narcissist to the annoyingly slick socialite, these fob guys made me cringe so deeply, I shrugged off my Lebanese heritage at one point just to avoid being associated with them.
Let me paint a clearer picture and show you why.

1.  One of the most common breeds is the guy newly-arrived from Lebanon and enamored with his newfound freedom. He’s finally fled the nest and shrugged off the stiffer societal norms of Lebanon,…

What's New In Zaitunay Bay?

I’m so pleased with the way Zaitunay Bay has transformed. Over the course of this blog, I've been rather vocal (here, here, here, and here!) about how the restaurant strip can’t hope to succeed if it’s tailored exclusively to jet-setting tourists. Well, sure enough, the people have spoken, and by spoken, I mean they didn't give big-ticket restaurants the business they needed to remain afloat in the waters of high rental costs.
So as they shuttered, more familiar and casual dining options moved in, brands the Lebanese recognize and adore. We could have used Café Paul as an example early on in the Zaitunay Bay case study—it was arguably the only venue that consistently teemed with guests, and never once did I feel like it was suffering from ailing tourism or a stagnating economy.
Classic Burger Joint is another telling lesson. It boasts quick and easy dining; a well-reputed brand; and delicious burgers. Expectations were not dashed: CBJ has survived and thrived.
Pinkberry and Star…

Lebanese Wines to Savor This Summer Season

I confess: I have a soft spot for good wine. My first sip of it was in grad school, when I was 21 and therefore “legal” by the stipulations of American law. Our department held wine and cheese socials once a semester to encourage fraternity outside the confines of the research lab. 

During year two as a master’s candidate, a wine-tasting course was hosted by my residence hall, and I was formally introduced to concepts like tannins, bouquets, notes, and legs.
Residing a year in Paris tremendously accelerated my understanding and appreciation of wine. Any business lunch, no matter how casual, usually involved a glass of the grape derivative, and a house party couldn't be qualified as such unless there were at least a dozen labels on offer. 

Perhaps most alluring for us students on our limited stipends were the absurdly inexpensive prices at which bottles of wine could be had. Sure, anything south of €2 would likely be a shade of vinegar, but even decent bottles could be fetched for €3-…

Introducing Artisanal Home Baker Sarah Menassa

Sarah Menassa is not your average girl. By day, the 20-something professional is a psychomotricienne who treats children with undeveloped or impaired motor abilities. She clocks hours at Collège Champville and sees clients in a private clinic.
By evening, Sarah rolls up her sleeves and dons a kitchen apron, working her hands at cake-making. What started as personal therapy to unwind from the day’s hustle and bustle soon evolved into a full-fledged home bakery, Dulce ‘n Banana. Sarah takes orders for any occasions from baptisms and engagement parties to birthdays, anniversaries, and religious holidays.

These aren't your ordinary cakes either. You won't find a ready-mix bundt cake or a standard fôret noir with the canned fruit salad in the cream. Leave those to the commercial vendors. Nor will you happen across the traditional patisserie française that’s long been an integral part of pastry shops in Lebanon.

Sarah is a true artist, a visionary who applies her imagination to the ca…

A Restaurant Destined for a Michelin Star...Here in Lebanon!

If there’s any restaurant in Beirut that could become a serious candidate for the elusive Michelin star, it’s unequivocally Harry’s Bar. The storied Italian dining spot, located next to Burgundy in Saifi Village, has been open for six months now, and since day one, young Executive Chef Andrea Gurzi from Calabria, Italy, has been wowing Beirut with his masterful edible creations.

I’m not the only one who thinks so highly of his work. Gurzi and his partner chef Nicolas Ardu, also a native Italian, competed in Horeca’s “Live Meat Cooking Competition” against prominent kitchens like The Four Seasons, Phoenicia Hotel, Le Royal, and Radisson Blu. Their steak and vegetable platter, evoking an aesthetic architectural structure, earned them top honors for both taste and presentation.

Gurzi is decidedly avant garde for Lebanon, where the palate for Italian cuisine is sadly limited to the likes of mozzarella di bufala adorned with a few sprigs of basil, anal dentepenne arrabbiata, or a thin-crust…

Beyond the Mezza Bar at Studio Beirut

I’m pretty sure I've dined at Studio Beirut close to a dozen times. In fact, since it first debuted in 2013 as Studio 43, I've become a passionate champion of the mezza bar, which boasts an array of at least two dozen cold appetizers like hindbeh, labneh with olives and jalapenos, hummus, moutabbal, mdardra, fried cauliflower with tahini dip, and oodles more. In fact, if you properly indulge in the mezza bar, I guarantee you’ll have room for little else.

So it was high time we strayed from our beaten path and tried something new at Studio. The menu is divided into salads, hot mezza, sandwiches and mains. Between the hours of noon and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, you can opt for one of the best-value meals in Beirut. LBP 22,000 (USD 15) will land you a salad, four mezza items, a plat du jour, dessert, and mineral water. That’s unbeatable around this neck of the woods—heck, a cocktail these days goes for LBP 22,000.
We started with the green salad (10,500 LL), a refreshing medley…

Traditional Lebanese Hospitality: We're Losing It

Call me old-fashioned, but I love home gatherings. I’m not talking about the hush-hush hangouts where joints are circulated, booze reigns aplenty, and getting sloshed is the name of the game. I’m more interested in the cozy social affairs where hospitality and warmth preside as people come together to exchange merry conversation over a bite or drink.
As a child growing up in Southern California in an admittedly traditional Lebanese household, inviting folks over for a lavish spread of food was normal weekend activity. Our parents would sit with the adults in the “salon,” whereas we kids would play host to their children, entertaining them with either a movie, the gaming console, or whatever new gadgets or board games we’d acquired. Almost as soon as our guests arrived, Mom would put out an array of delicious snacks and drinks to whet their appetites, and a home-cooked meal was certain to follow.
Weeks later, we would return the visit, hoping for a reciprocal welcome. These visits helped…