Your Destination for Dining & Unwinding in Harissa
To be completely frank, I’ve never been enticed by the numerous snack shops and restaurant cafes dotting the Harissa highway. Maybe it’s because the high-speed straightaway doesn’t lend itself to safely pulling over and parking curbside to pop in for a bite. Or maybe it’s the cheap aura these feeding joints exude, fostered by plastic tables and chairs, vinyl drapes, and an uncanny air of desolation. Yeah, it’s likely Maybe #2.
So I was a little quizzical as I listened to my good friends at Zomato wax poetic about a restaurant called Amar situated on one of the bends before reaching Harissa. Stunning views and delicious food formed the crux of their raves, and a quick glance at diners’ feedback online seemed to corroborate this. I was curious, and last week I had the chance to put matters to rest.
|The sunset view from the terrace of Restaurant Amar|
For starters, the views—I believe the proper word is panorama—aren’t just stunning, they’re tremendous. The restaurant terrace offers an unobstructed vista from Nahr el Kalb up the coastline to Tabarja. It is from this vantage point that you realize how lush Lebanon is, with whole mountains carpeted in unbroken flora and arboreal growth.
Food almost seems like an afterthought, but there’s something about the sight of the placid sea in the distance that stirs the appetite. We sampled a generous array of dishes proposed by the menu, which in fact was heavily influenced by the sprightly restaurant owner Karl Atallah. Like a faithful father tending to his young child, Atallah circulates energetically around the space, making sure customers are not merely satisfied but dazzled.
And dazzled we were.
In the cold mezza category, the batenjen raheb is exceptional. Visually it resembles a giant vegetarian sheikh el me7shi busting at the seams. Roasted aubergine flesh in its entirety cradles a blend of eggplant pulp, tomatoes and onions dusted lightly with sumac. It is delectable.
|Batenjen raheb in a unique format|
The “Capreze 3al Lebnene,” also sourcing eggplant and tomato, stars fresh halloumi drizzled liberally with pesto. It is another mouth pleaser.
|"Capreze Al Lebnene" layers tomato, eggplant, halloumi and pesto|
The fetish for pesto is unmistakable, as it makes a cameo in the hummus. And surprisingly it works, bowing to the nuttiness of the chickpea to retain a pleasant subtlety.
|"Hommos Amar" incorporates pesto|
The “3asfouriyet 7aba2” are tender cubes of beef (or ras asfour) cooked in pesto and resting on a bed of creamy hummus. My favorite of the basil-based numbers, it strikes the perfect contrast between textures and flavors.
Feast your eyes on these:
|Goat labneh blended with olives and garnished with mint leaves and cherry tomatoes|
|Labneh with garlic and shredded mint leaves|
|Impeccably crispy kibbeh teardrops|
|"Laflouflet Soujouk," the Lebanese take on "pigs in blankets"|
Special praise is due unto the taouk samak, heretofore unbeknownst to me (I can picture all the Lebanese food gurus writing me off as blasphemous). Donning the seasoning and appearance of its beloved chicken counterpart, the hammour filet is melt-in-your-mouth delicate. Trust me, it needs no dipping sauce or aioli.
|Taouk samak made of hammour filet|
Perhaps it’s the heat of the spices from the grilled meats, or perhaps it’s the summer season that had me craving cool, refreshing ice cream. The "Ghazal Amar" hit the spot: a creamy hockey puck of bouzet 2ashta is sandwiched between the stringy Lebanese cotton candy ghazl el banet and topped with crushed pistachio and candied rose petals. This is a classic treat that has my undying affection.
|"Outhmaliyet Amar" is a sandwich of sauteed vermicelli and clotted cream|
|"Layali Amar," a plain donut weighed down by a pillar of ashta ice cream|
I like to see Lebanese food revisited in a manner that doesn’t tarnish its original luster, and on the whole Restaurant Amar makes the mark. Sure, there were a few bites I wasn’t particularly wild about, like the cinnamon-infused dolma--some things are better left unaltered.
No biggie—I washed it down with the pesto hummus.
Special thanks to restaurant owner Mr. Karl Atallah for hosting us over dinner.
Harissa Main Highway
+961 9 264 111