Babel Dbayeh Unequaled in Lebanese Cuisine & Hospitality
Since I made Beirut home five years ago, I'd been hearing about the superb cuisine at Babel. Even the fortress-like appearance of the restaurant beckoned me. But there was never an occasion to visit, and five years slipped from my grasp unconsciously.
Monday finally found me tucked in to a comfortable armchair perched by the window, overlooking the towering olive tree in Babel's atrium and the many staggered levels of seating. Outside, a spacious terrace accommodates al fresco dining under the Mediterranean moon.
|An olive tree winds upward inside Babel's walls|
No number of rave reviews could have prepared me for the experience, which proved to be nearly faultless. I decided to refrain from snapping photos (well, except one, above), because I wanted to enjoy every minute of culinary euphoria free of frames, flashes, and fuss. Readers, you'll have to feel your way through this review with my words and your imagination.
From the complimentary lavash bread served with a pesto-thyme-olive oil dip, to the seasoned kernels, chilled raw almonds, and pumpkin seeds placed between every pair of guests and replenished bountifully, the evening was off to a smooth start.
Silky dunes of hummus; slightly sweet and pulpous baba ghanouj ("Moutabbal Ajami") crowned with diced tomatoes; creamy "tajen" with chunks of white fish blended into its paste; pillowy "batata harra" with just the right dose of piquancy; kibbeh pie oozing with melted mozzarella ("maajoua"); kibbeh cups cradling minced meat and cooked cherries ("mwaradde"); tender veal cubes that melt effortlessly on your tongue. Everything was surreal. Dessert, too, left little to be desired, layering date cake, date ice cream, and date roll-up in one enviable "tamriyyeh."
I'd only meddle with two dishes. The fattouch was excessively acidic, owing to both sumac and pomegranate molasses. I'd dial down the lemon factor to spotlight the bold flavors of the fresh, crisp veggies.
Also, the chicken baklawa could benefit from a saccharin touch, free from the honey dressing that accompanies it. I'd have preferred it like the Moroccan pastilla, dusted with powdered sugar and deriving sweet notes from orange blossom water, sultanas, and slivers of almond.
Beyond food, service is impeccable. The wait staff are quick to please, and I love how they remove soiled napkins from the table with tongs. Fancy.
In addition, one dish featuring Babel's signature raw meat collection ("nayeh moutammameh") mistakenly descended upon our table, and when we let the waiter know, he nodded silently and left to confer with his manager. Seconds later, he returned, and rather than retract it, he offered it on the house (er, castle). Classy and generous gesture!
Babel is without doubt the pinnacle of Lebanese cuisine in Lebanon, and I'd definitely bookmark it for those special, rare occasions. You'll be hard-pressed to find its equal.