Cantina Sociale: Beirut's Very Own Wine Bar-Cum-Café
For some time now, my friends and I have been searching high and low for a wine bar-cum-café. You know the type: a casual space where you can curl up with a book while sipping a cappuccino, or heck, a glass of Bordeaux. A zen outfit where you can hammer out a paper for your Psych class without a waiter constantly hovering over your shoulder, asking whether you’d fancy dessert.
At long last, I'm happy to report, I've found the fit, and its name is Cantina Sociale.
Located adjacent to Caribou Coffee a block from Sassine Square in Achrafieh, Cantina is a self-service café that doubles as a wine cellar housing over 300 available labels (and they start at rock bottom prices, too!). There are about 20 local and international bottles on tap, and with a single swipe of your Cantina membership card, you can opt for one of three volumes of wine: a sample, a half glass, or a full glass.
|Cantina boasts 300 international and local wine labels|
|There are also numerous bottles of wine on tap|
Discover wines from Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, California, Portugal, Spain, France and more at any budget. This is no exaggeration: a bottle of Côtes du Rhône millésime 2012 from France can be had for as little as 16,000 LL, with a trivial 15% markup for dine-in (that’s still less than half of what you’d pay at any other venue in town).
|A bottle of Côtes du Rhône for all of USD 12? Fancy that!|
Why, you ask, are prices of wine bottles so affordable? The owner of Cantina, who is related to the Clos St. Thomas family, has been importing wine in bulk far before she even conceived the idea of a hangout. She passes on those savings to customers.
Settle inside at a wooden table or wall divan, or sit al fresco on the terrace. Once you’ve homed in on a choice from the wine bible, expect a stir of the appetite.
|Feels just like home with shelves of knickknacks on display|
In the nibbles department, food is rather simple. There is a selection of salads and sandwiches, as well as deli and cheese boards to accompany your vino. Prosciutto with pesto in fresh white baguette (15,000 LL) is a winning combination, but I found the tuna blend (14,000 LL) to be rather bitter and couldn't make out if it were endive or green apple to blame.
|The food spread|
The summer rolls (13,000 LL) bound in rice paper could use a lift from coriander, though admittedly the mild peanut sauce is fantastic. Complimentary crudités, Taralli, and popcorn are a wonderful touch and immediately replenished once depleted.
|Veggie summer rolls with peanut dip|
Dessert comprises inventive specialties like rum bread pudding and caramel popcorn beer float. Bizarrely enough, both draw on alcohols besides wine -- rather curious for a wine bar. But that doesn't undermine the fact that they're superb.
|Foreground: rum bread pudding; background; caramel popcorn beer float|
In terms of authentic concept, laidback atmosphere, and comfort, Cantina hits the mark. But I'd really like to see it up its game in the gourmet department, even if its menu adheres to the basics of salads and sandwiches (hint: draw inspiration from Bar Tartine!). Because really, it takes two to tango – nothing like good food and sublime wine to get you in the groove.
Open 8 am - midnight