Casa dell'Olivo: A New Contender for Beirut's Best Pizza
I’ve only been back in Lebanon five days, but already I’ve discovered a new Italian restaurant you’ll want to put on your radar. It’s called Casa dell'Olivo, and it sits between the Tayouneh roundabout and Beirut Mall, in the city of Chiyah.
The restaurant is presently in soft opening phase, and when I say soft, there’s still much to be done in terms of finalizing the menu, decorating the space, animating the ambiance, and setting the tone. But the kitchen’s pretty much ready. And it’s tantalizing.
The unique selling point? Definitely the dough. Any Italian eatery’s success heavily rests on the carefully measured ratios of flour, water, olive oil, sugar, salt and yeast. You’d think it’d take more than six ingredients to really break ground, but in fact, it’s all about process. With my favorite pizzaiolo Chef Hassan Akkary at the helms of the dough doctoring, success is an understatement. Prepare to be left speechless (which is a good thing, if you’re stuffing your face. Best you remain silent.).
The secret is spreading the dough and dusting it with semolina. The coarse wheat middlings of durum wheat that are semolina impart a gritty texture to the cornicione (the outer crust of the pizza), especially when they crisp up golden in the wood-fired oven. The result is an incredible dough that slices effortlessly and cuts cleanly with every chomp of teeth. The millimeters-thin center and fluffy circumference abide by Neapolitan pizza standards.
|Rustica pizza with semolina-crusted dough|
We tried Rustica (20,000 LL), which layers tomato sauce, cherry tomato, sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, mozzarella and arugula in a beautiful display of symmetry. The tomato sauce could benefit from a sweet lift to mask its slightly bitter aftertaste, and I’d slather it on more liberally for oomph. This is one of those rare occasions where I’ll actually advise you to brandish fork and knife, because the toppings may otherwise slide right off the cantilevered pizza slice.
Alongside your pizza, you’ll want to try the focaccia. This is where the magic is, because essentially it’s a rectangular brick of cornicione drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
|Focaccia with sides|
Framing it are house-cured beef bresaola (Casa has its own deli!), smoked scamorza cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes with rosemary, and goat cheese cups filled with olive oil. The focaccia itself is adorned with arugula, and it’s all you can do to resist finishing the whole breadboard (guilty as charged). If Casa dell'Olivo can be summarized in one dish, it’s this one.
|Up close and personal with that crispy, golden semolina|
If your conscience starts to impale you, try the Insalata di Quinoa (17,000 LL), which blends four types of fruit—kiwi, pomegranate, orange, and green apple—in a garlic citrus sauce tossed with vanilla oil and red, black and white quinoa. In all my years of consuming quinoa (half a decade now?), I’ve never had such a refreshing mélange of a salad. This will definitely whet your appetite.
|Insalata di Quinoa|
If protein is part of your balanced diet, the Pollo Alla Capra Salsa Rosmarino (28,000 LL) bounds goat cheese mousse and beef bacon inside pounded chicken breast, all drizzled in a creamy rosemary sauce. French string beans and roasted baby potatoes flesh out the dish. Since the chicken is skinless, care should be taken not to overheat it to avoid drying out completely. A generous dash of oregano and rosemary could elevate the taste profile as well.
|Pollo Alla Capra Salsa Rosmarino|
Dessert wasn’t on our agenda, but the restaurant management insisted on offering us a dense, buttery hockey puck of caramel perched on a Crunch-like chocolate bar. Strawberry, raspberry and fresh mint form its crown, which is good, because you need a lot of acidity to cut through all that cloying sweetness. Next time, I’ll try the tiramisu.
|Thick caramel mousse on a chocolate disk|
Note: Alcohol and pork are not served at Casa dell'Olivo.