Nasma's Modern Levantine Cuisine Is A Breath of Fresh Air
I generally shy away from using the term “fusion cuisine,” because these days, which cuisine isn’t a tapestry of varying culinary and regional influences? Even at traditional Lebanese restaurants like Burj el Hamem or Mhanna, you’re bound to find the Aleppan specialties of muhammara and kebab Orfali, in addition to the Armenian spiced sausages makanek and soujouk. And who’s not familiar with Lebanese manakish slathered with a paste of olive oil and Jordanian zaatar?
So when I heard that restaurant Nasma was being labeled as fusion, I cringed. That doesn’t tell us a thing, does it? Even the oft-quoted “Lebanese with a twist” fails to do justice to the alimentary offerings Nasma boasts. Every restaurant in existence features some kind of twist, owing to the chef’s palate and preferences!
|A selection of hot mezza items at Nasma|
Two separate dining visits in the span of 96 hours helped crystallize an image of what this eatery dishes up, and that’s unequivocally modern Levantine cuisine. Sure, you can have your Lebanese staples without a fuss: a creamy bowl of hummus, a lemony salad of tabbouleh, smashed spheres of falafel with tahini. But if you do, you’ll quite easily be missing out on the most unique nuances of Nasma’s gourmet repertoire.
I’d heard of the Damascene lentil stew 7arak esba3o, which contextually translates to “finger-licking good,” but Nasma presents it in salad format with coriander, garlic, pomegranate seeds, onions, croutons and rocket leaves (9,750 LL). It’s tangy, refreshing and easily borrows from at least three cuisines. Croutons to top a salad? Quintessentially Americana.
|A refreshing lentil and pomegranate seed salad|
Cauliflower are the hallmark of the Lenten season, and Nasma doesn’t let them go underutilized. How about a mtabbal 2arnabit whose thick consistency emanates from puréed cauliflower blended with tahini (10,750 LL)? The crowning laurels are florals: pan-fried flowerets of cauliflower.
|Mtabbal 2arnabit: cauliflower with tahini|
In many conventional Lebanese restaurants, you have the option of topping your hummus with tiny cubes of beef called ras asfour. At Nasma, however, ground beef tossed with onions and pine nuts are cradled in a hummus centrifuge (it sure looks like one, doesn’t it!) (11,750 LL). The flavor profile couldn’t be richer or more irresistible.
|Hummus with ground beef and pine nuts|
Cheese rolls, or rkeket jebneh, have got to be my Achilles heel, with their molten core and delicate phyllo envelope. Nasma kicks it up a notch with basil and garlic, and even in the baked edition, they’re oh so decadent (7,750 LL for 4).
|Cheese, garlic, and basil rolls|
Spinach-artichoke dip has found its way onto every menu in Lebanon, from the café du coin to every pub in Mar Mikhael. Enough, right? Nasma chucks the mozzarella for feta and replaces corn chips with their crisped pita counterparts. Albeit slightly acidic, this dip is good stuff (13,250 LL).
|Baked feta and spinach|
Possibly the most epiphany-inducing dish I sampled was the chili con carne, which swaps out ground beef in favor of casing-free soujouk (13,750 LL). Who’d have thought it tastes better than both its predecessors? A scoop of guacamole is the perfect garnish.
|Clockwise from top left: mousakhan chicken wraps, chili con carne with soujouk, and corn chips|
Mousakhan, a Palestinian specialty, bundles roasted chicken, sumac, pine nuts, and onions inside paper-thin markouk bread. Nasma almost masters it, pairing it with a cup of plain yogurt, but the wrap is more on the order of tortilla bread thickness (13,750 LL). Preserving its desired thinness allows the contents to take center stage, rather than emphasizing the carb buffer.
If you think a dessert lineup wouldn’t stand a fighting chance after such a strong savory suite, think again. Nasma proposes a dozen totally novel delicacies, and the five I tried were all inspiring.
Profiteroles stuffed with bouzet ashta, milk-flavored Arabic ice cream with salep, come drizzled in carob molasses and adhered together with homemade fig jam (13,750 LL for 8).
|Profiteroles with ashta ice cream, carob molasses and fig jam|
Spiced carrot cheesecake is exactly what you’d expect: a base of moist carrot cake layered with whipped cream cheese and grated carrots tossed in sugar, all sided by a dollop of ashta ice cream (11,500 LL). Tremendous.
|Spiced carrot cheesecake|
Although you can hardly make out the halawa, the chocolate-banana cake is rich in dark chocolate bark and a custardy banana base. It also comes accompanied by a scoop of ashta (13,750 LL).
|Chocolate, banana and halawa cake|
What will probably prove the most popular treat is the knefeh-ice cream love triangle, drawing on a base of crunchy semolina beneath vanilla and chocolate ice cream layers and swirls of Nutella (16,500 LL). Sesame seeds, candied rose petals, and crushed pistachios extend an Oriental touch.
|Knefeh and Nutella: a match made in heaven?|
Any fans of baked cheesecake in the house? Nasma’s will win you over with its embedded sultanas and a syrup-drenched phyllo dough topping (13,750 LL). Best part? It doesn’t suffer from the same magnitude of calories of a similar slice at The Cheesecake Factory.
Just as its name purports, Nasma is a breath of fresh air, and it will undoubtedly blow you away.
City Centre Beirut (Hazmieh): 01-288256
The Village Dbayeh: 76-182636
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