When Paper Moon Hits Your Eye (and Stomach), That's Amore
There may be no shortage of Italian eateries in Lebanon, let alone in Beirut, but as the saying goes, “più siamo, meglio è.” (You caught me. I merely Google-translated “the more, the merrier” from English to Italian. Cunning, am I not?)
The latest is Paper Moon, modeled after the iconic restaurant in Milan which for decades has been the haunt of fashion, business, sports, and entertainment personalities. Paper Moon’s pillars include fresh Italian cuisine, smart service, a cozy ambiance, and a gallery of legendary Hollywood celebrities in B&W strung from the walls.
Three months ago, the Abdel Wahab quartier in Achrafieh welcomed Paper Moon to its neighborhood, transposing a house into a modern, chic space complete with bar, wood-fired oven, and terrace. While perhaps one too many tables occupies the interior, this is likely in the vein of the Milanese parent institution, which insists that all elements be preserved and reproduced across the entire family of restaurants (there are two in Doha, one in Istanbul, and now one in Beirut).
|Paper Moon is situated right off of the Abdel Wahab main street
On a Friday night just a few weeks ago, we installed ourselves inside a fairly calm restaurant, which we shared with a solitary party of four Europeans near the bar. Of course, who but foreigners (and ourselves, painstakingly punctual) could care to dine at 8:30 PM?
|We were among the first to arrive on a Friday night in February
After nibbling on the proffered grissini and olive bread, our appetizers began their descent to the table.
Tortino di melanzane all Parmigiana (25,000 LL) is a layered cylindrical assembly of eggplant, tomato, and shaved Parmesan swimming in a pool of tomato sauce and garnished with basil. You won’t want to share.
Carciofi all Romana (23,000 LL) are effectively five halves of artichoke hearts crusted with Parmesan and finished with extra virgin olive oil. Another palate pleaser, but hardly divisible if the appetite roars.
|Halved artichoke hearts with Parmesan and olive oil
Eyeing the wood-fired oven with interest, we ordered a pizza porcini e tartufo (37,000 LL), which is exactly what it sounds like: porcini mushroom pizza doused in truffle oil, with a salad of arugula to crown it. The ingredients are curated, that’s certain. But the dough fails to take off in the way of some Neapolitan winners I’ve had in Beirut.
|Pizza topped with porcini mushrooms and truffle oil
Our primi piatti were sheer comfort and pleasure. I’ve rarely tasted a more generous risotto alla Certosina (28,000 LL) packing a wealth of fruits de mer, from calamari to scallops and shrimp. The rosé sauce helps wash down that melange of starch and seafood.
|A bountiful seafood risotto
The ravioli ai formaggi con crema tartufata (27,500 LL) comprise far more than a dozen homemade dough pockets caching cheese and basking in a truffle cream sauce.
|Creamy, cheesy, homemade ravioli
When a dish is suffixed with the name of the restaurant, you know it’s an unmissable house specialty. Pappardelle Paper Moon (23,000 LL) did not disappoint, its tender ribbons of pasta contrasting notably with crispy bacon bits in a velvety rosé sauce. If I weren’t protective of my self-respect, I would have slurped up that goodness and recreated the infamous scene in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.
|Pappardelle Paper Moon with crispy bacon
Dessert involved a suite of Paper Moon favorites split among the five of us. You wouldn’t think of apple pie as a quintessentially Italian dolce, but this particular torta di mele con gelato alla vaniglia (13,000 LL) came consecrated with liquid chocolate fudge and was simply spectacular.
|Apple pie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate fudge sauce
Crème brûlée is typically French, but who says the Italians can’t reinterpret it with a touch of arancia, or orange zest (12,000 LL)? It’s got the requisite shell of caramelized sugar which gives way to a silky vanilla bean-speckled pond beneath.
|Orange-kissed crème brûlée
Now how about some Italian numbers, like tiramisù (14,000 LL) and panna cotta con frutti di bosco e coulis di lamponi (16,000 LL)? I’d prefer the former plated, not cupped, with a more prominent presence of coffee-soaked savoiardi (ladyfingers). The latter hit high notes with its custard texture, tangy berries (albeit sparing), and creative planetary presentation.
|Tiramisu for one
|Panna cotta with fresh berries
By 10 PM, Paper Moon was animated with guests, loud chatter, and a general feel-good mood. It gets noisy, all right, but I’m holding out for springtime, when crisp al fresco dining weather will permit a terrace debut. With the moon in full view, it’ll be just like amore.
|A full house by 10 PM
Ferneini St., Achrafieh
Open 12:30 - 3:30 PM, 7:30 - 11:30 PM Mon-Sun