SteakBarSushi: The Art of Sensory Stimulation

It took some time before I was able to bring myself to write this piece. Writer’s block? Not really. Disillusion? Hardly. Confusion? You might call it that.

10 days ago, we sat down to dinner with the awe-inspiring Charbel Makhlouf, one of the visionaries behind the family-run operation Maison M. Charbel greases the gears and helps run the show at this epicerie, which comprises its own butchery, bakery, patisserie, catering and full-fledged Lebanese restaurant. More recently, he’s spearheaded the creation and launch of the wildly successful SteakBarSushi on the upper floor of the grocery-eatery complex.

I don’t know what’s more impressive: the mind-blowing concept and tummy-tantalizing grub that together form SteakBarSushi, or the fact that Charbel, who is all of 24 years old, is the mastermind behind it. That three generations of Makhloufs involved in the management of Maison M would give him the green light to pursue his culinary machinations speaks volumes about just how competent and in command this young man is.

Newest addition to the Maison M enterprise: SteakBarSushi

Which brings me to my current disorientation: is it more sensible to profile Charbel and his precocious leadership skills, or shall I shed light on the inimitable experience at SteakBarSushi? In attempting to tackle the latter, perhaps the former will evidence itself necessarily.

So what is SteakBarSushi? The definition lies in its melded name. Charbel, whose graduate studies in the UK focused on retail atmospherics, explained how companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to describe what their product does. Why not circumvent that heavy payload by merely tackling the age-old question of “what’s in a name?” Charbel did exactly that, and SteakBarSushi was born: a tripartite presence straddling steakhouse, sushi stronghold, and oak bar.

SteakBarSushi straddles steakhouse, sushi stronghold and bar

The atmosphere, as you would expect from an expert in retail atmospherics, is eclectic yet soothing. Chances are the guest next to you will be seated in a chair different from yours, and she’ll be wielding knife, chopsticks, plate, and cup wholly unique from yours, too. In incongruity there is room for the organic, the human, and that’s probably why Charbel insists waiters be outfitted in comfy, casual attire: jeans and a black T, anyone?

Upon ordering, the waiter presents you with your choice of knife for the evening

Or maybe Charbel wills your mind to appreciate perfection in a sea of imperfection. Because when the food emerges, it is clear that every last detail -- from the subtle dose of truffle oil in the Mac ‘n’ Cheese to the edible flowers adorning the skewered meat -- has been painstakingly premeditated and executed. In short, the main attraction is faultless.

So how about that Mac ‘n’ Cheese? This one’s been spun for mature audiences: small conchiglie shells swimming in molten Parmesan and Gruyère, splashed with a hint of truffle oil (15,000 LL). It sits surprisingly light on the stomach.

Truffled Mac 'n' Cheese

Mushroom lovers will demand an audience with King Shiitake, featuring slices of the tender umami flesh seasoned with salt, milled black pepper and rosemary plunged into fresh cream and herbs (12,000 LL).

King Shiitake in cream

If you require more mushroom (you will), the Raunchy format will do, threading a skewer through a Portobello cap marinated in miso, rosemary and lemon zest (2 skewers, 13,500 LL).

Marinated Portobello

That’s enough grazing for now…let’s delve into the meat! With a dozen options for skewered beef, chicken and seafood, each suggestion has its own appeal factor, and the decision will be arduous. We tried Feisty Beef (2 skewers, 18,000 LL) marinated in garlic, wasabi and homemade tamarind sauce. Succulent and supple can’t fail in the way of descriptors.

Skewered meat: in the foreground, scallops wrapped in bacon

Fans of scallops will reel in the Meaty Delight (2 skewers, 33,000 LL), piercing the coin-like clams each wrapped in smoky bacon. Can we dub this one surf and turf?

Sushi made a cameo at the table, as Charbel and my husband clamored for the raw seafood delicacies. Since I abstained, waxing poetic would be disingenuous. What I can say, based on first-hand observation of my dining companions, is that you’ll be immersed into a whole new world of ingredients and combinations thereof, with items like Japanese white radish – daikon – bound around fresh Scottish salmon, or smoked salmon topped with buffalo mozzarella vying with crispy onions, jalapeno and Japanese tobiko. Weirded out? Your taste buds will be exploding in bewilderment.

A selection of sushi: in the background, note the Japanese white radish daikon bundling the salmon

After a pause and a few interesting cocktails (fancy a salad in potion form?), out came the Luscious Veal, a rack of tender, milk-fed beef simmering in a signature herb sauce (69,000 LL). Charbel did the honors of chopping its pale flesh, evoking #SaltBae Nusret with lavish strokes and decisive incisions.

Charbel chopping the veal rack

Angus Black heaps 220 grams of Scottish filet on a black rock as it continues to cook to your desired doneness (52,500 LL). Slicing it is like running a heated blade through butter – it so easily gives!

Angus beef

And to pair beautifully with the Angus, Spinach Marinade basking in cream, granulated Parmesan, onions and pepper (9,000 LL). In the spud department, let yourself dillydally between this duo: Pomme Pond Neuf, boasting four bricks of golden, crisp-fried potatoes garnished with sea salt (9,750 LL); or Messy Potato, a gratin dauphinois of sorts animated with thyme leaves, garlic, mozzarella, and Grana Padano (9,000 LL).

The sides are just as essential as the mains

Pomme Pond Neuf

Messy Potato

I can’t imagine a more supreme finish than chocolate with vanilla bean ice cream. SteakBarSushi's Chocolate Orgasm is self-explanatory: piping hot liquid chocolate is poured over a discus of fondant au chocolat bordered with a chocolate circumference (15,000 LL). The snow-white frozen dollop cuts through that silky sweet richness to temper each bite.

Chocolate Orgasm

For something avant garde both functionally and aesthetically, the Dragon Cake layers shortbread cookie, pistachio and citrus cream, lychee, jellified orange, and passion fruit meringue in one precarious structure (15,000 LL). It’s hard to transmit in words, but I promise this dessert will challenge your senses on many levels.

Dragon Cake: shortbread, pistachio and citrus cream, jellified orange, and meringue

At the risk of sounding reductive, SteakBarSushi is truly a sensory journey. Navigating through a complexity of textures, flavors, and elements whose origins hail from opposite corners of the globe, the eatery models on the art of deception. What might appear deceptively basic is in fact whimsical and oftentimes convoluted. But it’s the type of convoluted that sparks curiosity and invites mystified grins.

And those grins lend comfort to Charbel, pushing him to keep pushing the envelope. Until one day, when he’ll simply set it ablaze.

Guests sign a fun disclaimer to "surrender" to the SteakBarSushi adventure

Naccache, Metn
Mar Mansour Street
Mon-Sun 5 PM - 1 AM


Popular posts from this blog

A Crowning Iftar Experience at the Crowne Plaza Beirut

6 Types of Patrons You’ll Encounter at a Coffee Shop in Lebanon

7 Types of Lebanese Parents You’ll Encounter at School Pickup