Holiday Gourmet Guide in Beirut
Whether you’re descending upon Beirut for a few weeks this holiday season, or you’re a valiant local braving the traffic impasses on our roads, there’s redemption yet: Lebanon’s lively gourmet scene. Heck, if we as a country can unanimously decide on a solitary national treasure to cherish and uphold, it’s the cuisine and our intense love thereof. Not only do we do it better, we share immense appreciation for food (and drink) as an art form.
I won’t sit here and wax poetic about the age-old institutions you’ll no doubt be tucking into with family. Nope. This list is a casual, contemporary roundup of cool, seasonal stuff you've gotta gorge on before we ring in 2019. None of it is here to stay, so make haste and ready your eating utensils. Mostly, just bring your appetite.
For the past six months, I’ve been monitoring Classic Burger Joint with eagle eyes. The remarkable improvement in the quality of meat, freshness of ingredients, and all-around value for money is palpable. Something has clearly clicked back into gear, and if you don’t want to take my word for it, go try the new Boursin burgers. The beef patty comes with a creamy, flavorful sauce packing in Cracked Black Peppercorn Boursin, while the chicken breast is beautifully accentuated with the spreadable cheese’s Garlic & Fine Herbs edition. Opt for either crispy fries or mashed potatoes at no extra cost. Price point? Just LBP 18,500 (US$ 12.33), dine-in or delivery.
|Chicken breast burger jazzed up with Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin sauce|
|I realize you can hardly make out the burger here, hidden beneath the bun and mashed potatoes, but it's a winner|
Last week, I visited ZWZ with the intention of trying the new Choco-boom, a sweet bundle blending crushed biscuits, hazelnut chocolate spread, chunky peanut butter, and molten mozzarella (LBP 10,750/US$ 7.17). If I had to describe it in layman terms, it’s a Chunky Kitkat swaddled in a thin shell of dough and dusted with grated coconut. I highly recommend you share it with a companion. But before you satisfy your sweet tooth, snack on the Angus Beef Boomburger with a side of fries and coleslaw (LBP 15,250/US$ 10.17). A golden, crispy pocket caches a juicy beef patty basking in melted mozzarella and topped with dill pickles, lettuce and tomato. The sauce is sublime. Nicely played, ZWZ. You got my attention.
|Choco-boom, a sweet, hefty bundle of bliss|
|Angus Beef Boomburger|
Actually, there’s nothing seasonal or limited edition about Swiss Butter. After dining at their brand new outlet in Jal el Dib last week, I can confidently confirm they’re in it for the long haul. So how did they make it to this list? Because they’re geniuses, masterfully combining excellent food with unheard of affordability, and that deserves major mention in my book. Their main attraction is the steak-frites. Whether you select beef, or salmon, or chicken, the price is LBP 22,000 (US$ 14.67) for a wooden breadboard boasting a cast-iron pan of meat simmering in a secret sauce concocted with 33 spices and herbs, in addition to a generous heap of fries, fresh-baked baguette, and French lettuce salad. Wash it all down with a carafe of wine (LBP 20,000/US$ 13.33), and by God, save room for dessert. Molten Chocolate or Pain Perdu? All I will indulge you is that they’re both supremely decadent, liberal in portion, and the perfect antidote to this chilly weather.
|Feast on this! Your choice of steak, salmon or chicken; fries or baked potato; white or brown bread|
|Save room for the Molten Chocolate and Pain Perdu|
Kusmi Tea: Tsarevna
It’s called Christmas tea for a reason, with a flavor profile comprising cinnamon, cardamom, orange peel, aniseed, ginger and licorice root against a landscape of black tea. The story goes that ages ago, under the Russian empire, the tsarevnas, or daughters to the tsar, would travel to the Winter Palace to celebrate the holiday season in Saint Petersburg, home of Kusmi Tea. This tea blend comes in a limited edition tin decorated with arabesques, inspired by the masterpieces of Russian jewelry. It’s equally pretty in taste, naturally sweet and festive with the warm scents of Christmas spices. Find it at ABC Achrafieh’s Kusmi Tea shop.
|Kusmi's Tsarevna merits a dreamy high tea affair replete with refined pastries|
There’s no doubt that Paris is at its most magical during Christmas, what with the Marché du Noel lining the Champs Elysées, sweet indulgences animating patisserie vitrines, and a hot cup of espresso to cast away the caustic cold. The latest creations from Nespresso, carrying the monikers of Paris Macaron, Paris Black, and Paris Praliné, capture the very essence of wintertime gourmandise in the City of Light. While they’re wholly inspired and evocative of their namesake pastries, I recommend you complement your coffee with the real-life counterparts. Coffee and dessert: was there ever a finer match? Nespresso is housed inside ABC Dbayeh, Verdun, and Achrafieh, as well as Beirut City Centre.
I’ll seize this opportunity to invoke last week’s blog post, a wine guide shortlisting ten exceptional labels both imported and local. Indeed, there’s nothing like that bittersweet grape elixir to render the holidays – or any occasion, for that matter – a shade more festive, forgiving, and frolicky. Rich white wines, big spicy reds, fruity finishes, oaky flavors, vanilla bouquets: The vast world of wine may not be particularly easy to fathom, but it washes down without a hitch. And a bottle makes a perfect dinner party gift, or an invitation to cozy up on the couch while consuming corny Christmas romances on Netflix. My pocket-friendly roundup (all under $20) features the likes of Batroun Mountains, Sendiana, Domaine de Chlifa, and Chateau Nabise, among others. Find them at Wesley’s Wholesale in Hazmieh.
|Visit the chilled wine cellar at Wesley's Wholesale Orange Label in Hazmieh|
Bon appétit and Merry Christmas!