The B018 You Don't Know: Gastronomic East Asian Cuisine

My Instagram followers know me all too well.

The other week, I posted images from a dinner I enjoyed at B018, one of Lebanon’s most popular discotheques. Within minutes, direct messages poured in, conveying utter disbelief at my visit there.

It’s true: I’m not a big fan of nightclubs. My idea of reveling involves an elaborate gourmet affair, a stimulating discussion with the chef, and strutting through the city afterward to undo the pesky calories. Try beckoning me with booze against a backdrop of acid jazz, thick fumes of cigarette smoke, and patrons pressed uncomfortably up on me? Not my scene.

So what was I doing at B018 on a Wednesday evening just days before the close of 2018? Getting a jump on my New Year’s resolution to party like it’s 1969? I mean, seriously, I’ve resided in Lebanon for eight years now, and B018 was never on my bucket list.

Up until I learned that as of last month, food figures into the club’s offering. And by food, I don’t mean bland and greasy breaded halloumi sticks, or cheap nachos bound together by a God-awful blend of cheese that plasticizes under the mere application of heat.

I’m talking about dishes and ingredients I’ve altogether never heard of, let alone tasted. And they somehow made it into the good graces of this venue, which in 1998 was famously designed by architect Bernard Khoury to resemble a communal grave with a circular iron plate that lifts up in the summertime to expose an open-air dance floor.

So two weeks ago, my husband and I descended the stairs to enter B018 in Karantina, on the edge of Beirut. A hostess kindly led us to our corner, where the stools, table and even ashtray are all cubic renderings. We were in for a night of intrigue.



Geometry is the name of the game at B018, whether it's the furniture or stoneware



Our waiter Mohamed handed us clipboards, one featuring a slate of food items, the other, artisanally-crafted cocktails. To be sure, there are slightly more than a dozen dishes counting among them appetizers, salads, and mains. Tender seared scallops, rock shrimp tempura, shrimp gyoza, seared Wagyu, sesame-kissed Shishito green peppers – the roster is decidedly East Asian-inspired and rather innocent.

So we felt no remorse going down the list and ordering nearly every item, starting with those Shishito peppers (14,000 LBP). Who knew that a jalapeno doppelganger would leave us speechless? Dressed in furikake, or a dry Japanese seasoning comprising sesame seeds, sugar, and salt, and incorporating dashi, a traditional stock, these peppers go down without a fuss. Fortunately, none of them were piquant, but our waiter had warned that the batch might contain a few feisty members.



Shishito peppers


The white fish ceviche (21,000 LBP) caught us off guard. Typically, you see a deluge of mango and red onions in these concoctions, but B018’s opted for a different orange-fleshed creature: baked sweet potato. And in keeping with Japanese influence, the dressing calls upon yuzu, a citrus fruit whose zest is used to garnish and flavor, while its juice serves a similar function to lemon.



White fish ceviche with baked sweet potato



In all frankness, I hadn’t eaten shrimp gyoza since I was a student in Paris and discovered Rue Sainte Anne near the Opera lined with a row of Japanese restaurants. Back then, gyoza was an epiphany, a crescent-shaped dumpling reminiscent of “sambousik” that stuck gently to my palate. B018’s shrimp gyoza (21,000 LBP) stirred up those memories fondly, and I was tempted to order seconds.



Shrimp gyoza



But other goodness awaited, namely in the form of rock shrimp tempura (20,000 LBP). Not only were they impeccable, lightly drizzled with chili mayo and garnished with flecks of chive, B018 chucks the clichéd martini glass in favor of a slotted concave cement slab. In fact, all of the stoneware on which food is presented at the club will leave you mesmerized with their noble air.



Rock shrimp tempura



The seared scallops (27,000 LBP) emerged individually resting on a bed of edamame puree with a crown of pickled onions, and they’re sublime. Surely, B018 recognizes them as the filet mignons of the sea, because the chef prepares them in both an aesthetically and gastronomically pleasing format: tender, succulent, and princely.



Seared scallops on a bed of edamame puree



If you’re more of a turf than surf diner, go the route of the seared wagyu (25,000 LBP), served with Daikon, a mild-flavored winter radish native to East Asia, and rock chives, also specific to that region. Don’t expect any play with taste or flavor: this premium beef comes wholly unseasoned so that you might enjoy it in a pure state.



Seared wagyu beef



After such a fresh, healthy, and innocuous parade of edibles, I won’t lie: I was pining for a sumptuous dessert. The Japanese aren’t particularly renowned for their naughty sweet tooth – they’re more into red bean paste and mochi – so I suppose B018 prefers to keep things authentic rather than tack on a chocolate fondant or pain perdu to the menu. Fair enough. I ordered a cocktail instead.



When a cocktail functions as both dessert and thirst quencher



We found our way out just as the club was beginning to pulsate with people. Which was fine by me, because even though I didn’t have a chance to meet the brilliant chef and talk shop, I’d just been treated to a gourmet spectacle. And I was reveling with ecstasy.


Karantina
+961 3 800 018
Opens Wed through Sat, 8 PM onward.

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