Food Trend Alert in Lebanon: The Skillet!
The culinary scene in Lebanon has been capsized by a trend sweeping its way through every major restaurant chain. Can you guess what it is?
The latest sensation is the “skillet,” which in layman terms is merely a frying pan. Think of how fajitas are typically presented: in a cast-iron skillet. This ensures the meat continues to sizzle and cook even while off the stove top, nestled in front of you and titillating your senses.
Perhaps the credit of streamlining skillets in this country belongs to Swiss Butter, a two-outlet-strong restaurant that does one thing and one thing only: what I like to call meat-frites, French fries with your choice of either beef, chicken, or salmon. The meat comes swimming in a pool of secret sauce containing 33 herbs and spices, kept warm inside a skillet. The skillet is flanked by fries, sliced baguette bread, and a mesclun salad all neatly arranged on a wooden breadboard. For 22,000 LL ($14.67), you can have a superb dish cooked to your specified doneness. If you’re still hungry, you can order another round of meat. But that’s it in the savory department. No salads, no appetizers, no sandwiches, nothing.
|The salmon skillet at Swiss Butter ($14.67)|
It’s proven to be a winning concept, too. Diners enjoy that kind of simplicity, where not even a menu is required. The kitchen almost always gets it faultlessly, and you pay a very reasonable tab for what you’re getting.
No doubt every major restaurant wants in on Swiss Butter’s sizzling strength, and in recent months we’ve seen decent iterations of it cropping up around town.
I had the pleasure of trying Classic Burger Joint’s new Il Skilleto dish, which can be had in three different formats: a duo of chicken breasts, an Angus beef patty stuffed with cheese (“Jucy Lucy” for the initiated), or a salmon fillet. Have your choice of either fried or baked spuds and a medley of grilled veggies, all for only 18,000 LL – 19,500 LL ($12-13). CBJ draws on Barilla pesto as a base for the dressing, blending it with their signature mushroom sauce. It’s impressively delicious, healthy, and affordable. Who would have ever seen this coming, from the folks whose slogan proclaims “burgers is all we do!”?
|Il Skilleto Salmon at Classic Burger Joint ($13)|
|Il Skilleto Chicken at Classic Burger Joint ($12)|
A couple months ago, Bartartine introduced steak-frites and poulet frites to their menu. The former comprises a 200-g hunk of Australian grass-fed beef, served in an herb sauce with fries and a side salad (39,500 LL/$26). The latter spotlights a duo of marinated chicken breast for 28,500 LL ($19). Bartartine is famously a high-end bistro catering to yuppies and seasoned diners. The restaurant offers a basket of complimentary fresh-baked baguette coupled with olive oil for dipping. Prices are on the upper end.
Roadster, under the same management and ownership as Bartartine (and Deek Duke and Zaatar W Zeit), newly launched their take on the skillet. The first is dubbed “Steak ‘N’ Fries,” and its contents are verily captured by its name. It goes for 30,750 LL ($20.50). If you’re more into white meat, opt for the Truffle Chicken Boursin, served with French fries, grilled mushrooms, boiled broccoli, baguette slices, and a creamy Boursin truffle sauce (uncannily reminiscent of CBJ’s winter-exclusive Boursin burger?). The chicken dish fetches a price tag of 27,500 LL ($18.33).
Other eateries have bolstered their menus with steak-frites but foregone the skillet format in favor of standard plating. Divvy is one such example, whose “Steak et Frites” boasts a seared beef filet, DV steak sauce, fries, and a green side salad, all for 25,000 LL ($16.67).
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Couqley, the French bistro who had its cozy origins in the Gemmayzeh quartier nearly a decade ago and made the Steak-Frites famous in Lebanon. Like Divvy, Couqley has always plated the dish rather than served it in a skillet. Years ago, the Steak-Frites used to be distinctively printed and highlighted on the menu, recommended to first-time guests as a signature classic with a tender pan-fried filet doused in a unique sauce crafted by French Chef Alexis Couquelet.
I remember when it went for 29,000 LL ($19.33). In later years, a heftier version of the dish commanded a price of 39,000 LL ($26), but you still had the option of the standard portion for 29,000 LL. The Steak-Frites is no longer called out in a box and figures as the seventh of ninth dishes under the “Boeuf” header. Nevertheless, it lives up to the "survival of the fittest" philosophy and remains popular among guests.
Have I missed any meat-frites skillets in and around Beirut? Where have you been enjoying yours? Chime in!