I’ve eaten a lot of meals sitting by, or even floating on, the Mediterranean. Wonderful meals, kissed by salty sea breezes in France, in Spain, in Greece, in Croatia, in Turkey, in Italy, in Israel.
Today I added a country I was never quite sure I would get to. Lebanon.
In Beirut’s Babel Bay we sat outside, flanked by mini mobile fireplaces, and had a Lebanese seafood feast.
As we cuddled into our seats near the warmth of the fire, we nibbled pickled seaweed, salty nuts, roasted pumpkin seeds and bread with a sweet chili sauce and contemplated the menu.
Definitely not the Lebanese food of my childhood, but not completely unrelated either. The classic meze dishes I grew up with were there, I was happy to note.
But there was the sea, right in front of us, and on the menu seafood found its way into all kinds of gussied up Lebanese dishes. Among many amazing sounding dishes there was something of a seafood kibbe (fried balls of chopped grouper stuffed with octopus and pistachios), which we did not try and shrimp and eggplant in a yogurt sauce with bits of crispy bread which we did. It was fantastic.
Stuffed grape leaves were tangy with lemon. I’ve realized that in the states we fill them too much and don’t use enough lemon, just using the leaf to hold together a bundle of stuffing, instead of letting the leaf do more of the mouth puckering work.
Of course we had hummus, blander than usual (No garlic, maybe?), but puréed silky smooth. Fattoush with a phenomenal dressing, tart with lemon and sweetened with pomegranate molasses, and moutabel a creamy eggplant spread that’s even good when it’s not piled with pomegranate seeds doing their best ruby red jewel imitation like they were tonight.
Then there were the main courses — always a mistake when you order an extensive meze, but what could we do? They took us inside (the restaurant is gorgeous, starlit ceilings just over a 3D replica of the Beirut skyline running along the top of the walls!).
Inside is where you can pick from the catch of the day.
Jerry, Gale and Tom shared an enormous grouper and I had gigantic local shrimp. They were served with a catsup, mayonnaise and tabasco cocktail sauce that I am embarrassed to say was divine, and tartar sauce made with minced pickled seaweed. Inspired! Plus spicy, chili potatoes!
Nobody but me could eat dessert. It was blissful. The house signature dessert Ghazlieh, a cloud of spun sugar on a bed of milk custard. It’s served with fresh fruits and what they call “jams:” candied figs, pomelo peel, baby eggplants stuffed with walnuts (yes, I had eggplant for dessert), and pumpkin. The figs, especially, were perfect with the Ghazlieh, an ethereal combination of sweet air, creaminess, and honeyed fig.
That, and a cup of Lebanese coffee. My God. It was spectacular. And also why I am up writing about it at 3:50.
Yesterday wasn’t just remarkable because of the food. We spent part of the day in the Mim Mineral Museum, part of St. Joseph University, and it was orgasmic for a rock fiend like me. Needs its own post. But… just a taste…