DIVVY Review

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I don’t usually think about a review too much, I just open a new tab and start writing. But, with Divvy, it was hard just placing it in a category to decide how to proceed from there.

Here’s what I ended up with: if you get the concept of mezzah in Lebanese cuisine, and replace the dishes with a slightly larger ones and include dishes from cuisines around the world and a few original concepts, you’ll get Divvy.

Divvy means dividing up and sharing, and that’s what the place is all about (minus the bathroom of course as you can see in the sign above =P). From the moment you sit down, it starts, with the hostess welcoming you to the table and handing you a card with your waiter or waitress’ name, and some info about them. We got Marwan, who’s a huge Game of Thrones fan, so when he did end up coming to our table, I opened up with “Winter is coming!”

After ordering our drinks, we got the coasters attached to each other, and we had to break them off in the spirit of divvying everything, including the coasters!

The second I looked at the menu, one particular item caught my eye: shiitake mushroom casserole with bacon. Now, those two ingredients are perhaps my two of my all-time favorites, albeit they’re never mixed as far as I know. So, having lots of shiitake, in shiitake sauce riddled with chunks of savory bacon, was a definite yes. I guess if I were a chef, and wanted to create an epic dish, it’d be that and I’d add some pasta!

We opened with that divine dish, so I didn’t really expect the rest to live up to that standard. But, they did. We got the twin burgers (so you can share them, duuuh) and they were awesome. The bun and meat were so supple and juicy and the flavors went together perfectly, with no ingredient overpowering the flavor: even the ingredients divvied up the taste.

The last order we got was braised chicken on a bed of ricotta cheese, spinach and mashed potatoes. Now, the spices they put on the extremely tender, juicy chicken was something I fell in love with, and I couldn’t get the Divvy people to tell me what that secret ingredient was, but it was sublime.

The dishes are mostly somewhere between 20,000 LBP and 28,000 LBP, and they’re not enough to make you full, so, the idea is being there with loads of other people and order a bunch of items off the menu. The price is probably gonna be divvied up, so you’ll end up with somewhere between 20 and 25 USD if you’re 2 folks that ordered 3-4 dishes and a drink.

The drinks are also awesome, with a really neat presentation. I’d recommend the Absinthe-based one if you’re into the sour kind of cocktails, and the passion fruit one if you like the bitter-sweet kind of taste (it comes with half a passion fruit and a spoon too!)

The place is very nice too. They’ve built a traditional stone masonry wall in the outdoor section, and the inside is full of cool artwork (the light fixtures and awesome Grizzly bear were my favorite). The music was just the right volume to make you bob your head while enjoying your meal, but allowed for conversation to flow very smoothly. It was nice, chill, sometimes electronic music.

All in all, it’s been quite a while since I enjoyed food that much. It was exciting tasting new, weird dishes, and pleasantly enjoying more traditional ones that tasted unusually good. The staff is very friendly, the venue is pretty cool in the heart of Mar Mikhail, and the food, well, nothing I say will give it justice, so, I’ll let you decide for yourselves so you don’t think I’m being too biased. All in all, they’ve worked hard on the concept and menu, and it shows. It’s nice to see someone do that when the trend recently has been menus with just a handful of items, in a tiny place that specializes in one thing. Don’t get me wrong, that’s awesome and I love that, but sometimes, it’s nice to go for something more.

If Lebanese Restaurant Names Were Honest…

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Noura Andrea Nassar is a good friend of mine, and her Facebook updates always put a smile on my face, with witty, funny, expressive and sometimes just pretty illustrations and models she does almost daily. Her series like “25 days of Santa” are awesome, and you can check all her work here.

The one above is hilarious, and I pretty much agree on all of them. My favorite is Kababji’s, where I love the food, but the sandwiches and portions are a joke.

Rod’s Burgers Review

I love burgers. I rarely pass up an opportunity to try out a new burger in Beirut or anywhere else I’m visiting around the world. The recent trend in burger joints in Lebanon has given birth to several up-scale places with burgers the price of steaks and opening hours and reservation policies that have made some of us forget that the burger should be a humble, food-truck kind of dish that feels like home, is quick and tastes epic. Of course, there are some exceptions, like Brgr Co. which currently holds the favorite position in my heart for the divine “Butcher’s Cut” burger.

The other day though, I tried out a small burger joint in Gemmayzeh that had been off my radar for almost a year. It’s called Rod’s Burger’s and it’s right across the street from the St. Nicolas stairs.

Rod, or Rudolph, is a blast. He’s very friendly and you’ll find yourself too caught up in the conversation with him to enjoy the burger he just rustled up for you. Rod’s is awesome because its price is very reasonable. For just 8,000 LBP you can have a steak mushroom burger, which is what I had.

The awesome thing is that the price isn’t a compromise at the expense of quality. Rod’s gets only local sheep meat from local butchers, which is a far cry from the exotic frozen stuff most burger joints and restaurants do. The toppings are also top-notch, like the parma ham he uses for the parma hamburger which is to-die-for, and actual ham, none of that cow bacon/ham stuff, just real, legit bacon.

Rod’s also experiments a lot, and you can check out the creations they come up with on their very active Instagram account. What’s awesome is that the innovation starts here, then gets copied in other burger joints and the price marked-up of course.

The burger is perfect, you can have it juicy or well-done, and the bread and condiments are all well-prepared before combining them into your very customizable burger. I highly recommend the mushroom steak burger, but if you’re a burger fan, it can’t hurt to create your own burger.

All in all, Rod’s Burgers is a great place, and one of the places I’ll definitely frequent before happy hour in Gemmayzeh or Mar Mikhail. Pass by, and tell Rod I say hi!

Bagatelle Hamra Review

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I love finding gems in the middle of the city. Bagatelle is the perfect example of that, an old traditional Lebanese villa turned into a nice, cozy gourmet restaurant in the heart of Hamra.

I’ve known about Bagatelle for many years, but for some reason, I never got the chance to try their food.

The absolutely gorgeous 1920s house has its old charm left intact and renovated, with awesome quirky additions like a Salvador Dali wine fridge, absolutely fantastic floor tiles, and when I was there last, adorable Christmas decorations done by special needs kids up for sale for charity.

The indoor section is perfect for winter times, with the warm feeling of old stone masonry and wood in the semi-private four large rooms the perfect place for a family dinner, or better yet, a nice date.

Outside, you sit in the shade of two massive trees, with patio furniture and a garden that makes you forget you’re in the heart of busy, crammed Hamra. It’s perfect if the weather is pleasant, an oasis of good food and tranquil vibes in an otherwise bustling, traffic-jammed part of the city.

It’s also within walking distance of AUB and LAU, so if you ever wanna escape the Bliss food stands for a proper warm meal and good conversation, just walk up Jean D’Arc Street and go in on your first right after Cupackery.

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The food is amazing, and it’s Mediterranean cuisine which offers a wide selection of wine and all the perks of a French Bistro. I love the penne a crevettes (penne with white sauce and shrimp) which is absolutely delicious and for just 24,000LBP. I also highly recommend brunch there, a concept that I feel needs to become more common in Beirut!

All in all, Bagatelle is awesome, and I highly recommend it. It’s amazing food, perfect venue, conveniently located and at a very fair price.

Check out their Facebook page here.

Roadster Diner Menu: 1999 vs 2013

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12-3-2013 8-49-24 PM_0358And here are some comparisons, courtesy of the dine-in menu. (the % in the parentheses is not increase, it’s the new value compared to the old one, so 4750 is 475% of the original 1000 for example)

  • Soft Drink: 1000 vs 4750 (475%)
  • Water: 1000 vs 2000 (200%)
  • Cheesecake: 4500 vs 9750 (217%)
  • Diner-mite: 6,500 vs 13,750 (22,250 for 220g) (342%)
  • Cuban: 5,500 vs 11,750 (20,250 for 220g) (368%)
  • Evergreen: 4,500 vs 9,750 (217%)
  • Fisher: 5,500 vs 10,750 (196%)
  • Chicken strips: 6,000 vs 10,750 (180%)
  • Mozzarella sticks: 5,000 vs 10,750 (215%)
  • Onion rings: 6,000 vs 9,750 (162.5%)
  • Fries: 2,500 vs 7,000 (280%)
  • Cheese garlic bread: 2,500 vs 7,250 (290%)
  • House pasta: 7,000 vs 14,500 (207%)
  • Four cheese pasta: 7,000 vs 16,5000 (236%)
  • Philly steak: 8,500 vs 15,000 (176%)
  • Frankfurter: 4,000 vs 12,750 (319%)

So, unless inflation hit as high as 475% percent in the past 15 years, I don’t think this is good. It’s not really a “diner” anymore. I remember when we were in middle school, our parents would give us 20$ and it’d be enough to take a cab to and from RD Jal el Dib, a coke, a meal and sharing desserts… Now, some burgers sell for almost 20$. The sad part is, all those prices have risen, but the average wage barely has. And the money you used to save when delivering (since prices are less for stuff like soft drinks) is less now with the new delivery charge.

I don’t order Roadster much anymore, I’ve lost my loyalty card and forgot its number and I can’t remember the last time I went there lately. It’s sad, because Roadster has so much sentimental value for me, and for most of my friends and family. Everything was in Roadster, every birthday, every farewell, every surprise party, every first date… But, we just can’t afford to nowadays, and a good old food truck on the side of the street is a more viable option.

Of course, it’s not just Roadster, most places have jacked up prices this much, but RD does it way too often, and it’s felt a lot more because we used to go so much. Last time I remember the fries’n’cheddar were for 10,750, today I realized it’s over 12,000 and that’s within a matter of months…

All prices are in Lebanese Liras including VAT*

Oslo Ice Cream and Bakery Review

We all love ice cream. But, sometimes, the mass-produced stuff and overpriced Haagen-Dazs shots aren’t enough. So, when my dearest Nour told me about Oslo, I went there with Joy and we tried it out, and it was divine.

It’s made in Lebanon, and they used to do home deliveries and supply fancy hotels around Beirut. But, around a month ago, they opened a cute store in Mar Mikhael, complete with a ghost and “made in heaven” graffiti.

The flavors are awesome, especially the chocolate ones. I usually only eat chocolate ice cream, and on that day, they had Nutella, Oreo and good old Chocolate. I took all those three, plus Nestle flavored scoops and some salted caramel. The flavor was perfect and real, you could actually taste the caramel, and the consistency was just right. It was “chewy” enough, but with the creaminess your mouth melts through when having good gelato.

The prices were fair too, with 4,000LBP for a cone, and 6,000LBP for a cup, and all the flavors you want. They also sell them by the 1-kilogram bucket for 17,000LBP. I didn’t taste any of the non-frozen delights there, but the packaging was the cute home-made style, and a bag of brownies cost 12,000LBP.

I’ll let the photos above speak for themselves, and I highly recommend you give it a try. It’s by far my favorite ice cream joint in Lebanon. They’re also very polite and courteous and take the time to explain everything and answer your questions. I just wish they’d open till a bit late, so you can enjoy a cone while bar hopping in Mar Mikhael!

Basterma Mano Review

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Basterma Mano has been a staple in Burj Hammoud for almost half a century. The corner shop in Beirut’s eastern suburb is a much sought-after destination for all kinds of people at different times of the day. During the day, it’s packed with folks having a quick bite on break from work, or on their commutes. It’s also a prime destination for hungry, drunk clubbers to get their shawarma and basterma fix after partying hard.

Shawarma sandwiches are still for 4,500LBP, which is a price very hard to beat, even with the new shawarma franchises popping up everywhere. I recommend you have one meat and one chicken shawarma, they’re fucking awesome, and if your tastebuds can handle it, maybe a soujouk one with a basterma sandwich. Two sandwiches should fill a grown man’s appetite, and you can have that plus a soft drink for 10,000LBP max.

I attached a map if you haven’t been there yet (which I doubt) and parking is ensured there, for free. Just ask where you can park, and they’ll put a prepaid parking meter paper to make sure you can enjoy your sandwich without being sad you got a ticket.

Rocket Review

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I’ve been wanting to try Rocket for a couple of weeks. Their logo, branding, colors, furniture, everything is so inviting. I love this solid, witty, neat feel to it. Today, I finally did in the Gemmayzeh branch, and I loved it.

CAM00357The first thing is that it’s price is great. For 10,500LBP, you can get a sandwich, fries and a coke. It’s sorta hard to find a full meal for that price in Beirut anymore, especially if you just want something quick and easy for a lunch break or before going out drinking.

I had the Beef Rocket and the Tex Mex Fajita Rocket. The beef rocket was great, with shawarma style beef and a mix of other ingredients and sauce that delivers the yummy Lebanese taste punch, wrapped up in a gorgeous packaged and branding. The tex mex was ok, but definitely not my favorite.

The portions are bigger than places like Shawarmanji, and the staff are very courteous, welcoming you when you come in, explain everything you want to know, and say “sa7tein” when you leave.

All in all, Rocket was a really cool place to have a quick bite to eat for a great price. I want to try the burgers next time!

Frosty Palace Review

The Venue

The chandeliers are awesome and the 1950s-US-drug-store decor and feel is cool. The contrast it creates along with the neon light sign and the shiny silver furniture makes the quaint little venue a pleasure to be in. The tables seat no more than 4 comfortably though, so if you’re a party of 6 or more, you might wanna rethink a venue, or split yourselves between the bar and the tables.

The Shakes

wpid-CAM00114.jpgThis was my absolute favorite part about Frosty Palace. Burger places famous for their shakes abroad, have passed through the Gulf before coming to Beirut, like Shake Shack, who doesn’t serve alcohol, which sucks balls. The shakes at Frosty Palace though, especially the Vanilla Rum one, is to-die-for. I’m usually a Pepsi/Coke-only type of person and rarely venture into shakes, but I must say, my burger with the vanilla rum shake tasted all the better, with the contrast of saltiness of the burger and the sweetness of the shake doing nice stuff to my tongue’s tastebuds (so thanks Nour and Tina!)

The Burgers

Being able to customize them is awesome, and the variety of toppings is great and include real bacon, fried eggs, mashed avocado, caramelized onion, cheddar, swiss and a few other choices. The standard rate for a burger is 20,000 LBP and the toppings range from 1,000 LBP to 4,500 LBP. So, your burger should come in for around 20 USD if you add a couple of stuff to it. I ordered a burger with some cheddar cheese and a fried egg to top it off, and it was awesome. The meat was cooked just right and the toppings were great quality. It was a bit too salty though, and I guess that was because of the egg. The shake evened out the saltiness though, so all was not lost!

All in All

For about 40,000 LBP, you can have your burger the way you like it and an epic shake in this out-of-the-way Mar Mikhael restaurant that does its own in-house mayo, ketchup and mustard (which is super cool). Frosty Palace’s burgers (though awesome) might not be my absolute favorite of all time, but their shakes with the cardboard straws most definitely are. If you haven’t been there yet, I suggest you do! Nour, Valentina, Nemer, Gus, Ali, Kareem, Christina and I had a blast there on Saturday night!

Bedivere Review

1385308_529979897076486_1656063004_nI had never noticed how bad my phone addiction was before I went to the States. In Beirut, it’s ok to check your phone while on the table or having a conversation with someone, at least it’s not that big a deal. In DC and New York, I got quite a few comments about my excessive phone checking and that’s when I started to tone it down a bit when in public.

No Phones = 10% Discount

It seems that a new place in Beirut wants to discourage our unhealthy tethering to our smartphones, and that’s Bedivere, a delightful, Medieval-themed pub and restaurant in Hamra.

This venue got notorious worldwide for their unique policy, where turning in your phone to the waiter or at the bar will get you a 10% discount on your bill. Yes, they’re actually giving you a discount for just giving up your phone for an hour or two and enjoy the company of everyone there.

I’ll admit, for me, that’s something hard, and I have yet to successfully try handing in my own phone, but I must admit, the atmosphere last night was different, friendlier, realer. The bar was packed and there were a few other tables as well, which was amazing for a Wednesday night.

Music and Atmosphere

Hanna Barakat was performing live on her acoustic guitar, and even though not everyone knew each other in the venue, the back-and-forth between strangers such as jokes about movie theme songs and harmless jabs at people who kept their phones, was really nice. It was a breath of fresh air in a Lebanon where most people try to give the impression they’re too good to fraternize with you or look as though they were upset to be out and about.

I’m not sure about the music on other nights, but I’m guessing it’s a soft blend of music that’s not too loud to allow for the human-to-human interaction the place is so big about.

The decorations are very knight-in-a-castle style, complete with a suit of armor mounted on the wall and a few horse carriage wheels on the ceiling. If you’re into the Game of Thrones craze, you’ll feel right at home carrying a metal goblet and shouting “Winter is Coming!” in a fake British accent.

Food & Drinks

1150945_517155435025599_416766735_nUnlike other places, Bedivere opens at noon, so it’d be an awesome place to have lunch if you work or study in the Hamra region. They have a plat du jour every day which ranges from supreme chicken, to traditional Lebanese kibbeh. They also have some pretty good ribs, a rarity in Beirut! I definitely recommend the ribs.

The drinks are as sophisticated as the people who go there, but a humble beer would do. I’d go for one of the freshly squeezed cocktails (I like chick drinks, sue me) and for all you happy hour enthusiasts, it runs every day from 5:00PM till 8:00PM.

All in All

I think Bedivere is pretty cool. Their policy is unique, but they don’t punish phone users like me, in fact, I got a free shot because I checked in on Foursquare and got their special! They also have a tweet fall on their screens, so you know who’s checking in and mentioning Bedivere (oh, and free WiFi, which is sorta sending me mixed messages =P).