Every now and then, I eat in a restaurant where I have an absolutely perfect meal. Recently, it was at Lyle’s where James Lowe cooks beautiful dishes that are light, elegant and totally exquisite. A year or so ago, I finally ate at Faviken and Nilsson’s food was just as light and elegant and possibly even more pure than Lowe’s. In between, I went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns where I have been wanting to go for years but never got round to it until, that is, my new wonderful agent, Nicole, took me there to celebrate my joining her agency. Our meal there was also memorable, for the setting, the company and of course the food which was delightful, starting with this lovely arrangement of freshly picked radishes, each individually spiked onto a long wooden log. They were served alongside the crunchiest and most delicious ice lettuce (or ficoïde glaciale) which I was tasting for the first time, tiny baby carrots with their tender stalks and leaves on, asparagus, greens spiked into edible earth, a delightful drink and various delicate sauces to dip this incredibly fresh bounty into. Below, you can see some of the selection arranged on my plate — the dark blob is beetroot jerky — and I have to say vegetables never tasted so good, nor looked so pretty!
I can’t remember when my mother moved to Balluneh. I wasn’t happy because I loved our huge appartment in Beirut in a 1920’s building but it had been squatted during the civil war and even though my mother had gotten rid of the squatters (who were neighbours), she no longer felt safe there. So, she bought in Balluneh, away from the chaos of Beirut and close to her brother. I didn’t like the place at first but I do now, for all kinds of reasons including Qal’at el-Rumiyeh in neighbouring Qley’at where they rear their own lambs to serve the best nayeh ever — the only better nayeh is up north in places like Ehden where they make it with goat meat. They also have the most amazing view as you can see from the picture above. And whenever I visit, my mother knows that lunch at Rumiyeh is the first thing I want to do. It was no different this time except that we were joined by my sister and her husband, a rare couple who are still mad about each other nearly 40 years, 3 children and 2 grandchildren later!
My Lebanese adventures, which I crammed into an incredibly short time, continue with another fabulous meal, this time centred around one of my favourite delicacies. Some of you will decry this post but as much as I would like to be caring for the environment, there are a few things I find hard to resist. Foie gras is one and the other is ‘assafir (tiny little birds called bec-figue in French because they feed on figs). The season is August/September when the figs are ripening and there is one particular restaurant in B’hamdun outside Beirut, Halim, that specialises in them to the point that it closes when the season is over (at least this is what my sister says). I have written about Halim before but this time the ‘assafir were truly superior, and this because I was lamenting the fact that no one served them with their heads on like they did in the past.
It is one year exactly since the Syrian revolution began and one year and a half since I last visited. I can no longer remember where Eskenderun is exactly and in fact, it is not exactly a diner. Simply a tiny place like many in Damascus where they serve a few mezze dishes and grilled meats (over charcoal of course) except that their food is better than even in very good upmarket restaurants. It was recommended by the wonderful Lina Sinjab although when I entered and saw what looked like a crummy take-away place with plastic sheets over the tablecloths — I have mine under! — I wondered if we really wanted to eat there. But I trusted Lina’s taste and we stayed. And boy, am I glad we did. If it wasn’t the best meal of my week there, it was definitely one of the best, made even more so by the element of surprise. As you can see from the picture we didn’t leave much on our plates. I just hope that we will soon be able to go back, after the duck and his acolytes have been booted out of the presidential palace and sent on their way to the Hague!