The Best of Beirut
on Jun 16, 2014 By Danielle Issa
Hi. Kifak? Ca va? Our francophone roots are undeniable. Owing to French imperialism in Lebanon in the first half of the 20th century, the relics of French culture remain deeply ingrained in our society. Besides language, food is one telling example. We consume almost as many French baguettes (khebz franjeh) as round pita loaves, and we’ve even adapted the quintessential croissant to our local palate—stuffed with zaatar.
The proliferation of French bistros in Lebanon, too, is unmistakable, exposing us to the world of la cuisine française and in particular, savory pies called quiches. Traditionally, a puff pastry crust is filled with an egg and cream custard blended with gruyere, morsels of bacon, goat cheese, spinach, or smoked salmon. The possibilities are endless, but the tastes are unanimously delicious.
You don’t have to jet set to France to get your quiche fill. Just bring your appetite (and possibly a cute beret) as we explore some of the best to be had dans notre belle ville.
Image via Hellmanns
Every French food aficionado in Beirut will recognize Couqley, a cozy bistro that popularized the casual French dining scene. Chef Alexis Couquelet cooks up a slew of savory dishes, and though the quiche is not on the typeset menu, it’s often featured on the daily specials board. Advice: nab it when you see it. The quiche aux quatre fromages is a rich, nutty fusion of Camembert, chèvre, emmental, and Roquefort with a dash of salt and pepper, and it is every bit as divine as it sounds. The accompanying frisée lettuce allays any anxiety you may have of death by cheese.
Image via Couqley's Facebook Page
Bar Tartine may be named for the eponymous open-faced sandwich, but seriously, you’d be missing out on a whole lot if you didn’t sample their fine open-faced pies, aka quiches. The goat cheese version features country-style pastry dough enclosing a dense chevre chaud, black olives and roasted cherry tomatoes. The crust, baked to a golden hue, folds gently but does not crumble. Also treat yourself to a classic quiche Lorraine, aromatic with lardons (bacon bits) and crème fraiche and oozing like liquid satin with every slice of the knife.
Mar Mikhael Street
Image via Beirut.com
Pubs aren’t known to entertain a mature menu worthy of a gourmet, but Secteur 75 in Mar Mikhael is one big exception. This house-turned-resto-pub is decked in lavish chandeliers, gold-framed paintings, avant garde graffiti art, and eclectic furniture, but perhaps the real showpiece is the food. My favorite is their house specialty ricotta-thyme tart (15,000 LL). A double-decker slice of quiche layered generously with soft white ricotta and fresh thyme boasts a golden-brown, gruyere-infused topping. Served with a mesclun salad with fresh mushrooms and cherry tomatoes slathered in balsamic vinaigrette, this dish is tantalizingly good.
Ibrahim Pacha Street
Image via Beirut.com
You wouldn’t expect to find a home-style French quiche at a Lebanese mezza bar whose draw is a trolley of over two dozen rustic dishes. But Studio 43’s got something for everyone, including the Frenchie in each one of us. Their bayd bi halloum (11,500 LL) can only be described as a light halloumi quiche. The chef whisks eggs with small cubes of cheese, pours the concoction into a pie shell, and pops it in the wood-fired oven to bake. The result is a golden pie with a paper thin crust and a soft, fluffy, cheese-dotted crown.
Image via Beirut.com
No setting for quaint, countryside French cuisine beats Broumana’s La Gargote, a modest establishment that has survived the test of time—three (plus) decades to be exact. Evocative of a mountain cabin you’d stumble across in the Alps, La Gargote is a specialist in steaks à point, but their delicious tart à l’oignon, an Alsatian specialty, will have you squealing with delight. It is at once delicate yet rich, sweet yet earthy, light yet filling (share it if you plan on having a main). The tart begins with a generous volume of thinly-slivered onions, sautéed until caramelized and then smothered with egg and heavy cream before being poured into a pâte brisée to bake to a golden brown. E-the-real!
Image via Recette Recipe
Danielle Issa is a food blogger in Lebanon. You can find her on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog, Beirutista.
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