Monday, August 04, 2008
Middle Eastern Feasting!
When Hans mentioned that his sister Marja and her husband Ton had offered to take us out to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant, I felt a rush of excitement and delicious anticipation. Mint! Parsley! Garlic (lots of garlic)! Lemons! Olive oil! Yogurt! Tabbouleh! Aubergines! Kafta! Meza! These are just a “few” of the thoughts that ran through my head in the 0.2 seconds it took me to say, “Yes! That sounds nice!”
The Lebanese kitchen, one of the finest in the Middle East, is known for cleverly combining the sophistication of European cuisine with the ingenious use of fragrant herbs, spices and a wide variety of fresh, seasonal vegetables. Grains and pulses also form the staple of this exotic kitchen, making it one of the healthiest in the world. Lebanese food is vibrantly full of flavor and its charm lies in the fact that meals go way beyond actual eating- they are important social occasions.
That was evident before we even set foot in Tripoli, the charming restaurant owned by Rico and Vera Achkar. We were not greeted as guests but as family. The friendly chatter, smiles and abundant hospitality immediately created the type of atmosphere which distinguishes a good restaurant from a great one.
We were seated at a cozy table next to the window and as I sat there waiting for our drinks, I noticed that I was especially charmed by the homely yet alluringly exotic décor- vibrant red tablecloths formed an interesting contrast with the warmer tones of the Middle Eastern art works displayed on the walls. I can honestly say that I left The Netherlands behind me as soon as I walked into the restaurant.
The meal consisted of an elaborate meza which included things such as gorgeously astringent, almost lemony Lebanese olives, a fabulously smoky baba ghanoush, tabbouleh (Femke’s favourite, and probably mine too!), labneh (strained yogurt), the most gloriously garlicky garlic sauce I’ve ever tasted and lots of flat bread for dipping. Vera was kind enough to explain each and every dish- a thrilling experience for this insatiable foodie!
The next course was a grill with all sorts of meats: chicken, lamb, fish, pork, and beef. Especially exotic was their Lebanese sausage flavoured with wine. And speaking of wine- it was superb! The restaurant serves wines from the relatively young yet renowned vineyards of Château Kefraya. Definitely worth trying! But back to the grill- Rico catered to the guests’ wishes, which meant that you could basically order what you wanted and it would be prepared for you and brought to the table with a smile. Hans tells me that the lamb was sublime while I was especially enthusiastic about their kafta!
Dessert was ice cream topped with fresh fruit and I hear they also serve water pipes prepared with fruit- flavored tobacco- never heard of such a thing but I must admit it sounds wonderfully intriguing! Who knows? Maybe something for next time- because there definitely will be a next time!
With thanks to Ton, Marja and Femke for a delicious evening filled with wonderful food and wonderful company!
Photos courtesy of Restaurant Tripoli.