Eat, Drink, and Be Seen
Lebanese are the ultimate social beings. Instead of quietly reading the paper on the subway on our way to work, we drive with our cell phones glued to our faces recapping the happenings of the night before to friends. Instead of plugging earphones into our ears and listening to music as we run on the treadmill, we casually stroll on the corniche exercising our mouths far more than our quads. And instead of ordering Chinese food at 10pm and dining solo as we stream the live presidential debate on our laptops, we go out to dinner in groups of ten on a random Tuesday evening and discuss how the crisis in Syria may or may not affect our summer 2013 trip to Positano.
No restaurant better reflects the quintessential Lebanese lifestyle more than the ever-classy, ultra-trendy Cocteau. Unlike other restaurants in Beirut that catch fire for a short while only to fizzle out as a result of poor service and low quality food, Cocteau has earned its longstanding position on the Lebanese culinary main stage. Ladies who lunch, wheeling and dealing businessmen, couples in search of a celebratory meal, and families getting together over a good steak and glass of wine all flock to this Downtown flagship. Anyone who’s anyone dines at Cocteau and the experience (food and service aside) is reliably comical. Not once has a guest walked in without making an average of three table-hopping pit stops before arriving at his/her own table. “Hello”s, “keefkon”s, and “salmooli 3al ahel” abound and everybody is dressed to the nines in preparation for their labyrinthine catwalk to their seat. Hate it or love it, we unapologetically live to eat, drink, and be seen—and Cocteau is the place to do it.
A French restaurant serving up delicately prepared crowd pleasers, you can’t really go wrong with any order you make but then again it seems that most people aren’t there for the food. Begin your meal with the fresh crab salad if you’re in the mood for a seafood starter. The crab is sweet and flaky (none of that pink, stringy, processed “crab” you find in cheap California rolls) and the dressing is mild enough so as not to overwhelm the dish. If you’d rather something a little less substantial, try the Sucrine salad. Sweet and complex enough to stand on it’s own, Sucrine is a gem of the dense romaine variety. On the plate, you get eight wedges of bright green, fresh, and crunchy lettuce smothered in a tangy mustard vinaigrette. As for the main course, keep it simple and order the filet de boeuf. The meat is always tender, the chef gets the “cuisson” right every time, and the smokey chargrilled flavor adds a welcome layer of complexity to the dish. A blob of tasteless boiled spinach and half a potato of under-seasoned mash accompanies the filet, both serious disappointments. Other mains include a Filet de Mérou (grouper) with a gooey and not so appetizing tartare d’aubergine, crispy escalope de veau, and a rich tagliatelle aux cèpes.
For dessert, try the Tarte Alcazar or the Praline au Chocolat et Noisettes. Fruit lovers, stick to the Alcazar, a crusty tart filled with sweet bananas and crunchy walnuts, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. For the chocolate lovers, the Praline has a rich chocolaty flavor, perhaps too much so. Linger over dessert with a hot espresso and take in all that Beirut high society has to offer. Just a quick tip: make sure that by the end of the meal you don’t have any food stuck in your teeth, at Cocteau, that’s social suicide.
Cocteau, Palladium Bldg, Park Ave, Beirut, 01-970707
Previously posted on Fromages & Fridays