Growing up, Scoozi was probably my favorite restaurant of all time. We didn’t have much choice back in the 90s, and Beirut wasn’t nearly as oversaturated with so many food choices at every turn. Scoozi had the yummiest pizza in town (The Montanara, yup I still remember), and a whole lot of variety for the rest of the family. As the decades went by, the competition intensified and Scoozi fell behind. The Boubess empire however expanded, although I was never impressed by any of their newer offerings (Cozmo, Napoletana, Bob’s etc..). Enter Cucina, situated right in front of another Boubess joint (Metropole) in Downtown. Although I didn’t have high hopes for yet another Italian establishment, I must say this is one delicious restaurant.
Making our way into Cucina, we’re pleased to see we’re the first table to arrive. That’s no surprise as the Lebanese are notoriously lazy on Sundays. Lunch before 3pm? Walaw? As expected, the place is soon buzzing about with Lebanon’s plastic elite. Outside, a modest assortment of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Porsches take center-stage as our middle-class vehicles are nowhere to be seen. The entire thing’s a hell of a cartoon, and my delightful Teta Ruby is mightily entertained by the whole show.
We start off with the caprese which is colourful and fresh, and the fried calamari which is reliably sinful (although nothing out-of-the-ordinary). The real star here is the exceptional artichoke salad. I absolutely hate artichokes, but coupled with pears, this salad is extremely memorable.
As for the main courses, I manipulate my equally-gluttonous family into sharing an assortment of pizzas and pastas. On the pasta side, the capelleni with truffle oil and asparagus is mouthwateringly good, while the linguini with shrimp and lemon zest is wonderfully flavourful. As for those scrumptious pies from heaven, the pepproni pizza is the best – crispy and drool-worthy in all the right places. The regina (topped with ham and mushrooms) is also a success, and we devour every bit of it. Sadly, I make the terrible choice of also ordering the vegetarian pizza (my brother is an occasional vegetarian and I though it would amuse him). Since the rest of the meal is a top-notch affair, I’d rather never speak of the pizza-in-question as it’s pretty useless. Finally, the saffron risotto topped with diced meat is award-worthy material (sorry I’m still in Oscar-mode). It’s gorgeous to look at, and phenomenal for the taste-buds.
Naturally, dessert is also a bingefest worthy of the history books. The pain perdu is excellent and shockingly HUGE (sorry Couqley). And because we’ve been deprived for so long (maybe a day or two), we also opt for the fondant and chocolate soufflé. Both are first-rate and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla and praline ice cream respectively. In addition (yes, there’s more) we decide to cleanse our palette with some lemon sorbet (it’s fantastic), and a scoop of na3na3 (mint) sorbet. Yup, trust me when I tell you it’s remarkably refreshing and different.
Price: Around $80-110 per person depending on the wine.
Service: Polite service but far too many waiters circling the grounds like vultures.
Presentation: Superb, especially the artichoke salad.
Ambiance: Predictably showy and Lebanese-y. Also, there’s an “artistic” mural above but I recommend you don’t glance above eye-level. Thankfully the place isn’t too noisy thanks to the high ceilings (unlike other Italian restaurants).
Must try: The saffron risotto. The linguini. The pepperoni pizza. Everything!
Go with: Family. Perfect for Sunday lunch.
Highly recommended. Go for the show; stay for the terrific Italian cuisine.
Note: For reservations call 01 984 984. It took me forever to track down the number as the place simply does not have an online presence of any kind.