So with Rue Gouraud in my mind, when Ozge invited me out to dinner tonight at the popular restaurant on Gouraud, ‘Le Chef,’ I couldn’t resist. Well, that and I heard that the food was fantastic and I am NEVER one to turn down good food.
Charles joined us and as we arrived outside the restaurant, I realized that I had actually passed this place many times, always wanting to go in, but for some reason or another never quite making it. So now was my chance!! As we walked into the always packed, but charmingly petit restaurant, a booming ‘Welcome!’ from the owner was our hearty greeting – and as we soon discovered, the greeting of every visitor coming or going.
As we squeezed our way through the tables, I took a peek and a whiff of the local specialties being served (apparently the menu changes daily – Brilliant!). My stomach started rumbling immediately as irresistible cravings for moujuddra (lentils, rice, grilled onions and delicious spices – usually served with yogurt), kousa (stuffed zuchinni), kibbeh (ground lamb or beef with bulgur wheat, pine nuts, and other savory ingredients) and moutabal (also known as baba ganoj – basically eggplant hummus) consumed my thoughts. Our waiter tossed handwritten menus atop our paper table cloth and I grabbed mine greedily wanting to waste not a single second and….shit. The menu was written in Arabic.
Okay, now after a month of Arabic classes, you’re probably thinking ‘Come on, Colette. What the heck? You should be able to read and write easily!’ But no. Alas and alack, I read like a 3-year-old and write like a 5-year-old – okay maybe a talented 6-year-old. But either way, you get the idea. Even after the 10 minutes it takes me to sound out a word, I hardly ever know what the word actually means. I’m useless. Luckily, they also have a menu written in French. Score! I thought I’d show off my mad French skills, but in the end I had such a hard time deciphering the scribbled French script that it might as well have been written in Arabic. Ah well – we glanced around at the food on other people’s tables and ended up ordering a mix of everything. YUM!
As we sipped our Almazas and waited for our food, I took a good look around Le Chef. The decorations inside are pretty sparse and the table settings simple, but if anything, it all just adds to the homey charm of the place. We had a table to ourselves, but they often seat you alongside complete strangers who in true Lebanese hospitable style are more than happy to start up a conversation. It’s fantastic. Meeting new people, surrounded by fragrant and delicious Lebanese cuisine – which by the way, is reasonably cheap – who could ask for anything more?
We savored every bite of our meal and when we couldn’t eat anymore, we asked for the check and walked over to a large Moroccan market set up alongside the nearby Martyr Square. We browsed the bags, shoes, furniture, scarves, fabrics, pillows and jewelry while listening to the evening call to prayer echoing from the Al-Amin Mosque, its blue dome visible over the tents of the market. A perfect evening in Beirut!