News has been circulating over the Internet about the opening of a new boutique hotel up in the hills of Bhamdoun. Cherry Blossom, with its attractive logo and beautiful colors made me want to go and take a closer look. So here I was, checking the hotel while trying its restaurant; Al Karaz (cherry in Arabic).
Cherry Blossom is a new boutique hotel that has opened recently in El Qrayeh, a couple minutes from the Bhamdoun's main road. Owned by Marwan Daou and managed by Areej Hassan, this project occupies a land of 18,000sqm, with 23 suits, a wedding venue and a pool. The hotel, which is build on 5000sqm, was a plastic factory transformed into a stone mansion that blends well with the environment. 120 cherry trees were planted, welcoming you through a long passage that leads to the hotel. Sadly, this beautiful first impression disappears as soon as you discover the lobby, rooms and restaurant's architecture.
I'm not sure how to approach this review as the hotel shocked me. Looking fresh and relaxing from the outside, the old lobby and illogical rooms left me speechless... in a bad way. So I'll stick to reviewing the restaurant, handled by executive chef Rachad Fatayri, who creates tasty Lebanese innovations with a funky twist.
Up on the first floor is Al Karaz, an international restaurant serving a large selection of dishes, of which I decided to try the Lebanese ones. A windy day obliged us to sit inside.
Don't let the place's design ruin your appetite. Just as with the hotel, the colors are somehow off, the chairs are unappealing and uncomfortable, the tables are weird and move around like ships in a storm. The ambiance is dull and filled with echoes... but the food was really good.
Let's have some tasty little treats:
- Kebbe with labneh: On a triangular plate decorated with lettuce, five pieces of kebbe are topped with labneh from the village, a mint leaf and a quarter of a cherry tomato. Simple and tasty, the labneh adds a fine acidity to the kebbe that crumble gently under your teeth
- Shish barak salad: That's innovation. Six big pieces of shish barak (meat stuffed in baked bread bites) served on a bed of Romaine lettuce mixed with red bell pepper cubes and fried pine nuts all mixed with a laban dressing. I liked the freshness of the lettuce and the softness of the shish barak all in a salad that's light and fresh at the same time. It represents Lebanon in a bowl.
- Hummus with avocado: Two tender ingredients mixed together in a light-bodied plate. The avocado adds a certain finesse to the hummus neutralizing its sourness. I loved it.
- Salmon plate: Small portions of rolled salmon presented on frizé lettuce, a piece of lemon, caper and a rocket leaves. A beautiful presentation for a plate that's light, tasty and simple at the same time
- Hommous mtammam: That's mtammam not mtawam, so it doesn't contain garlic. Pickles, cucumbers, parsley and a hint of jalapeño. Wow. The texture and crunchy bits inside are very nice, each exploding with sourness while the jalapeños give a last note of spiciness.
- Cherry blossom plate: This signature dish is a must try. Three bites of puff pastry dough filled with goat cheese and raspberry bits mixed with walnuts and served with a cherry coulis on the side. Dip in and enjoy well-balanced flavors.
- Labneh mtammame: Al Karaz's premium labneh is mixed with black olives, cucumbers and green thyme. Just great and enjoyable
- Moutabal: At Cherry Blossom moutabal is done the old fashioned way, charcoal grilled like our ancestors used to do it. A strong flavor and aroma, a wonderful eggplant purée, that tickles your tongue gently. Tasty!
- Stuffed vine leaves: Yum! The stuffed vine leaves are really good. Lemony and strong in taste. A hard envelope containing the rich ingredients. A fine quality reflecting the village ambiance.
- I was simply amazed by the mouajanat plate. I can hear you say: "How hard is it anyway to make something as basic as the mouajanat?" Well, yes, they are complicated - since sometimes mouajanat can be oily, chewy and filled with low quality ingredients... as opposed to the ones I had that day, which were exceptional. A crunchy, oil-free dough filled with premium white cheese stuffed to perfection, an exquisite sambousik that melts like butter, and an envelope that crunches in style. The kebbe again, with a little hummus and the Fatayer... Ouf! I'm not sure if I'll be exaggerating if I say that they are better than Ghattas.
- Tabboule and fattouche: Both were fresh, good and felt natural
- Grilled chicken breast: A subtle grilled taste, a purée and grilled veggies, but the best part was the cherry sauce. I'd already tasted the cherry ketchup and I loved it and now some hot sauce, lightly sweet with crunchy bits that had the texture of a compote but the taste of a premium meat coulis. I loved its finesse and equilibrated ingredients. Bravo chef.
- Cherry burgers: In three small bites, these burgers were my least favorite. The bread was dry and hard and the meat tasted like kafta. Although the sauce was little, it was tasty along side some cherry ketchup. I was expecting something superb. The recipe needs fine-tuning.
I loved how the cherry was used the Lebanese-Mediterranean way and not the Armenian way. The cherry was lightly sweet with a rich and intense red color. Three different cherry sauces, each tasty and enjoyable. Cherry ketchup, cherry meat sauce and cherry couli, three salty treats making Al Karaz restaurant's food unique and special. The pluses:
- Food is tasty, innovative and generous
- The place is dull and unappetizing
- The table supports are huge. Expect to bang your legs constantly
- The ambiance is cold, like the hotel
- The staff needs a lot of training
Categories: Restaurants Lebanese/Middle Eastern Reviews