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Il Padrino: Saida's Italian Social Hub
A fashion boutique, a restaurant and a sweet shop all in one - welcome to Il Padrino, Al Baba's Italian eatery in Saida. It is much more than just Italian food, it's a shisha place, it's a fashion place where you can buy shoes and suits, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with their oriental sweets and ice cream... This place is original and the concept seems to be enjoyed locally.
After visiting the place for the first time a couple of months ago, I came back for another tasting. Food was good enough back then but today, with the Italian chef preparing and cooking the new menu, it was amazing. An Italian feel and know how is indeed felt in the new plates and the finesse missed during my last visit was actually felt this time.
It started with a bread basket, delicious Italian bread never seen in Lebanon before: crunchy Grissini, richly oily Focaccia, tender bread, biscuity toasts... Very good.
- On a triangular plate came three specialties. A corner with three shrimps laying on a bed of arugula and sliced avocado. Another with bresaola with ricotta cheese and a third with eggplant topped with cheese. Juicy well cooked eggplant offering a light acidity balanced with a strong sourness that tickles your palate. Good quality bresaola with a chunk of white cheese, a delicious ricotta which matched perfectly well with the bresaola. It is an interesting combination indeed, with that slight saltiness after note that makes you want to finish your plate. Fine mini shrimps, ripe avocados, creamy sauce, wild arugula and balsamic vinegar; the enjoyable taste of simplicity is here!
- A rectangular plate hosts a portion of risotto and another of ravioli. An excellent risotto! Really excellent! Al dente, adequately creamy, mini mushrooms, shredded Parmesan and truffle oil that make all the difference. It's not only about the taste, it's about the passion put in it; I can only hope the chefs will continue on reproducing what the Italians have created. One single rounded ravioli topped with cooked cherry tomatoes and tomato sauce, a thick yet al dente ravioli, filled with ricotta and spinach.
- The pizza -at least the one we had- was excellent. Way better than the one I've had months ago, the real deal, a unique creation never been seen before in Lebanon. Thin dough topped with mozzarella cheese, slices of bresaola, stuffed with spinach and smooth ending of truffle oil. That's not only it, the pizza was even covered with another layer of dough sprinkled with cheese. Imagine a crunchy dough, juicy heart, the right blend of flavors, and crunchy border. Recommended!
- Main plates landed on the table. Two slices of roast beef, a lemony Breton sauce, while peppers and fresh green asparagus. I recommend you roll the asparagus with the roast beef and enjoy the combination of different textures, this strong juiciness, the light crunch, the acidity and freshness. Again, the chef managed to create something delicious from simple ingredients.
- A portion of potato puree topped with two rolls of hockey stuffed with melted cheese. It was not bad but I've had better. The chicken was a bit dry, the cheese lacked finesse, and the sauce was a bit salty and the puree could use more butter.
- The pizza is to die for! MUST TRY.
Now for dessert:
A rectangular plate comes with a selection of ideas. Tiramisu, Panna cotta with caramel sauce, cherry compote, strawberries, Sicilian cassata and some decorative additives. They're good enough.
As for the place, it needs some tweaking; it looks more of like a cafe than an Italian restaurant. They have brown leather placemats, heavy glass cups, white napkins, conventional white porcelain plates, cheap napkins in the bread basket and other things that don't really show an Italian mood.
Good food indeed but it's not enough unless the idea is to serve Italian cuisine in a street cafe. Such flavors can be better presented and served in an Italian "restaurant".