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A Lebanese restaurant has taken our local cuisine to another level, redefining its simplicity into fine dining standards. I'm a fan of Liza Beirut and now while visiting the French capital for a couple of days, I stopped for lunch. Liza has a quick service cafe and the restaurant.
The cafe to start; Georges, the arrogant chef behind the counter, prepares a selection of sandwiches welcoming guests and working in a speedy way. A la Libanaise, no gloves are needed while everything from vegetables to wraps are handled with his bare hands. A white t-shirt! With underwear showing under it? No chef's clothing? That blocks the appetite. Too much noise, a bit of clumsiness and speed, the first impression is not too appetizing, not what I expected from Liza. Behind him are two black ovens, pizza ovens! He takes plastic boxes from the fridge where all ingredients are and fills the sandwiches.
The menu is divided into four sections. The tolmieh, the Lebanese pita and the sandwiches or mankoushe. Two pizza ovens cook and toast them in metallic pans. We ordered a halloumi sandwich and a meat shawarma.
- The halloumi sandwich is simple. Lebanese bread with halloumi cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes toasted to become crunchy and to heat the inner filling. Simple and juicy but I would have added some tapenade to it, taking a simple sandwich the extra mile.
- The shawarma uses a different bread, a kind of tender Saj, a juicy sandwich full of taste is a mix of meat, lots of tarator, parsley and tomatoes. The tender and well marinated meat has a balanced flavor while the vegetables add the freshness. The tarator sauce is light and not too strong.
It's a small place with a calm ambiance, no music and no vibes, but it seems many like it. Dozens came in during lunch time and the line started building. My only concern is that the places lacked the Lebanese mood. I expected some kind of music, decoration, more welcoming, fun and jokes... It is too serious for a Lebanese sandwicheria.
- Wrapping sandwiches with white paper is more appetizing.
- Welcoming is key; It's inexistent around here.
- How about a real Lebanese oven?
- Cleanliness! the man handling the food needs serious training.
It's a good and intelligent concept which works great in Paris; it needs some fine tuning and more attention in my opinion. Georges needs to speak Arabic when he hears it, put on a chef's outfit, happiness, smiles and decorative designs other than reminding us to clean the table. Be proud, be Lebanese or change the concept.