October 18, 2015 Beirut Lebanon Middle East

Popolo: A Close Encounter with the Chefs

Everyone is talking about Popolo, the new Italian restaurant from AddMind, in Ain Mreiseh. Inspired by Italy's culinary expertise, Popolo boast a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea. I was invited to meet the chefs, an Italian, Giuseppe Palumbo and a Lebanese, Georges Dakkak, both of whom were pleasant to work with. 

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Facing the Vendome hotel, Popolo is located on the right side of an old style Lebanese house. Walk through a long corridor and into a beautifully lit space where you’ll find wood covering the floor, white marble, light wooden tables, colorful chairs and many arcades facing an open kitchen decorated with a selection of cold cuts from Italy. Inspirational.

Waiting for us were chefs Georges Dakkak as well as Giuseppe Palumbo who has come all the way from Dubai after a long tour around the world including New York, Milano, Germany.

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Spotted were fresh mushrooms, fresh bread, a vegetable basket and an Italian wood powered oven.

Today I was going to get acquainted with the restaurant’s back office and that is the kitchen. Let’s start with some grilled mushroom salad. Portobello, chimegi white, yellow girole, chitaki and pink oyster. Salt, pepper and toss them onto the grill. Charcoal grill the mushrooms before adding some garlic paste -I'm sorry won't be tasting those. Afterwards Chef Georges started with the actual salad: olive oil, lemon, mustard on a bed of roquette leaves. A simple yet beautiful plate.

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Now for the risotto, a special edition just for me, without onions or garlic. Heat the oil, add the risotto and start frying. The secret is to stir it well, again and again to explode all the starch before adding a bit of waters a bit after the other until the rice is cooked to perfection. It should be al dente! Pay attention to that. The water used is a bouillon adding more flavor and aromas. On the side, the chef started grilling the squid. A strong fire, lemon juice, pepper and salt. Now is the time to add your squid ink, 12 grams of a black cream, which is added at the 9th minute of the 12 needed to cook the risotto. Butter, coriander and lemon zest adding finesse, texture and flavor. The risotto with a light firmness, an appearing lemon boost, well cooked squids, light Parmesan... I enjoyed this plate which took 20 minutes to cook; now you know why wait for a risotto.

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Pizza then followed and what other than the popular Margharita, an Italian signature, prepared by a Lebanese pizzaiolo who works like an Italian expert. He made it super round, extremely homogeneous, tasty and works the dough like my grandma used to work the Saj; two thumbs up for Hussein. I was expecting to see someone from Italy or an elder chef but Hussein is a master! I loved the pizza! The sauce is rich and lightly acidic, the dough uses the finest flour available in Lebanon, generously covered with half-baked mozzarella and decorated with basil leaves.

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Dessert time! Calzone, Nutella and mozzarella. Just looking at the amount of Nutella found in this pizza freaked me out at first, but then I thought, who cares, when it's good food it never varies... There’s a price to pay to enjoy good food. A small sized calzone (closed Italian pizza that looks like a sambousik). Awesome! A thin chewy dough embracing a smooth warmed Nutella that's not baked mixed along an elastic cheese equilibrating the sweetness.

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I really enjoyed my morning and will be coming back for a detailed review soon. Popolo is a new Italian to be considered.

Categories: Restaurants



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