CHECK OTHER REVIEWS FOR THIS PLACE:
Albergo's Rooftop: Fine Dining in a Cosy Atmosphere
Al Dente: A Fine Italian in Beirut...The Accademia Italiana Della Cucina Dinner
Beirut French Gastronomy Week: An Enchanting Grande Finale Dinner
Le Festival de la Gastronomie Francaise, Beirut 2013
Le Festival de la Gastronomie Francaise, Beirut 2012
The Al Dente Ristorante with Chef Jean-Pierre Jacob
Al Dente Ristorante at the Albergo Hotel, Beirut
Semaine de la Gastronomie Française: A Dinner by Guillaume Sourrieu
Semaine de la Gastronomie Française 2015: Chef Marc Meurin
Albergo: Meeting Chef Erich
On the 1st of November Jean-Christophe Lebascle, from La Manufacture, Issy-les-Moulineaux, arrived in Beirut alongside five other chefs for the 15th year of "Lebanon's French Gastronomy Week". He and his fellow chefs came to enchant food aficionados with their fine dining cuisine. Organized by Hotel Albergo's Al Dente, dinner was special.
For three consecutive years, I have been attending the famous French gastronomy week at Al Dente, where a handful of fine chefs arrive from France to cook for us. This time, every night was decorated differently and I was sure that the light and fresh touch the menu offered would leave me impressed; I'm a big fan of Chevreuil!
- Gaspacho à la tomate-basilic et caviar fumé.
- Saumon mariné façon gravelax, parfumé à la betterave.
- Velouté de panais servi chaud et foie gras de canard poêlé.
- Mousseline de turbot et noix de coquille Saint-Jacques rôtie, beurre blanc émulsionné.
- Dos de chevreuil cuit au four, sauce aigre douce et « risotto » de légumes
- Fraîcheur pommes-caramel, ganache chocolat blanc et mousse de pommes verte.
- Saint-Veran 2013, Joseph Drouhin
- Crozes-Hermitage les Jalets 2013, Paul Jaboulet Aîné.
For its 15th year, Al Dente has invested in a webpage where menus and photos of chefs can be viewed. They also worked on the decor and better trained their staff. Dinner started at 9pm sharp, so we arrived 15 minutes earlier.
Tomatoes, lots of them, and vegetables included in the menu have been used to decorate the entrance. Tomatoes are hung like grapes from the ceiling and on feature on a table facing the stairs. Inside, apples decorate the large tables and red chili peppers add a touch of color to every napkin.
The venue remains the same, an old house with a high ceiling and metallic light fittings providing warm light. The design is modern yet classy; three different rooms one housing the bar, long sofas in the room on the left and large round tables in the middle hall. Calm and muted music, lights create interesting shadows, and burgundy paint for the walls and doors... I like it here.
The table setting is worth talking about. I've rarely seen such table settings here in Lebanon. Three forks, a fish knife, a spoon and two knives as well as a set for dessert. Three crystal glasses, a silver salt and pepper set and a decorative table center consisting of a cheese grater latterly replaced by a basket of bread. A beautiful table setting, innovative, colorful yet simple and classy.
You're welcomed with a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne and then guided to your table. A selection of warm bread follows with a plate of four kinds of butter and butter knives. Good butter indeed, flavorful butter, cold yet soft and spreadable.
Dinner is served:
- Tomato Gazpacho served in a martini cup, seasoned with balsamic vinegar and finished off with smoked caviar. It is lemony and lightly acidic, with peppery notes and a touch of class delivered by the caviar. It's fresh, served cold, is intensely flavored and guaranteed to whet your appetite.
- A round plate hosts four slices of smoked salmon - their color turning ruby red due to the beetroot marinade. Fatty and of a beautiful texture, the salmon is also served with beetroot purée drops. The plate is indeed fine, having a light sweetness, an enjoyable oiliness and eye-catching colors; a delicious combination.
- And now comes a very good dish! Parsnip is the main component; a root vegetable closely related to carrots and parsley. This soup dish consists of a creamy velouté of parsnip, enhanced with three crunchy chips - soft inside and crunchy on the outside with a light sweetness that explodes when you crunch into them. A chunk of pan fried duck is the piece de resistance. I loved the taste of this cream, its smoothness and perfectly balanced flavors. The duck is soft like butter and cooked to perfection. I enjoyed this plate so much that I finished my wife's as well.
- Now for the fourth plate. A kind of Turbot mousseline is topped with a roasted scallop on a bed of emulsified butter. A lemony sauce, a well cooked scallop and tasty fish but I expected a better texture; it feels like an omelette. It is served in a soup dish and is beautifully decorated with a violet flower. Out of the four plates already enjoyed this is the least I liked.
- Venison is one of my favorite kinds of meat. Extremely tender and served red, this meat should be moist and soft like a purée. Served on a large round plate, the meat is covered with a sweet and sour sauce and presented with diced vegetables. The vegetables are well cooked but need more flavor. The sweet and sour sauce is not enough and has a dull flavor. As for the meat, it's undercooked; my wife's is red and completely undercooked, mine has an unpleasant texture. I'm sure this is because the chef is not used to the kitchen here at Albergo.
The wine: I honestly didn't like it much. I expected something better to accompany such a fine dinner. A bit too acidic for my taste, a strong dryness, a lack of freshness and a lack of aroma. I expected something lighter and fruitier and didn't like the metallic aftertaste. The red wine gave me an immediate headache.
Dinner is not complete without dessert: Apple caramel cake with white chocolate ganache and green apple mousse. A square portion served on a small plate, three layers of moist cake, with a green and strongly apple flavored mousse and diced apple. Accompanying it is a cup of caramel biscuit topped with a ganache of white chocolate on a bed of cooked sweet apples. This amazing cup is presented with apple chips; delicious and unique, not simply dehydrated but toasted like chips - crunchy, sweet and tasty. What a superb last impression, dessert is simply awesome! Bravo chef, bravo for your efforts, for your finesse, for your ideas.
Now let's talk about this event:
- Was the dinner worth $175/person? I'm not sure. I've paid less at starred restaurants in Paris.
- A press release is needed to help magazines and blogs write about the event.
- We have had enough of the same chefs visiting Lebanon since 2013 and probably before... the same chefs again and again!
- Waiters lack finesse and know how; they need training on how to serve a fine dining course.
- Wine is not up to the required standard.
- The chef should have visited the tables after dinner.
- The marketing campaign needs to be worked on, including a better website with more detail.
I enjoyed my dinner, the ambiance and vibes... This annual event is a matter of local pride... Let's focus on improving its details for the years to come.