Al Dente, the only Italian fine dining restaurant in Lebanon has never seized to impress guests for the past decade or so. Located in one of the finest hotels in Lebanon and the only Relais et Chateau, the quality is up to the standards of this fine establishment. For The Academia Italiana Della Cucina first dinner in 2014, all guests lived a memorable experience.
Located inside the Albergo hotel, Achrafieh, Beirut, the place is divided into three separate rooms, each with a high ceiling and round tables in an appealing setting that includes old and new lanterns… I like the way lights are fixed over individual tables creating rounded spots around them – a great way to read your menu easily without any damaging your eyes. We all gathered at 9pm where dinner was scheduled to start. After the President's welcoming words, plates started landing on our tables in style. In a luxurious setup accompanied by a soothing music, I enjoyed looking at everyone's smiling face while they savored a bite after the other.
The Academy of Italian Cuisine is an Italian cultural association, founded in 1953 in Milan Orio Vergani. On 18 August 2003 it was recognized as a Cultural Institution of the Italian Republic. The association aims to protect the Italian culinary tradition and to promote and encourage the improvement in Italy and abroad, through various initiatives, studies and disclosures including a study center, publishing activities, tastings, etc.. It was the first among the Italian associations to defend and promote the Italian gastronomic culture and its regional traditions.
Waiting to be served I took all my time looking at the very little details that constitute this place:
- The restaurant is divided into three distinct rooms. The main hall in the middle, the bar on the right and a dining area to the left
- White marbles cover the floor
- Spacious rooms with high ceiling and pending design metal poles
- In the other rooms, old Lebanese tiles add a touch of color
- Violet is the color of all the walls
- Round and square tables, surrounded with leather relaxing chairs, fill the space
- Large mirrors here and there make the space look bigger
- Two long alleys of lights add a fine artistic touch to the side rooms
The fine culinary experience:
- Crème de potiron: Even though I enjoyed it, this first impression could have been fine tuned. It was a bit too sweet for my taste and needed some more consistency. A hint of salt and a stronger concentration would have made it perfect.
- Salade de homard cuit à la vapeur: In a beautiful plate, and its fresh yellow, blue and red colors, half a lobster was served with green beans, zucchini and carrots. An interesting lemon flavor takes over while the perfectly cooked lobster melts under your teeth in style. That's perfection redefined
- Ravioli farcie, artichaut, menthe et pécorino: How hard it is to serve a hundred guests a ravioli at the same time and have them all eat it hot and al dente without having a single mistake. Adequately hot, al dente and filled with a strong cheese, this ravioli is really a preparation up to the standards of a Michelin starred chef. To make things perfect, some olive oil added on top add the needed finesse that caresses your palatal buds and make you moan from joy. An awesome taste and amazing flavors where the Pecorino cheese inside and the Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top blend well with the pasta in a sandwich of different tastes. A subtle hint of truffle oil added a smile on our faces: Bravo, bravo, bravo!
- Petite Escalope de veau, aubergine panée, mozzarelle et roquette: A layer of tender veal topped by crunchy battered non oily eggplant and decorated with melted cheese on top. Yum! Some tomato cubes and warm green beans on the side is all what's needed to ignite a love story between the plate and its devourer
Taking care of the Al Dente kitchens for the last twelve years, chef Nicolas Offredi has managed to perfect his creations in a country where not all products are available underhand. Fully booked for the night, members of the Academia and their guests were all transported by the chefs culinary wonders. I was personally surprised to enjoy dinner that much in a country that moves more towards pizzerias, trattorias and French bistros. Wines enjoyed tonight:
- Gavi di Gavi, La Scolca (Etichetta Nera), Bianco Secco: Light straw color. Typical Gavi nose; fine and pleasantly fresh. Delicate in the mouth, very dry, characterized by a crisp and refreshing acidity. The La Scolca Gavi di Gavi White Label is the estates most traditional wine. This traditional Cortese-based wine is made from 20 to 30 year-old vines sourced within the Rovereto commune in the heart of Gavi.
- Rossj Bass, Gaja (Chardonay), 2012: This wine is produced from grapes grown in several estate-owned vineyards. The Rossj vineyard, planted in 1984, is named for Angelo Gaja's younger daughter Rossana (Rossj). Bass is Piedmontese for the Italian basso, meaning low, a name derived from the vineyard's position. Pheasants are featured on Rossj-Bass' label to commemorate the beautiful birds that inhabit the forests adjacent to GAJA's vineyards.
- Sito Mauresco, Gaja (Barbaresco), Langue 2011: Sito Moresco is named for the family who farmed this 25-acre estate in Barbaresco before its purchase by the Gaja family, a nod to the people and traditions that preceded it. It means literally the Moresco site, after the family name of Giovannini Moresco. GAJA created this cuvee of Nebbiolo, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon to deliver greater approachability in its youth. In this balanced blend, the powerful tannic structure of the Nebbiolo is balanced by the supple roundness of the Merlot and the elegance of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, this wine is made from vineyards located in the villages of Barbaresco and Treiso (both lying in the Barbaresco appellation), with additional fruit from Serralunga d'Alba (in the Barolo appellation). Pheasants are featured on Sito Moresco's label to commemorate the beautiful birds that inhabit the forests adjacent to GAJA's vineyards.
The best was saved for last. Dessert was not to be missed.
- Nougat glace de fruits secs au miel servi avec sauce à l'orange et vanille: Served cold, this creamy mix has crunchy bits of nougat while orange peel explode in flavors under your teeth. A decorative mint leaf and here you are in front of simplicity remastered.
The magical evening ended with chocolate and coffee where a general ambiance of happiness took over. Everything was just perfect... Finesse, perfection and love felt in every bite.