What comes to mind when you hear that there's a place called Central Park. Do we have a park in Lebanon... a far fetched miracle I would say... but one that's close to the idea could be more feasible to believe. Central Park is not a park per say, but an American/French restaurant that welcomes guests into a haven where you can come and enjoy good food in a great setting, where one surprise meets the next. Let me tell you about my experience at Central Park, a place I was not sure about... Just when you think you're giving up on good service and smiling staff in Lebanon a nice surprise hits you. At Central Park and with no exaggeration, you're welcomed and humbly pampered by staff who are well trained and knowledgeable about the menu, enough to suggest some of their special items. Good to know if you're planning to head down to Central Park located on the ground floor of Blueberry Square on Dbayeh Highway:
- Expect to experience a French American bistro
- That opens for lunch and dinner
- Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays
- Monday is Healthy day where a nutritionist will be present to talk about health and food related issues with customers. A large section of the menu is dedicated to that matter
- Tuesday is Organic Day where a specialist from "Live Organic" will be there to explain more about the benefits of organic food to customers - a variety of organic preparations will fill the bar
- Wednesday is cheese and wine (50,000L.L) where the in-house French sommelier will be present
- Thursday is Jazz nights with a live band playing soothing tunes
- Friday is seafood night: Fresh arrival by plane every morning will cover the bar (60,000L.L)
And that's not all. What I think is interesting about this place is the fact that they are establishing themselves as a unique concept in Lebanon. I think this is what this country needs and not just another copy-paste idea... Some forgotten dishes are being reintroduced to clients. Things like Bouillabaisse and Pot au Feu - rustic and provincial dishes that not many make today. I was happy to learn that their chef, Elie Hannouch, previously worked at Cavalli Caffe Dubai and I like their food... So of course, I got all excited... Central Park sells at retail prices a lot of products from organic food, wine, cigars, tea and the variety is huge. They even have a tea collection from Fortnum & Mason. The best part though is that they have their own wine bottles which are sold for 28,000LL as well as their own beer brand that they make in their own Micro brewery including three kinds - blond, red devil and black. They are made using ingredients imported from Germany and Czech Republic and apparently these beers ferment in the bottles. As I walked into this spacious restaurant with its unique terrace, my eyes wandered around different corners admiring the details that surround this place. The place:
- The restaurant is divided into two main sections; a terrace and a large inner dining space
- Outside, expect to feel like you're siting in a garden restaurant in the city. Couches from different colors, relaxing green and white chairs, real wood flooring with light wood elegant tables
- Inside is another world... A beautiful space well decorated with colorful sofas, wood tables and a long bar displaying imported products from Europe that can be bought
- Yes, they sell Fortnum and Mason tea, cigars at retail prices and they also have their own wine label, beer label among a wide collection of imported wine brands
- Up a couple of stairs is a private room, perfect for meetings and small intimate family gatherings
- Look to your right, a long ladder is used to reach the upper shelves
- The walls are covered with white and black wood panels
- You can't miss the long salad and fruit bar changed depending in the day's theme
- Going up to the restrooms interesting sign boards decorate the wall
- Everything is neat and well defined
- If you look at the counter space, you will feel like you're at a farmers market - a modern more organized one
- Modern type lights pend from different parts of the ceiling give the place the right lighting shades
The menu is divided into four sections each labeled with a different color:
- Lunch and dinner (Appetizers, Starters, Cold cuts, Soups, Salads, Sandwiches, Express formula, Pasta corner, Seasonal, Main courses, Cheese, Kids corner)
- Healthy menu (appetizers, salads, sandwiches, main platter, detox vegetable fruit, dessert)
- Desserts, premium ice cream
- Beverages (coffee, tea, infusions, ice tea, cold, fresh juices, smoothies and shakes, spirits)
Let me introduce you to the Central Park Beer:
- The Blond: A light but rich beer filled with aromas and flavors. You'll feel a lemony aftertaste, 5% alcohol. A world away from the typical tasteless Industrial beers, an interesting blonde ale. With its bloating free complexity due to the absence of corn and its fruity aroma, we indulge you in a slightly challenging but still quite easy to drink experience. Delicious!
- The Red Devil is more fruity and has interesting touch of taste to it, 5% alcohol. This is a Spritzy, creamy Handcrafted corn free beer with light aromas of clove and banana made from a mixed mash of wheat and barley malts, but unlike others, it also contains a large array of lightly caramelized malts that give both its color and complexity. The Red Devil Ale has all the characteristic and differentiated flavors of a sophisticated Wheat Ale.
- Dark Beer: I liked this one a lot. A connoisseur beer with a superb taste. 4% alcohol. The blackness of this sacrosanct Ale lightens our hearts! Its bitterness hits our sweet spot and the absence of corn makes our experience memorable! A fantastic taste of roasted malt gently embraced by the sweetness of Licorice.
Lunch started with a basket of bread served warm with a tapenade on the side. A large variety of bread selection is served. From herbs, sun dried tomato, brown and baguette... The bread is warm and tasty. I honestly tried to taste the tapenade but its garlic smell is over than I could handle. I tried today:
- Central Park Salad: This plate is beautifully decorated with colorful flowers just like they do in fine dining places. A tasty salad lightly seasoned with lemon and olive oil and filled with rich ingredients like avocado, tomato confit and red fruits. Simple and clear and most importantly the chicken is not dry.
- Marinated Scallops with Chives in Mornay Sauce: Served in their shell, this plate is rich and innovative with great juicy ingredients. You feel the flavors and creaminess that's light. The scallops are cooked in Béchamel sauce with added shredded cheese cocktail. The mix is served with baked potatoes and steamed vegetables on the side. The vegetables are very good as well. I loved the freshness, crunchiness and seasoning
- Bruschetta Original Greek Fetta: Since Central Park's bread is very good, succeeding in a plate like this is a must. Five slices of white baguette covered with tomato cubes topped with Parmesan. Simple and tasty. I ordered mine without garlic, but for those who like garlic, the smell will tickle your taste buds before you even try it
- C-Park Gourmet Burger: Uniquely presented in a tower of bread but unfortunately not something I'll order again. Since the bun divided into three levels, the meat is placed between the first and second one from the bottom. The top and third part is just for decoration. To start with, the middle bread part is not necessary; since it doesn't have an envelop, it is soaked with sauces which then chews unpleasantly and falls into pieces while the lower bun has an unpleasant cold touch compared to the meat. The fries served with it were undercooked and the meat although acceptable, there was nothing special about it. Tasting the salad to have an idea, I discovered an unpleasant overdose of mayonnaise. The burger is a big NO
- Rib Eye Entrecôte: The meat is served on a wood platter in its own grilling plate with steamed vegetables and potatoes. Although served over cooked the meat is perfect. The pepper and mushroom sauces mixed with truffle oil and spices are up to a fine dining restaurant quality. Maybe you should consider ordering it "rare" so you eat it "medium" since it continues cooking on its metallic support
I thought that I could leave after eating all of the above, but the manager looked at me with a smile and insisted on offering me dessert. I have to tell you a small story here and I promise you it's true. Seeing a premium service, a smiling staff and a complementary dessert, I thought to myself: "those guys know who I am". While visiting our table, I asked the manager: "Why are you taking that good care of us?" He smiled and with confidence he replied, "You can be our brand ambassadors, I believe in the word of mouth." Yes, believe me that he didn't know who I was. We still do have professionals in this country... Let's have some desserts:
- Ice cream: I was served two scoops, each in a unique glass cup where the colors appear beautifully and make you mouth water. The toffee, coffee, caramel is simply breathtaking! The coffee strength is magnificent. On another hand, the Caramel fleur de sel is a but sweeter and really superb
- Chocolate Fondant: Valrhona is unique. It has an interesting amaretto aftertaste that activates all your taste buds.
- Creme Brûlée Tart: This is special or different to say the least. Don't compare it to the normal creme brûlée to enjoy it - crunchy biscuit dough with cream filling topped with a sugar icing.
The things I liked:
- I was amazed to discover Central Park's beers, their innovation and flavors
- The place is really fresh; I think the photos talk for themselves
- The menu choices and plates presentation are up to the standard of a fine dining restaurant
I was positively impressed by this place. I will be coming back for more beer, more wine... and of course more food.