Two days ago, I sadly learned that Chez Sophie, my favorite restaurant of all times in Lebanon, was going to close its doors permanently tonight (Saturday, February 16, 2013). I almost cried knowing that I won't be able to taste the many creations I crave for at least once a month. Sophie Tabet, who worked along side great chefs like Paul Bocuse in France, came back to Lebanon a couple of years ago and introduced this country to the passionate art of food, like no other. Chez Sophie will be definitely missed.
Three reviews - found at the bottom of the article - perfectly describe what Chez Sophie has been all about; a perfect blend of harmonious creations sizzling under the vault shaped stones of an old Lebanese house, located in the heart of Mar Mikhael.
Delicious, sumptuous, heavenly and extraordinary are a few of the words I can use to describe Sophie's cooking. She masters the art of mixing the right ingredients, creating exquisitely fresh dishes using just the right amount of herbs, salt, pepper and other condiments, to mold the perfect key which unlocks all your taste buds. Why are they closing?
Chef Sophie Tabet and her husband Sommelier Marco Marangi have decided to take a break for a while to learn more and expand their knowhow and passion in the culinary world. Their first stop will be Paris, where Sophie will work alongside chef David Rathgeber at the L'Assiette Restaurant, followed by a trip to Tokyo, where Marco will be fine-tuning his knowhow in wine at the famous Enoteca Pinchiorri, while Sophie masters her culinary skills further. Montreal may be their third stop from what I could gather. Hopefully their journey will not exceed a year and half, before the couple comes back to Lebanon with loads of interesting things that will surely impress us with the opening of a new restaurant.
What will happen to the location of Chez Sophie? Expect a major tranformation to take place in Mar Mikhael in exactly one month, where the same location will be changed into a cozier 50's ambiance for the opening of TOTO, a fine Italian restaurant and Pizzeria - something never been seen before in Lebanon.
Prince Antonio Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno De Curtis di Bisanzio Gagliardi, best known by his stage name Totò or as Antonio De Curtis, and nicknamed il principe della risata ("the prince of laughter"), was an Italian comedian, film and theatre actor, writer, singer and songwriter. He is widely considered one of the greatest Italian artists of the 20th century. While he first gained his popularity as a comic actor, his dramatic roles, his poetry, and his songs are all deemed to be outstanding; his style and a number of his recurring jokes and gestures have become universally known memes in Italy. Toto, the new Italian restaurant will be managed by Samir Tabet, Sophie's brother and will host Mr. Antonio Tolva, a famous Pizzaiolo who won the European championship a couple of years ago. Antonio is bringing the first stone bake pizza oven to Lebanon, said to revolutionize the industry.
The average cheque at TOTO will be $30 per person, where Chef Fady Alameh, Sophie's second in command will handle the furnaces of this new creation.
Let's get back now to today's fairy tale... I can't but remind you what Chez Sophie is all about:
- An old Lebanese house
- Thick stone walls with high ceiling in a vault shape
- Purple and light green napkins
- White neat superbly ironed table cloths
- Bonsai trees center the tables
- Artichoke, tomatoes and garlic stones decorate the beautiful round tables
- "Stozle" thin crystal wine glasses
- Small handmade porcelain plates serving sea salt fragments
- Enamel porcelain large plates
- Stainless steel small oval bread plates breaking the white color while giving a reflective effect that sparkle on the table
Lunch started by the Amuse-Bouche, Sophie's signature plate, the Asparagus Velouté and Parmesan Emulsion on a table with olive oil - from ZEJD - herbs dip accompanying their fresh and crunchy warm bread, shrimp chips with garlic and paprika, as well as sea salt with its little serving spoon.
Sophie's menu is divided into four simple categories:
The starters, meat, fish and the Italian starters (I Nostri Primi Piatti)
Service is an art we miss in other restaurants around town:
- The sommelier, Sophie's husband, knows when to serve wine in a Carafe or when to serve it in a bottle and what type and size of glass to use. - Every time someone leaves the table for a smoke or to visit the rest rooms, his napkin is changed in the most professional way. The waiter grabs the cloth with a fork and spoon, used as a peg to change the new colored towel gently next to his plate. - Women are served first, followed by elder guests, then men. - Serving on the right side is a must. Removing the plates from the left comes naturally. - Pouring wine is an art you don’t even feel. Calmly whenever it’s needed.
Some of the plates that will still be available in the Italian restaurant:
- Crispy Soft-boiled Organic Egg, sautéed seasonal mushrooms and spinach, parmesan foam
- Bone Marrow on Toast, Chili from Espelette
- Homemade Mushroom Ravioli with Foie Gras Jus
Wine tasted today: Toacana: Drumo, Rubbia al Colle, Sangiovese 2007
To bid farewell to my favorite plates, I ordered two starters for myself as well as one main dish:
- Seared Foie Gras, Porto Sauce and Fruit Confit
- Lemon Confit Risotto, Lapsang Souchong, Poached Scampi
- Veal Filet with Truffle Oil and Melting Potatoes
My wife had:
- The Free Style Seasonal Vegetables, Gorgonzola Foam
- Seafood and Saffron Risotto
- Seafood Ravioli, Grilled Calamari, Scampi Bisque, Sesame Oil and Lemon Confit Foam
The Majestic fine culinary experience:
- My eyes were forced to close as soon as the warm foie gras touched my tongue. When the fruit couli and the cold raspberry piece touched my palate, it felt like traveling on a jet plane. A colorful plate of the finest ingredients: orange, purple, green, brown all blended together into a piece of art. Every bite has a feel of softness and warmth followed by a slip of the raspberry and its purple sauce. I have really never tasted something so majestic before in my entire life. I had to order some bread to clean the plate completely and savor the sweetness and the passions that Sophie planted inside this dish. Would you understand if I told you that I felt like crying...
- The freestyle seasonal vegetables is the equivalent of the Rio carnival on a plate. Some of them are cooked, others boiled and few kept fresh. A colorful round extravaganza that can work as a piece of art to be displayed on the wall. Each bite is different and unique. As much as this plate is simple as much as it has feelings to discover.
- Now comes the lemon risotto. The aromas dissipating around the room made me high. The smell of the grilled langoustine a la plancha and the strong lemon taste transported by the aldente rice. Covering the round plate, some lemon zest and olive oil add the missing touch of perfection. A simple orgasmic preparation that conquers the doors of heaven.
- A simple plate, with two pieces of veal, two fingers of asparagus, a mushroom and two little potatoes decorated with mini rocket leaves. Tasting is another story... A perfectly cooked soft veal that can easily be cut with the fork as much as it is tender, and aromatized with a gentle touch of truffle oil upscaling the plate to the highest levels of perfection. Tiny little caramelized onion quarters sleep heavenly on the juicy potatoes to make every bite special.
Everyone at the table was mesmerized. Between every bite and the other we were looking at each other expressing how sad it is for this place to close... In Lebanese terms we said: "Di3ana!"
A majestic lunch cannot end without the indulgence of Chez Sophie's desserts. Nothing less than delicious and sumptuous can be expected, especially after enjoying the food we had today.
- French Meringue, Raspberry Couli
- Pain Perdu filled with dark chocolate and covered with vanilla ice cream and caramel
The French Meringue is unique:
Words are not enough to describe this dessert, which I discovered way before the new menu was introduced. Two Meringue fingers, one filled with chocolate cream and the other with pastry cream, both floating in raspberry couli. Decorated with mint leaves and raspberry fruits... this dessert was so good I was going to eat my lips. Just imagine!
The Pain Perdu is heavenly. An indescribable finger licking dessert. Have you ever tried a soft and tender piece of bread, soaked in milk, adequately sweetened by the caramel sauce, filled with a layer of melted dark chocolate in the middle? WOW! To crown this unique creation is the cold sensation of a vanilla ice-cream scoop topped with three pieces of raspberries. I will miss your creative colourful creations... I will miss the sumptuous creations you imagine... I will miss tasting your heavenly blends.
Now you understand why I am sad...? Lebanon will miss you... I will miss you.