Al Laylou ya Layla…

It was the night after the movie that buried all movies… at the box office I mean… and Haru San wanted to try Lebanese food, he also wanted to choose the place himself… Chicho and I looked at each other… not sure if it was wise to let him do that… but we decided that we will, at least once… and that he did, he went right to Gemayzeh: Kahwit Layla… (Café Layla)

The name reminded us of a common good friend, Dilayla… so for the sake of old times and for the fun of it… we invited her to tag along: Dilayla is a sweet girl, very shy, she does not talk a lot but says a lot with her big beautiful expressive eyes, and like us… she has a passion for food… till the tip of her colored fingernails…

We parked the car almost 1km away, the weather was nice, and it was always entertaining to walk in crowded Gemayzeh street at night, so we didn’t really mind…

Kahwit Layla was full, and Haru San was already there waiting for us… the atmosphere was so saturated with smoke you could actually see it… and almost be able to cut it with a knife like cream on a cake… I don’t get this really… if you want to have a Café with Arguileh (hubbly bubbly) the least you could do is have enough ventilation… however, to my complete utter disbelief, nobody there seemed to care…

The band was still setting itself up in preparation to what should be an all Arabic Lebanese musical evening… If it wasn’t for the ventilation, I would say that Kahwit Layla had the perfect setup for an old traditional Lebanese Kahweh (coffee shop), however personally, I was here for the food and my friends…

Haru San seemed to be in his element, despite his Japanese origins… he was seated on a wooden chair with his arms spread in opposite direction and had a flashy smile showing his neat white teeth: he had already ordered for all of us… and all we had to do was wait and taste…

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Cold mezzeh of course: First the tabbouleh, very fresh, very green and taste fairly good, despite all the smoke that was filtering the taste on my buds… the seasoning was well balanced and the citrus was a point… good dish…

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The Fattoush was as good, though I would have loved to have a Debs El Remmen (pomegranate molasses) touch to it… but it might be our Haru San who ordered it that way… I didn’t ask… he offends quit rapidly… and I didn’t want to go there… not tonight…

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Dilayla was snapping pictures with her phone of the hommos, it was very traditionally presented and clearly made out of fresh chickpeas… its taste was also as it should be…

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I was personally waiting for the Batenjen bi Tahini (Grilled and Mashed eggplants with tahini, lemon & Garlic), it’s my favorite and it didn’t disappoint… you see so far the food was really nice, not the best but up to the standard of the Kahwe and of what you should expect in a place like that.

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The waraa enab was placed between me and chicho… I extended my hand to grab one and I bumped it with his, so Dilayla got the first piece, and looking at her wide dilated eyes as she was chewing tells me that it was good… and it was… I just added a bit of lemon on top of it… but that’s just me…

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On the other hand, I wasn’t a fan of the fattit batenjen (eggplant and minced meat in yoghourt) the taste wasn’t just realized as it should be… I couldn’t tell what was missing, maybe not enough minced meat? I also didn’t taste a lot of acidity… maybe not enough Debs El Remmen… it could have been much better.

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The batata Harra though (fried potato chunks with garlic and cilantro) was delicious, it’s also one of my favorite dishes, although here, they made the potato chunks really big (3 to 4 cm per piece), I personally think it is a mistake and here is why: the cilantro garlic marination does not penetrate the potato chunks and give savor only to the exterior of the potato… so the bigger the chunk… the less flavor you get with one bite, since you can’t even put a whole chunk in your mouth… however, if you have smaller chunks like 1 cm each, you can put several in one bite, thus having a way more flavorful experience as you get more of that mouthwatering garlic cilantro… just a thought… for free.. si si…

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The cheese rolls were a bit too oily and the cheese inside not salty enough to my taste… but it was still enjoyable and was a good addition on the table…

The Makanek (fried Lebanese sausages of Turkish origin) and the Chicken Liver arrived and that drew a large smile on Haru San’s face… clearly he was waiting for them… and he was also right…

Dilayla was quick to take some snaps of the new dishes as I was mouthwatering at the smell that made its way to my nostrils (by now the smoke smell was a background information in my brain and wasn’t registering unless I thought about it)

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The Makanek was … (No Beirutista… I’m not gonna write succulent… despite its different meaning in my French vocabulary that I occasionally mix in my English prose…) so… I was saying… it was really good… just the perfect acidity that goes with the amount of spices in the sausage… that acidity that makes you even hungrier for more and causes your mouth to drip with anticipation…

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The Chicken liver as well… an experience that transport you for a tiny laps of time to a different realm where pain, worries and stress doesn’t exist… just you and the taste in your mouth… but that came to an end quickly when the so called band started play music…

What? Now? We have been here for over an hours… and I remember they were setting up when we arrived, I just realized we were listening to Feyrouz songs all along… anyways…  We listened for a couple of song, but honestly… I prefer back the songs that were playing before, that singer was pitchy and wasn’t the best for an evening like that…

Anyhow, by the time he started the third song he was already background noise… the mix grill platter was here.

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Dilayla seemed to have found a second appetite judging by the way she attacked that Kafta skewer (skewer of ground meat with tomatoes, parsley and onions) and who could blame here… you had to rush if you wanted a good portion with the likes of me Chicho and Haru San on the table… However me, I was going for the regular meat skewers: The seasoning was what it should be… the meat very tender and juicy…

The Kafta was a bit dry… which was too bad because it tasted all right…

However, the real highlight of the grills were the taouk Skewers (marinated grilled chicken breast chunks in a skewer) along with that oh my god garlic sauce they serve with it… I was stuffed, and I couldn’t stop… me… a meat guy… with loyalty only to beef steaks… those chicken skewers were unforgettable, easily the best chicken taouk I have devoured in a long long time… so Kudos to that Layla… Haru San seemed to agree because his mouth wasn’t free at any moment since the grills arrived… Mashiagare Haru San (Bon Appetit)

Tiens… while we were eating the band had stopped playing and were replace by Lebanese old records… much better… however it was time to leave…

I wouldn’t come back to Kahwit Layla… not because I had a bad time, no… not because the food was not good… au contraire, the food is my only motivator to come back… I wouldn’t come back because of the smoke… I know the majority of Lebanese don’t mind but I do… If only they would increase or upgrade their ventilation…  Anyways… they don’t need the likes of me… over 90% of their customers are smokers and arguilisers (dunno if it’s even a word) but I will definitely recommend them for their good, simple, delicious food…

Abou El Abed Gaston

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