On my recent and first visit to Lebanon, a friend and I dined at RARE, at the urging of another friend. In short, this restaurant is a unique and rare find in Beirut. Of all the restaurants we visited during our ten-day stay, RARE was unmatched in its multifaceted excellence.
To start, it has all the elements of the famed Beirutian restaurants you might have heard about, but without the air of pretention and bad service which is all too common in such restaurants, also known as tourist traps. RARE strikes the perfect balance between great food, a welcoming and convivial setting, and a magnificently rustic decor which is the perfect combination of both classic and modern.
Charmingly tucked away in Aschrafieh, this family-owned establishment ensures that every patron receives the warmest welcome. The menu is a testament to the chef’s creative genius and talent for making pairings which will delight your palate. The rich wine list speaks for itself and the sommelier's knowledge. What I loved most is its diverse menu, with just the right number of items; there is nothing worse than a menu that’s long as a novel and confuses length for diversity.
The restaurant has beautiful stone walls and vaulted ceilings which are reminiscent of traditional Lebanese architecture. Adding a modern touch, the walls are adorned with irregularly shaped mirrors and quotes which prompt you to pause and reflect. All these elements, together with the unique chandeliers, the black-red contrast of the tables and chairs, and the soft lighting, make for an unforgettable setting.
The wait staff is very attentive, polite, and well-trained in asking patrons the right questions, before recommending a dish. My friend and I shared the ravioli as a starter. The filling was the perfect consistency and the pasta was plated over a delectable sauce which left me wanting to do something abhorrent to social convention: lick my plate.
Having heard of RARE's reputation for having the best and freshest moules in town, I ordered the moules-frites, which gave me a new appreciation for a dish I rarely order. I am happy to report that RARE lives up to it's reputation. The day after our return to Washington, DC, we dined in one of DC's "finest" restaurants, a Belgian establishment. Remembering our experience at RARE, we were unimpressed by the Belgian restaurant's moules-frites.
Next, I tasted the seabass my friend ordered. It was not just deliciously meaty, but accompanied by something you rarely come across: risotto cooked to perfection. Desert featured a triple layer pie with coffee, creamy mousse, and a hint of banana. I had never tasted such a combination and didn't instinctively expect it all to work together but was pleasantly surprised. This is further evidence that RARE is on the cutting edge of Beirutian culinary creation and innovation.
The meal was concluded with the greatest of honors, a visit from the chef, who came over to ask us how we enjoyed our meal and whether anything could be improved. I find this to be the mark of an extraordinary chef, one whose personal mission is to learn from each patron’s experience.
To sum, more restaurants in Beirut need to take a page out of RARE’s playbook. Rare doesn’t put up a front (like many other restaurants) and excels in tasteful simplicity. Bravo to the owners who have succeeded in introducing familial warmth, great cuisine, and a relaxing atmospheres to a restaurant scene that has become overly preoccupied with maintaining the illusion of Western poshness.
Needless to say, we have many reasons to look forward to our next visit.
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