Apart from its national flag, I simply know nothing about Lebanon, its complicated history, even its place in the world map and most especially its cuisine.
So you would probably understand why it took me and my friends a bit long to decide as to what to order in Beqaá, a Lebanese restaurant in Cebu in Central Philippines.
Our assigned waitstaff probably understood our predicament. He patiently walked us through some of the dishes, explaining and often re-explaining its ingredients and how each should taste.
Ryan, the risk taker in our group (which probably explains why he was also the only guy married), suggested that we take the Beqaá Mixed Grill to keep the ball rolling. It was not cheap but it solved our minutes of indecision since everything is there – 2 lamb shoulder chops and pieces of shish taouk, kafta, beef kebab, and spicy lamb sausage.
“Go big or go home,” he later beamed. This became the theme of some sort that night. Since we knew nothing about Lebanese cuisine, we’re better off shooting for the moon in our maiden attempt to understand this foreign country’s gastronomic pleasures.
For starters, we went with the Kibbeh Royale, which are meatballs if you will, but was spiced with flavors that are very new to me. These sat comfortably on a bed of velvety hoummos, with tabbouleh (a kind of salad for acidic contrast) and a tahini sauce on the side. We wrapped bits and pieces of each with freshly made saj, a kind of flatbread.
The Goan Seafood Curry was probably the odd one in the spread. But as I browsed through the menu again, there are in fact Indian dishes in Beqaá’s offering. I was not surprised though since Middle Eastern and Indian food overlap and are similar in many ways. It was rich, mildly spicy with interesting sour undertones and paired well with rice.
But it was undoubtedly the meaty mountain called Beqaa Mixed Grill that took the spotlight the entire time. In this plate in particular, the chicken kebab and the lamb skewers justified the need for another order of saj.
We tried to split these equally among ourselves but I must confess that with the lamb chops, I took the portion with the bone. It was perfectly grilled, properly charred yet pinkish and moist at the center.
Although we were unfamiliar with Lebanese cuisine, we still enjoyed the fantastic meal before of us. Hats off indeed to Jason Hyatt of the Abacá Group, the same group behind Phat Pho, Tavolata and a string of other restaurants you’d be surprised to find in these parts, for coming up with a contemporary Middle Eastern restaurant in the city.
In a way, that dinner transported us to the Middle East or even to Beqaá itself, a fertile valley in Lebanon, where the restaurant was rightfully named after.
However, I regret not ordering a glass of wine to cap off our heavy meal. I thought at that time that it was cheaper if we got the same bottle elsewhere. But to my utter dismay, the only wine store who carries the cabernet sauvignon I had in mind was already closed when we arrived. Looking back now, we should just have gone with the wine or even that Lebanese arak.
Beqaá: a lebanese kitchen
Design Center of Cebu
AS Fortuna at P. Remedio St.
+63 32 2385539