Thursday, May 19, 2011

Panama Eats: Fenicia

I had a lunch today that really opened my mind up to a whole new cuisine. Lebanese food. Some of you, I'm sure, already know how freaking good Lebanese food can be... and some of you are probably as ignorant as I was. Whenever I thought of Lebanese food, pictures of cold shwarmas with too much garlic sauce and tough, chewy mystery meat ran through my head. Wow, was I ever missing out. Canadian-ized Lebanese food is bad, not all Lebanese food. Eye opener.

Today, at lunchtime, my boyfriend and I, along with his mother, brother and brother's girlfriend, were on Via Espana and we happened by a restaurant called Fenicia. From the outside you couldn't tell much about it other than it sold Johnny Walker's and that it was open for lunch (many restaurants here don't open until 6 for dinner and don't serve lunch). It had interestingly shaped- vaguely middle-eastern windows, but I didn't think much of them as the architecture here in Panama is so varied.

And then we looked at the menu. When I first figured out it was a Lebanese restaurant, I was a little wary, but then I saw that they had some Italian-sounding food on their menu and I felt a little better.

I ordered off the "executive lunch menu" which is a special menu that runs from 12-3:30pm mon-fri and each meal includes a starter, an entree and ice cream for dessert. I chose a starter of Chicken soup (Sopa de Pollo), and an entre of Farfalle Bolognese. Here's what I got:

Yes, RED chicken soup. It's a tomato-based soup rather than broth based, though judging by the dots of oil at the top I'm willing to bet that there is some chicken stock in there. There were also bits of real carrots, noodles cooked to perfection, barley, big chunks of fresh chicken  and a hint of cinnamon. Cinnamon was the first thing I noticed; the scent filled my nostrils the second the soup hit the table. Such a surprising twist, and so good. It was a even a little spicy, but not overbearingly so... just enough to warm your throat on the way down, but not enough to burn. It was a strange sensation, and I really wish I knew how they did it.

Then the main course came, and I was every bit as delighted with it as I was with the starter. Bolognese, American style, is never served with short pasta, however in Italy Spaghetti Bolognese doesn't actually exist. Pasta al Ragu has the same sauce but is serve on short pasta, like this, and never spaghetti. In that way, this dish was actually more authentic than the bolognese I'd been eating in Italian restaurants in Canada. The sauce was amazing too. The perfect thickness, with the perfect ratio of meatiness to juiciness. Faintly sweet, and super flavourful. You could taste each element in the sauce; the broth, the meat, the tomatoes, the spices... so good. No salt or pepper required during this meal. 

We also ordered an appetizer for the table: 

Excuse the blurriness; as I'm sure many other food bloggers can attest to, sometimes it's a little awkward to be taking pictures of your food in public. People stare. Anyway, we ordered the Hummus con carne (hummus with meat/beef) which came along with a basket full of hot, fresh out of the oven naan-like bread. I'm not sure if it was naan bread or not, it was so different from the naan bread I'm used to seeing in grocery stores, but damn was it ever good. The hummus was good too, topped with bits of beef and sprinkles of paprika... it was a new experience and it was surprisingly amazing. 

My boyfriend and my boyfriend's brother's girlfriend each ordered a "personal" pizza to themselves... here's what my boyfriend got:

Look how huge it turned out to be! My boyfriend said if he had known it would be that big, he would have asked me to share it with him. On the pizza was fresh mozzarella cheese and chicken blanketing a thin layer of tomato-ey goodness. I took a bite, and my boyfriend agrees, it was much better than all of our other go-to pizza places in the city (and that's saying something). And finally dessert. A simple scoop of vanilla ice cream, smothered in chocolate syrup. So simple, so classic, so good. 

And if you didn't already notice, the restaurant tries to be really classy. My ice cream was served to me in a stemmed dessert glass; we had multiple forks to eat with; and look at that beautiful white table cloth! The restaurant had a laid-back-yet-high-quality feel to it... but you'll never believe the prices. My three courses all-together came up to $8.50 (it's part of the executive menu deal), and my boyfriend's pizza? $6.50. Crazy. Also, if you've ever wanted to try smoking a hookah, do it on a Thursday at Fenecia and it's half price. Fenicia is definitely a place to try if you're ever in the via Espana area, near the Sprago and McDonald's in Panama city, Panama. 

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Comment Questions:
1. What cuisine have you been surprised to like?
2. Tell me about your favourite "ethnic" restaurant (i.e. non-western)

1 comment:

  1. What happened to the pastries? Pistachio baklava? Burma? Et al?