There are few places where you can walk in and feel immediately at home, especially in a city like Beirut where there’s always a new restaurant, a new concept to try. We rarely end up returning to a place because there’s just too much to try. But then, there’s a single place we always fall back on when we know we want to have a good time and a good meal. We know exactly what to order, exactly where to sit, exactly what the music in the background will be. We even know the waiters- or rather, they know us. That place to us is Frida, a Lebanese-Mexican fusion restaurant in Ashrafieh named after the famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, but also when slightly deviated to Arabic becomes Farida, or the Arabic word for unique.
One year ago yesterday, I formally accepted Ahmad’s proposal in front of our families and loved ones. It was a simple, traditional event held at my parents’ house that we all enjoyed. But we also wanted to do something special for our friends who could not attend the ring exchange bit.
So we decided we would have a dinner at Frida. Everyone could share the classics we all have grown to love (but with a twist) while taking in the beautiful ambiance of an old house that has been transformed and we would all just have a wonderful night. And we did.
Yesterday, to celebrate, we returned to Frida- because I am sentimental like that. Despite not having a reservation on Easter Sunday, we were given seats by the entrance, facing the giant portrait of Frida Kahlo herself. It also happened to be the same place we sat in the very first time we visited the place in December 2013.
As our waiter was setting up the table, he said “We haven’t seen you guys in so long! Maybe once after your engagement?” I was really touched that he would remember us, especially since the place was busy. We told him that it was actually our engagement anniversary and he wished us many more and brought over the menus.
With Frida, it’s always tough to pick what to eat because everything is full of flavor and incredibly appetizing. We’re also constantly at a loss between trying something new and going back to our old favorites. But this time, we didn’t seem to have any trouble at all.
First up, we got our drinks and the bread basket. This place is super generous with their bread, giving their clients many types of markook: some with zaatar, some with raisins, some with other flavors. They are served with a bowl of green olives and cheddar cheese.
Of course, in a Lebanese restaurant, you can’t do without hummus, so that was also on our list, but the one Frida makes is not your run of the mill variety. It’s always enjoyable and worth the try. They offer the regular stuff but I’ve never once tried it. Along with that, we got the kibbe with muhammara and walnuts. Normally we get the one with cherries and savor the wonderful combination of sweet and sour, but this time we went for something new, and it comes highly recommended.
We agreed though that it was time to retire our favorite cheddar rolls, Frida’s take on the classic rakakat we all know and love. This time they were a lot more crunchy than we like them and they didn’t seem to ooze as much cheddar cheese as before. They went by unnoticed in the great feast we had.
Our two picks for the hot mezzes were up next. Served in clay bowls, as everything else, they come on a heating stand with candles to keep them warm as you are eating. We ordered the makanek with jalapenos and the halloumi with salsa. I’m generally not a fan of makanek elsewhere because I’m always hesitant about the taste. But here, they are usually the first thing I look for. They have just the right amount of spice to offset the flavor of the meat without being too hot. As for the halloumi, I didn’t like it as much because the cheese was too salty for my taste (I follow a low-salt diet) but the salsa was delicious- and Ahmad seemed to love it a lot. He kept raving about it all day long.
Now, time for the main dish. Frida offers a wide selection of plates to meet all sorts of different tastes including mashwe, grilled meat and chicken on skewers. But their star dish has got to be, hands down, the grilled half chicken, marinated in some magical sauce of all the lovely spices and flavors and served with grilled skin-on potatoes, veggies, and the most amazing dipping sauce we have ever tried. Every time we go, we wonder what they put in it. Some day I’ll know.
I wanted to order dessert, because we never do, but with all that food in our system, there was no way anything else could have been ingested! Luckily this time, we did not over-order as we usually do. But this place, to us, is about a lot more than just the food. It’s about the feeling of knowing it will forever be special to us because it holds some of our dearest memories. We’ll be back soon, I know it.