Often in my Fancypants travels, I’ll receive a message from a friend back home asking what I’m up to. I can usually explain with little effort. I’m contemplating ying and yang while eating steaks and sushi
, or crying tears of nostalgia tinged in maple syrup
. This time, though, when I got a WhatsApp message simply asking ‘sup?’ as I plopped down on the comfy couch at Levant, my response of "devouring some wicked Levantine food" baffled most of my provincially minded pals back home. "What is a Levantine?" they asked, before I summarily sent them down one of the deepest Wikipedia holes they’ve ever found themselves in. I find satisfaction in educating my fellow Americans to the best of my admittedly limited ability on the subject of Middle Eastern geography, but that’s not really why I’m here. I’m here to eat food that I can’t pronounce and mildly embarrass myself on the Internet when I try to talk about it.
Perched on the top floor of the Tivoli Food Dome (which is not, in fact, a dome at all), with a spiffy view of both Sheikh Zayed and the Tivoli’s courtyard from their gorgeous outdoor seating area, is Levant Cuisine. My jaw dropped immediately just looking at the place. The decor combines elemental themes like woody branchy things strung with oversized lira coins and the quirky chic that I’ve come to appreciate and love from Levantine establishments. Creativity and atmosphere pour from every corner and I’m more convinced than ever that I need to get myself a Lebanese or Palestinian interior decorator.
Likewise, the food is presented with the same flair and colour. The appetizers cover just about the entire spectrum of a rainbow. A tabouleh-type dish with pineapple and pomegranate and some fattoush-ish salad dyed purple with pomegranate vinaigrette lit up the table with greens, purples, and oranges. All was delicious and all was devoured, but the standout appetizer for me was the stuffed fried chicken nugget ball things, which appealed to my need to eat deep fried birds but also challenged my palette with unique flavours and had me exclaiming "mmm, what’s in this?" with mouth stuffed.
That was kind of the theme for the evening. Each dish was totally new to me, or presented in a way that made it wholly alien to my eyes. The following mezzes were met with a collective ‘whoa’ from the table: spicy potatoes, and some kind of cheesy rice and mushroom reminiscent of risotto, but authentically Levantine, that was eyeballed and fought over throughout the meal and became a point of contention afterwards.
These little ravioli-type guys were great, but apparently you’re supposed to wait until the sauce gets poured over them redefining the word deliciousness as we know it. Curse my impatient and grumbly belly! Also, dear people of the Levant, your dishes are very hard to Google. Sorry.
Then came the meats. First to land on the table was a dish that at first looked like some kind of pie, but then the server pulled off the bread top and revealed a secret cavern full of mixed grilled meats. Then, the crown jewel of my experience at Levant arrived at the table: my own personal shawarma stick! Since arriving in Cairo and passing by beautiful meat cones on the street, I’ve often dreamed of a sweaty meat log of my own. Levant fulfilled this dream and I will be forever grateful.
Dessert showed up with a real life coconut full of (non-alcoholic) piña colada, which should have come with a brain freeze warning since coconuts somehow violate the laws of thermodynamics and I couldn’t tell its contents were frozen before ravenously slurping it down.
Cheese for dessert? Hell yes. Nabulsi kanafeh changed my world. I thought cheese was reserved for main courses and the occasional (read: frequent) late-night pizza. Now that I know cheese can be dessert, I can finally fulfill my other dream of eating an entire three-course meal made entirely of cheese. Hopefully my next Fancypants adventure can be cheese-themed, but until then, I will have my fond memories of my time at Levant Cuisine.