FAQRA, Lebanon: Oenophiles and gourmands will soon have a new a new hearth to gather around: Fireplace Restaurant in Faqra, the brainchild of brothers Sami and Ramzi Ghosn, who own and manage the Massaya winery. Refined yet inviting, the venue is sure to be a hit for those seeking worthy wine and honest cuisine.
Fireplace has a warm, convivial atmosphere befitting its name. At a preopening lunch, families enjoy a hearty lunch while young, cosmopolitan types clink glasses of 2011 Massaya Rouge.
At a fireside buffet, patrons help themselves to a variety of filling, comfort dishes including roasted lamb, sweet potatoes, moghrabieh and grilled eggplant. A strange mélange of ’90s R&B and early 2000s pop plays over the speakers.
Staying true to the Massaya legacy, however, wine is the keystone of the experience. A variety of Massaya wines are on hand, expressly paired with the dishes.
“Sometimes people are not very comfortable in a wine environment,” Ramzi said. “We noticed that people are more easily approachable through food than through wine.”
While many of the restaurant’s dishes are not traditionally Lebanese, most have a decided Mediterranean flair: Pomegranates garnish an endive salad while grilled quail is served with freekeh.
All the plates were designed with Lebanese wine in mind.
“The vision is to elaborate on wines from Lebanon,” Ramzi said.
“Lebanon, luckily, has a tradition of winemaking. Way before Europe.
“Where is the temple of Bacchus, the god of spirits and wine? It’s not in Bordeaux, it’s here. It’s in Lebanon, not Italy.”
The food is based on a traditional Lebanese “winter diet,” Ramzi continued. “During the summer, our ancestors used to drink arak, but in the winter they would drink wine.”
“We tried to implement Lebanese cuisine that is wine friendly.”
While the recipes may derive inspiration from disparate points on the globe, the restaurant, and indeed the entire Massaya operation, is something of an homage to ancient Lebanon.
By featuring dishes designed to bring out the unique flavors of Lebanese wine, Fireplace salutes what Ramzi calls the “huge contribution that the Phoenicians made to the wine culture on the Mediterranean. ... We are here to imitate the Phoenicians, our ancestors.”
Even the building, painstakingly built from stones excavated on-site, harkens back to traditional Lebanese dwellings.
Fireplace Restaurant is part of a massive project the brothers have been constructing on a Faqra hillside since 2007.
While Massaya’s main vineyards and caves are located in the Bekaa Valley, the Faqra site will soon house a fully operational winery and event space. Chardonnay vines have already been planted outside.
“You’ll have here the winery to produce the white wine of Massaya. There will be a professional tasting room, a bakery and [Fireplace], the winter restaurant,” Ramzi explained.
Racks of bottles are already aging in newly constructed caves at the Faqra site.
“We’re still feeling out the space, and seeing how people flow through it,” he said.
There is a decided continuity of message between the new venue and the Massaya ethos as articulated by Sami and Ramzi.
“The idea of Massaya is to spread the image of Lebanon as a food and wine culture,” Sami said. “Our vision is to convey an image of a welcoming, tolerating, open-minded, cosmopolitan country.”
Inside the restaurant, guests relax around long, tavern-style tables and casual couches in a nearby lounge as they enjoy the fare, chatting with European accents. Green light escapes from a wine-bottle chandelier dangling overhead.
Fireplace Restaurant is still ironing out the wrinkles in its service and presentation ahead of the winery’s planned launch on July 5, but it’s sure to be a crowd favorite in the future.