BEIRUT: An intimate crowd gathered to celebrate the official opening of Popolo, a charming Italian restaurant where you can eat lightly fried cheese truffle balls with mushroom any time of the day, or order a crispy cotoletta alla Milanese with a side of creamy truffle fries.
Located in Ain al-Mreisseh with a view of the Mediterranean, the decor is a soft palette of red, heather gray and baby blue with wooden accents. There is no music to be heard, except for the faintest sound of waves crashing in the background.
Impressive slivers of homemade tagliatelle are laid out to dry on a wooden rack, while cured meats dangle in the background like chandeliers suspended from the ceiling.
Popolo by definition means people in Italian. The menu is homely, even comforting at times, and so is the concept: Food brings people together.
“When we thought of Popolo’s concept, we didn’t want to open a high-end restaurant where people won’t link themselves to the food because when you go to a high-end restaurant, you expect service more than food. You expect to be treated like a king or like a queen and not enjoy the food as much,” said Serge Trad, digital manager from Add-Mind, a local consultancy group.
“So the food here is more rustic than rarified high-end food and the slogan we wanted to opt for was for the people, by the people, to the people,” Trad added during the event last week.
As soon as the guests sat down, a crumpled paper bag with fresh-baked bread and grissini was brought to the table. A plate of Parmesan chunks followed suit, with honey and balsamic dips for a perfect mix of sweet and savory.
Plates of truffle fries, grilled octopus and marinated squid piled up, before a zesty artichoke salad confidently appeared.
Halfway through the meal emerged Popolo’s chef consultant Guiseppe Palumbo and executive chef Georges Dakkak. The two men glided through the tables, each assuring the guests were satisfied with the food and if there were any remarks.
The margarita pizza and squid ink risotto that followed was plentiful, but that night, it was the homemade ravioli with black truffle sauce that commanded seconds and thirds.
Francesco Sirimarco, menu consultant at Popolo and owner of Bianca in Dubai, described Popolo’s menu as “typical Italian dishes, mixing original recipes with local taste.”
“You can have truffle fries in Italy in street markets, you can’t find it in high-end restaurants. The ingredients we use are premium though, not to make you feel like you are eating in a street market,” Trad added.
As much as Popolo strives to bring us rustic food, the quality of ingredients makes it a decidedly luxe version.
Popolo counts on suppliers mainly from Napoli – which is home for Sirimarco and Palumbo – to bring in premium quality products like truffle bits and flour to Lebanon, while vegetables are sourced locally because of their excellent quality, Sirimarco explained.
The dinner ended with a calzone al forno that was a performance on a plate: Nutella and mozzarella oozed out from homemade dough like lava at the crescendo, under the ravenous gaze of the entire table.
Not a crumb left in sight, people sipped their last drops of wine before making their way to the exit, promising each other to return for lunch in the near future.