Friday, April 03, 2009

The Cave



Toward the end of October 1096, the Count of Toulouse, Raymond de Saint Gilles (1041– 1105) left his native land never to return. Driven by religious zealotry and material aspirations, Saint Gilles, by far the oldest and richest Crusader, dreamed of dying in the Holy Land. On his way to fulfilling his failed destiny in 1101, he took control of Tortosa, a little burg by the sea. Known today as Tartous, Tortosa offered safe harbor as an entrepôt for military provisions and was ideally close to Cyprus and Antioch. Before the old Count died he managed to transform it into a magnificent military bastion which eventually became one of the most interesting old Mediterranean cities for researchers and historians.



Nine hundred years later, the remains of the Crusader era still form the core of the historic center of Tartous. They have survived centuries of earthquakes, hostilities, neglect and negligence. The splendid cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa (1123) endured the ravages and the elements of time almost intact. A banqueting hall, originally known as La Salle Des Chevaliers, has lost most of its arched ceiling and houses within its walls scrounging and contiguous abodes. A nearly roofless chapel with a stone lock carrying the sign of the Rose, a testimony to the Knights Templar who dwelled and worshiped within the high walls of Tortosa, has all but succumbed to vandalism and defacement. And to the West, facing and defying the incalculable number of waves thumping incessantly against their sloped outer walls, lay the dungeons, where offending natives were imprisoned, tortured and eventually executed.



The Old City is located at the very beginning of the Corniche, a 2.5 km wide boulevard by the sea ending at the Ghamka River to the south. Most of Tartous’ restaurants and cafes are sprawled along the way and they vary from the mediocre to the admissible. Yet there is one so unique that it transcends all other restaurants in Syria and is possibly among the most distinctive anywhere in the world. It’s called The Cave and it occupies the northernmost dungeon.



The Cave is an unobtrusively restored 900 year old dungeon turned restaurant by none other than my best friend. He did not start the business. In fact, The Cave is one of the oldest restaurants/bars in town but last year he took over and embarked on his ambitious restoration dream. No expenses were spared and the painstaking work was brought down to a halt time and again by City officials and the pen pushers of the Antiquity Department. The Antiquity Law in Syria is even more archaic than the ruins it protects. In the wrong hands of bureaucrats any legislation can bring an entire country to a standstill. My friend persisted stubbornly and was finally awarded with the realization of his vision: a high-end joint in Tartous serving the best sea food and a la carte entrées this side of the Mediterranean. The ambiance is inimitable, the attention to details impeccable, the food delectable, the drinks ambrosial.



Next time in town and looking for a delightful gastronomical experience give The Cave a try. You can of course tell them Abufares sent you. Knowing my friend, don’t expect any discount but you will sure be treated like a Count.

49 comments:

Yazan said...

Congratulations to your friend and to you Abu Fares.

I'm glad it's finally open, and I'm glad (thanks to you), that I had a sneak peak at the place at its finishing stages.

Your post left my mouth watering!

Kano said...

Hi Abe Fares (I got the name right this time). Du you remember last time I told you I don't write or even read blogs although I was thinking of doing so for almost a year. Well since then I have started my own blog. This bigoted hateful campaign got me all fired up and I was on Syrian blogs all day long. What you and the other guys especially Razan, Dubai Jazz and Yazan write got me inspired to start writing. Anyway, my blog is about food Syrian and none Syrian. Food is my passion. Funny it all coincided with you writing a post about a restaurant. Nevertheless, the place looks great and if I am in Tartous I will take your offer and pay it a visit. Congratulations to your friend.

Arima said...

OMG!!! If I'm not much mistaken this was my favourite restaurant in Tartous...used to come especially from Damascus to eat here....but it looks like it has been much restored since 2004/5...I feel another visit is very much in order.

Anyway greetings from Egypt my friend :)

Isobel said...

As if I didn't have enough reasons to visit Syria...and now this. This restaurant of your friend's looks spectacular! Actually, it looks like a nice place for a romantic and perhaps a somewhat posh meal. But if the food is as good as you say, I'm sure its worth it. The other attraction is the history...we Canadians have a limited amount of that (only about 500 years since the first settlers) and it always amazes me what remains of history in other parts of the world and the age of it. Its nice to know such significant pieces of history are being restored carefully and available for the public to enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Next time in town and looking for a delightful gastronomical experience give The Cave a try. You can of course tell them Abufares sent you. Knowing my friend, don’t expect any discount but you will sure be treated like a Count.

Gabriela said...

It was nice to read that, at last, all that effort wasn't worthless.
It is a little far away from me, but we never know how far life may take us.
All the best!

abufares said...

@Yazan
I'm glad we had the chance together and visited The Cave when works were in the final stages.
Today, the place has become one of the most interesting landmarks of Tartous. Starting next month the outside terrace will open and will cater to the younger generation with a lighter menu.
Next time you're in town, we'll go there.

abufares said...

@Kano
Your blog is so much welcome on the Syrian Blogsphere. I urge you to put it on Syplanet ASAP. We needed a fully dedicated Syrian culinary blog and Syrian Foodie

http://syrianfoodie.blogspot.com/

promises just that.
I also thought the About You Section is great:

Kano
All my life I wanted to be a chef. As a true Syrian I ended up a surgeon!

abufares said...

@Arima
You're not mistaken. This is the same favorite place. However, it's much larger inside now as 2 full compartments previously filled with rubble and inaccessible were reclaimed. That with a complete overhaul of the grounds, new infrastructure, very posh furniture and interesting and non-imposing interior design.
You're not going there alone Arima. We have to be together :-)

abufares said...

@Isobel
I really love all the readers who grace and honor me with their repeat visits to my blog. But I have to be totally honest. You fill me with so much joy every time you show up. You walk in and out like a light breeze and no sooner than I read your comment that I hurry to your blog to see what's going on in that cute head of yours.
I like your writing because it's so flowing, so unpretentious but most importantly because it exposes your rare humanist soul.

Yes, about the restaurant, what was it called... The Cave. It is indeed a very romantic place and as you've put it "posh". I think the atmosphere itself makes people want to stay there much longer than the time required to consume a decent meal. While they are at it, they keep ordering stuff, drinks in particular. It makes my friend very happy :-) although many Tartoussis have still not come to terms with the concept of a "fancy and lavish" restaurant.

abufares said...

@Anonymous
I intended to tease my friend with this statement: "don't expect any discount".
Well just look for the big guy if you ever go there. That would be him :-)

Kano said...

@ Abufares
Thanks for the nice words. I did add my blog to Syplanet few days ago but still havn't heard from them. I am off to Syria today so I will chace it up if no reply by the time I come back.
Regarding last point, you know what we Syrian like. There is only few "acceptable" jobs and chef is definitely not one of them.

abufares said...

@Gabriela
As you've beautifully said... we never know how far life may take us.
So true. If I only consider the twists and turns in mine I can't but marvel at the road ahead and the excitement of anticipating the unknown.
So, if you find yourself one day on an unimagined trip to Syria, you know where to find me :-)

Isobel said...

Well, thank you, Abu Fares! I'm so touched that you would say that! Between your excellent writing and your knack for making people feel special...its not a wonder that you have such a large and faithful readership!

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Now that’s a place I’d like to visit. Not sure how the history would play out, though. But since I am not superstitious I don’t mind the dungeons. It actually looks great. And btw we do have a similar place in Aleppo, few years old. In the sprawling vaults of an old building near the seven- water-fountains area (or the sabe’ bahrat). But it’s not as fancy.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

one last thing, a redundant observation if you like :) that boxy-shaped protrusion on the wall (the one painted in blue) looks out of place with the color scheme.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

one last last thing, does it serve alcohol? or is it, as they like to say here in Dubai; a 'dry venue'? a sharia'-compliant enterprise? ;)

abufares said...

@DJ 3 in 1
There are many beautiful places in Aleppo. Every time I go there I try a different restaurant in the Jdayedeh District.
The boxy-shaped protrusions house the a/c and ventilation ducts. Since it's absolutely forbidden to come in touch or alter the historic structure, the designer opted to bring out the installed infrastructure and make it at complete odds with the historical context. In short, he didn't want to hide, or try to blend in, the additions with the original scheme. Well, personally, judging how other projects tried to imitate the background I think that The Cave's approach worked rather well.
And finally, DJ I can't but open my mouth in disbelief at your third question?
Does it serve alcolhol?
What did you think I was writing about when I stated: "The drinks ambrosial." Tamer Hendi, Ayran and Jellab??? If there's no wine in such a place they'd better turn it into a Falafel joint.
Finally, and again personally, I absolutely hate those dry places where no alcohol is served. It is an eatery not a restaurant. People go there to stuff their faces with meat and yogurt and get it over with in 15 to 20 minutes. Nothing is as offensive and repulsive as this type of place for someone who loves food as much as I do. Whether he drinks or not is not the issue. A "good' restaurant should indulge all the senses not simply the intestines.

abufares said...

@Isobel
I'm thrilled I was able to "touch" you;-)

DUBAI JAZZ said...

on a second thought Abu Fares, that boxy shape doesn't look that bad, it must have been the camera flash which made it stand out in the second pic. I might have opted for a white paint myself, though. but that's just me. i'm working on a dry venue right now. alcohol serving requires a license , not that it's hard to get one but the owner is a bit religious. it may turn out to be the first shari'a-compliant hotel in Dubai. There are several others in race to completion now, we'll see who will beat the other.

i don't mind it, i understand that some people get 'offended' with alcohol and so the need emerges to provide to those people... and this is probably why prominent venues in Aleppo and Damascus opt not to serve, because the 'decent' families dont want to see, hear, smell, come across, touch, talk to a person who'd ever drank, drink in a glass that had ever served or be anywhere near alcohol.

abufares said...

@DJ
I come from a teetotaler family.
I remember when we used to go out as a child to one of the restaurants by the rivers near Tartous, all sorts of people enjoying the jovial atmosphere. There were those who drink and those who didn't.
Now, they have their separate venues to spend their entertainment money and their free time. Didn't I tell you that we are a people divided along a line symbolizing our degree of religiosity.
Offended by people who appreciate a glass of wine is like being offended by people who pray to God.

Omar said...

Wow! what a great looking restaurant, and even greater project. The atomsphere in there must unbelievable. I must visit it on my next trip!

Thank you also for sharing with us the rich history of Tartous.

abufares said...

@Omar
last time you were here we didn't get to meet. Well, hopefully some day.
Of course, The Cave should be on top of your MUST Sees in Tartous.

Nour said...

Indeed the place looks very nice and the food sounds appetizing. I've always admired people who have a knack for interior design, and your friend has done a wonderful job with the place. My brain doesn't quite work that way so it's always impressive to me what people can do to enhance the ambiance of such venues.

Fantasisa said...

There is a lovely place I once visited that had very much the same feel on a wine route in France. It was in the cellar of a famous chateaux and it left me feeling like I had, for a time, truly escaped from the banality of day to day life. Nothing in this world is as wonderful as the sensual feeling of a delicate flavour, crossing the tongue or the sweet scent of the perfect mix of spices, herbs and wine. When added to the mix is a wonderful friend, with great conversation ... perhaps a lover ... and a beautiful setting steeped in history and beauty it adds to the creation of - magic.

Az3ar's Fan said...

The ambiance is inimitable, the attention to details impeccable, the food delectable, the drinks ambrosial.


And where did you learn the King's English? Dang! That was good.

abufares said...

@Nour
Well I guess that we can't be good at everything, although that would be nice.
However, any endeavor.., whatever it might must starts with a dream and with the passion to fulfill it.

abufares said...

@Fantasia
I quote you:
"Nothing in this world is as wonderful as the sensual feeling of a delicate flavour, crossing the tongue or the sweet scent of the perfect mix of spices, herbs and wine."
No wonder you are so good at Erotica:-)
Well come to think of it, enjoying food, sex or the abundance of the little pleasures in life requires the same 2 prerequisites... An appreciation of beauty first and then being in love.
I would love to have you here in Tartous one day... and you know, you don't have to come alone ;-)

abufares said...

@Az3ar's Fan
This the Tartoussi version of the King's English, lol.
Ambrosial was good, wasn't it?

Anonymous said...

From the pictures, and knowing your good taste in wine and food, it seems like the place to be for a very savory and sensuous experience! Congratulations to your friend and many years of succes! (I hate when a good place opens and then closes down after a year or so... this seems to happen, more often than not, over here.)

Very interesting piece of History too. Why has the government abandon these structures to vandalism and neglect? Is it because they want to reject the Knights Templar part in Tartouse History?

w.b. yeats

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
it's a very nice place, indeed right up your alley.
The reason the government has abandoned these structures is simple enough. Heritage is very low on their priority list. They started fixing Damascus, then Aleppo to a lesser extent but Tartous and many other amazing historical places are so far behind.
Sad but true!

Az3ar's Fan said...

Yes, it was rad.

LA version of the King's English.

Fantasia said...

Oh thank you! You could not know this - but your response to my comment just now has triggered a new story! One with food, bodies and all the senses being tickled to a frenzy!
Oh ... and you mean 3 is not a crowd?

Karin said...

One day Abufares ... one day!
This kind of restaurant is totally up my alley ...

History, echoing from the walls, spices up the atmosphere -I'd LOVE IT!!

abufares said...

@Fantasia

Since I discovered your site I made it a daily destination. I have several problems reading your posts from the office and even more from home:-)

No, my steamy problems aren't caused by the presence of people around me but rather by the state of mind I most often find myself in after reading you;-)

And now you write... "your response to my comment just now has triggered a new story!" and I feel elated.

Fantasia has been triggered by me, uuummm. The mere idea that I'm in any little way responsible for something you would write is libidinous on its own. I can't wait.

And, do I mean that 3 is not a crowd?
Well I'll let you in on a little secret. After a "healthy" man reads you, I believe he can take on a whole tribe, LOL.

Knock on wood... I'm very healthy indeed.

abufares said...

@Karin
Hello my friend. You would most definitely love this place.
One day... Indeed. I'll be here :-)

Anonymous said...

Abufares,are there still some local fish ? the mediterrain sea fish is the best of all seas, the best as far as I remember was the spirros restourant , in Latalia, but if the cave can join history and cooking that would be magnificant,

when you have quality ingrediants there is no need for sufisticated recipies,

jaust for example : a grilled (leos ramli) sand grouper, but it should be local, with lemon garlic and ZET,

Fantasia said...

Dinner For Two
It was an old jar, and the honey made the lid stick. She giggled nervously as she lay there - the cool air of the room a strong contrast to her own heated excitement. With his strong hands he finally got it open after several achingly long minutes.The build up was ... exquisite.

Holding the small, glass container high above, tilting it ever so slowly so that the thick, golden nectar lazily made it's way to the rim ...he smiled. He could not fail to notice that her skin had gone from satin smooth to covered in small delicate goose bumps ... the anticipation of that first, sickly sweet drop hitting her flawless skin had her quacking, shivering, almost trembling in anticipation. The liquid languidly made it's way ... a single drop leading the charge like a scout on a mission to find new exotic lands. It landed ... and spread ... enveloping a nipple, coating it and claiming it in it's sticky trap.

There .... a little preview of the draft ... just for you!

abufares said...

@LÊ
I often am forced to step on my neighbors' (the Lattakians) toes when I answer honestly to some comments. The fish in Lattakia is nowhere near our Tartoussi and Arwadi fish. Besides the fact that we are "better" at preparing seafood, the feeding grounds of our sea in Tartous are sandy those much clearner than the rocky cost of Lattakia. Fish feeding and growing up in this sort of habitat is always better tasting to start with.

abufares said...

@Fantasia
I'm sorry to be late in replying to your...well it was not really a comment but rather a mouth watering prelude to what is destined to become an erotic classic.
I can't wait to taste the honey, I mean to read your story. Can I consider it a personal gift to me?

Anonymous said...

What a waste! But it happens everywhere. The government in PR spends the mayority of its funds on San Juan. It makes sense to them because tourisim is higher over there. Meanwhile the South coast is deteriorating very very fast. Ponce had an injection of funds for a while, because it is the birthplace of a former governor, but you should see the condition of some very old and beautiful buildings in the center of the town. They have become home to drug addicts and are falling apart. To think that Ponce was the Capital of Puerto Rico when the Spaniards decided THEY discovered the new world (forget about all the original people that lived here in the first place, lets just use them as slaves and killed the whole lot of them. Anyway, that's another story... and my heritage, what can I say, my whole genealogical tree comes from Europe)

The saddest truth is that most of this beautiful buildings in Ponce have private owners. Old money families that are no longer rich, but like to pretend they are. Rather than sell these treasure architecture for a fair price and see them restored to their original splendor, they prefer to see them decay and ask for millions of dollars for each property not to mention the other millions you would have to invest fixing them following historical codes. So there they lie wasting away...

w.b. yeats

Fantasia said...

A classic! Oh dear ... no pressure!
Yes, Abufares, this one story, inspired by your post, is dedicated to you.
I am no Simone de Beauvoir ... but I hope you will accept it as a token of appreciation for all your encouragement, kind comments and support ever since your presence graced my blog.

Fantasia said...

Part 1 - just for you!
http://pillowtalkpress.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/dinner-for-two/

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
Ah, the folly of politicians. They might come in different colors, shapes and names... but they are all assholes in the end.
They can't see beyond their nose and given their position (read above) they can't reach very far with their ideas, LOL.

abufares said...

@Fantasia
What a beautiful token, what a wonderful gift.
Hey everybody... Check out what Fantasia wrote for me :-)

http://pillowtalkpress.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/dinner-for-two/

Mariyah said...

Oh dear. I'm so out of the loop...45 comments later and I finally wade in and thrash around trying to get caught up. How I've missed you, Abu Fares! :) The Cave looks and sounds, by your ever so capable description, like a real gem, a delicacy if you will. This, amongst other things, makes me regret stopping my adventures at Safita this summer and not moving along further to Tartous. The sheer pleasure of sitting amongst all of that history and allowing the "delectable and ambrosial" tastes to delight my palate would be divine.

abufares said...

@Mariyah
Oh, how I've missed you more! :-)
So you came all the way to Safita and didn't complete your voyage to... me.
Something must be done about that. It's been a long while since you've been here or even on your own blog. Why don't you come back to us?

KJ said...

If I am ever going to put wine in my mouth it will be in that place!

Sean said...

It looks amazing! Totally unrecognisable from when Emma and I went there a few years back. As if we didn't have enough reasons to want to come back to Syria already...