When it comes to my choice of food, I find that I’m always reminded by an old Middle Eastern saying: “eat what pleases you, and wear what pleases others.” Still, one can only do that when they are comfortable with what they choose to eat, where they consume their meal, and more importantly, how they would devour their favorite foods. When at Gia, the latest restaurant-café-meets-deli hybrid located in Al-Khaled complex in Salmiya, this saying yet again rings true. For concept founder and owner, Mariam Al-Qatami, Gia arrives as an opportunity to build a community of diners that truly appreciates the flavors of rustic, hearty dishes prepared with affection.
Upon arriving at Gia’s cozy setting, we couldn’t help but notice the revival this area is undergoing. Kitschy stores, cafés, catering companies and even the local drycleaner’s are witnessing a renaissance where both an older and younger generation of clientele frequent the area once again. Mariam believes it’s the sense of ease and comfort that keeps bringing people back here, hence her choice of making this location home to her restaurant even before the area became popular again. Gia comes alive with rustic references that liken this café restaurant to a neighborhood eatery in a Mediterranean Europe. The black and white floor tiles, colorful flowerpots from local florist Desert Bloom, an appetizing display of salads, sandwiches and small dishes along with a dizzying arrangement of delectable cakes instantly make you want to belong to the Gia family. Seating is available inside and outside the restaurant, but don’t be surprised to find people queuing up behind the counter ordering some of Mariam’s famed salad recipes for takeout.
Before we went on an ordering frenzy, we sat down with Mariam as she told us more about what, or in her case, who, inspired her to materialize the Gia concept. She explained that her mother, who happens to be an amazing cook, played a huge part in making Gia a reality. “My mother was involved in every aspect of Gia, from the collectible art pieces on display that she’s saved for me ever since I was little, to putting out fresh flowers, and helping our chefs perfect all of our recipes which are originally based on her cooking.” These small and quirky, albeit meaningful, details make Gia all the more personal to Mariam as well as her growing followers of customers who simply can’t get enough of their addictive dishes. “I see perfection in little quirks. To immediately make our customers feel at home, Gia needs to feel like one, before I attempt to serve any type of cuisine.” At this home away from home, the personal touch is key, and we experienced this throughout the décor, and more importantly, the food. Freshly prepared on a daily basis, you will firstly peruse the menu du jour displayed behind the glass counters. From salads, sandwiches prepared upon request, small dishes of stuffed eggplants and artichokes to homemade savory tarts and desserts, anything you choose to eat at Gia is made with love. Rather than a redundant list of appetizers, mains and desserts, the best part about Gia is your ability to mix and match between all of the dining options on offer.
We began our foray with a selection of salads, also considered as a signature offering at Gia, as the myriad of salad options makes this resto-café highly distinguished from other eateries. The colors of the fresh vegetables incorporated with white or red quinoa make for a beautiful sight for the health conscious. Whether you consider yourself a salad buff or not, prepare to turn into one! For the ingredients, simply selected and locally sourced, shine through with their powerful tastes and textures. We immediately noticed that the implementation of quinoa successfully complements the salad creations in many instances so that the final dish is balanced rather than bland. We tried the red quinoa salad with grilled corn, avocado, feta cheese and chargrilled veggies and a pesto pasta salad with chopped avocado and roasted pine nuts. We even attempted the adventurous pesto-infused couscous with peppery rocca leaves and pistachios alongside what we called a mean green quinoa salad, with asparagus, green beans, peas and avocado in a fragrant and full-bodied olive oil dressing. Mind you, we loved mixing the different salad combinations together as we felt right at home. That’s the beauty of dining here, one instantly feels comfortable to eat as they please. We even tried a recipe gifted to Mariam by a friend—Fahad’s Quinoa Salad, a distinctive recipe that successfully delivers the Lebanese tabouleh finished with dried cranberries rather than tomatoes to add a surprising burst of sweetness that offset the lemon-infused quinoa and coriander.
We couldn’t help but notice the generous, and innovative, infusion of quinoa in many of the salads, and to this Mariam commented that she loves two things: Avocado and Quinoa. Both are amazingly nutritious foods that, if successfully incorporated, make for excellent foodie habits. Although Mariam doesn’t claim that Gia is only for the health conscious, she rather sees the food here for anyone looking for a wholesome meal that is neither too heavy or light, but simply filling and homey. Moving on to the a la carte sandwiches, we tried an incredibly prepared fried catfish rendition with light peppery rocket leaves and homemade Tartar sauce, whereas its grilled chicken counterpart is drizzled in a flavorful sauce. We also learned that the sandwiches are all prepared upon request as none of the ingredients are precooked.
Other warm dishes included the chicken potato pie, Spanish chicken, stuffed vegetables with lean mince and roasted pine nuts. These small dishes make for perfect salad compliments, along with a selection of savory tarts that are not to be missed; from soft and succulent grilled pumpkin, caramelized onions with goat’s cheese, and a medley of roasted vegetable toppings.
Dessert at Gia is an affair to remember, so make sure you order a strong coffee to accompany your choices between an ever-so-creamy strawberry cheesecake that melts in the mouth, or a slice of the chocolate crack cake that is divinely rich, a gorgeous almond topped coffee cake or the signature house biscuit cake.
Gia is located in Al-Khaled complex in Salmiya. Please call 2564 0257 for pick up orders or for more information find Gia on Instagram, @Giakwt. Images courtesy of Kulsum Kunwa and bazaar magazine.