Tuesday, December 11, 2012

United Arab Emirates, Part V - The Food and The Drinks

And now, the post you've all been waiting for...the food.

Trying to specify authentic UAE cuisine is sort of like trying to say that something is "authentic American." It's really a mesh of other cultures, and the presence of so many ex-pats in the country has led to widespread availability of pretty much any food type you so desire. 

One awesome thing about the UAE - everything delivers.


Dry cleaning, Starbucks coffee, your mail, pizza, sushi, shawarma...everything. It's pretty awesome. We even spied an ice cream delivery Vespa, although we did not attempt this service as it's five thousand degrees in the UAE and we prefer our ice cream in a more solid form. 

Not sure if you want sushi or pizza? It's cool - Camacho in Abu Dhabi delivers BOTH.
I had the best dinner I have ever had in my entire life at Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, a French restaurant at the InterContinental in Dubai. I regret that I didn't take a single photo of the meal, but believe me when I say that the experience was so reverent, so very near holy that to take a picture seemed gauche and unforgivable.

By the way, is that restaurant not gorgeous? (See link above.) We sat in one of the booths, and I did manage to get a photo of one of the incredible light fixtures above us:

 Gorgeous, no?

At Pierre Gagnaire's, we each had a pre-dinner glass of champagne, a starter, and we split an entree and had a bottle of wine with dinner. The meal cost more than my rent. I am not exaggerating. Lucky for me, The Gentleman still feels he has to impress me.

I had a foie gras selection to start. I must be honest here: I am not vegan or vegetarian (clearly), and I have a serious affinity for organ meats. I feel only slightly guilty when I think about from whence foie gras comes. Slightly...and then that buttery, meaty goodness melts in my mouth and I become a ravaging carnivore. STUFF ALL OF THE GEESE. BRING ME MORE OF THIS HEAVEN.

The selection included a delicate patty of foie gras, as well as a beautiful arrangement of balls. Seriously - little, marble-sized balls of foie gras. Some dipped in a waxy, bright beet-colored coating of fat that melted open to the bit of deliciousness inside. Some just balls of foie gras drizzled in something ridiculously delicious. And some deep fried. Fried foie gras. It is every bit as frigging delicious as you'd imagine.


There was a tiny, adorable little cup made of paper-thin milk chocolate, curled around itself, and inside was a scoop of more foie gras, topped with a raspberry compote. If you haven't had a teeny, tiny foie gras dessert to top off your platter of foie gras...I'm not sure what I can say, but I'm pretty sure it's ruined every restaurant I'll ever go to again.

The Gentleman had servings of scallops as his starter - baked into squid ink ravioli, sauteed lovingly with spices, and as a ceviche. We shared a sick wagyu beef entree, served atop thin potato pancakes. We didn't order dessert, but they brought us a beautiful silver chilled box that opened out like flat round drawers and held various housemade chocolates and truffles on beds of rock sugar.

Like I said - I'm ruined on good restaurants now.

After that dinner, we decided that we'd had our expensive night out. And that was our first night in Dubai.

The second night, we were staying at the JW Marriott and decided to go to the Hofbrauhaus restaurant there. Mostly because The Gentleman had a hankering for pork sausage.

Lemme tell you this: neither The Gentleman nor myself are big pork-eaters. We will demolish some sausage at a cultural event (such as street festivals with bratwurst), and we'll not say no to some delicious proscuitto. But when it comes to craving pork, neither of us really has that lust. Until The Gentleman moved to the UAE, where pork is nowhere to be found.

In fact - it's in its own special enclosed area in the grocery store with big signs that say NON-MUSLIMS ONLY.

So when we learned that the JW Marriott was home to one of the most famous German beer halls of all time, well...we would have been on board with the beer regardless, but the idea of a smorgasboard of sausages was the clincher.

A delicious Hofbrauhaus beer served in the traditional pilsner glass, and a basket of pretzels that came with some kind of ridiculously incredible spicy mustard.

Clockwise from top: bratwurst and knockwurst, beer, weisswurst, potatos, and brussels sprouts (with bacon). And spicy mustards.

Brussels sprouts with bacon. 

Finishing off the pork fiesta with some nice tea.
 The "fast food" of choice in the Middle East is shawarma. I'm sure you've seen something akin to this:

That, my friends, is an impacted tower of chicken meat roasting over an upright grill. It turns, slowly, until you order a shawarma. Then, thin shavings of it are sliced off and wrapped up in flatbread with lettuce, french fries, and mayo.

Behold - a shawarma. It is a work of fast food art.

We didn't actually order this, I just took a picture of it because it was looking at me, and The Gentleman left me alone to wait for our to-go order while he went to get a Red Bull and I got scared, so I took its picture.
 The Gentleman and I are fond of cooking at home as much as possible (also we were poor after the dinner at Pierre Gagnaire's) and so we went grocery shopping upon our return to Abu Dhabi.

Grocery shopping in foreign countries is one of my most favorite things to do whilst traveling. I love picking up random grocery items and then figuring out what to do with them. I also love the ordinary made foreign.
The egg yolks are orange. I'm not sure why, though I'm told it's something in the chicken feed. I like to believe it means it's healthier for me.

For dinner one night, we raided the Non-Muslim pork section of the grocery store and made off with salami, prosciutto, pate, and any other pork products we could find.
 Oh, and the coffee. I've been a huge fan of crack Turkish coffee for awhile now, and I typically boil a pot three to four mornings a week (when I have time before work). But The Gentleman had to go and out-do me and buy one of those fancy schmancy crack coffee boilers. Behold:
You put the grounds on top, the water in the bottom thingy, and then you light the little burner underneath. And then you watch it. Like mad, because when that thing boils, it goes from zero to explosion in about two seconds, so you HAVE to be ready to pull that burner out from under.

It's getting ready....

And (in the background) what these pots look like in restaurants when they brew you a $14 (PER PERSON) cup of coffee. Their's are cleaner on the bottom because they use a different kind of burner.
Oh, and that tuna salad wrap thingy with the avocado in it? Amazing. Jones the Grocer is my favorite.

Breakfast at home - pomegranate, tea, aloe vera juice, smoked salmon, and (orangey) eggs. 
 The Middle East also has a pretty spectacular array of cuisines, including Indian. We went to Asha's in Khaladiya Mall for lunch one day. Um, yum.
The menu called this "baby lamb chops." Redundant AND delicious.

Prawn masala with nan in the background.

I have always wondered what these things are when I go to Indian restaurants...they're a platter of sweet herbs and sugared mints that you chew on post-meal to sweeten your breath. And they're DELICIOUS.
 One afternoon, we had tea at Jumeirah Towers. Immediately following our very civilized and lovely tea experience, we went off in search of booze.

We didn't have to travel far - on the back patio there's a pool bar offering Happy Hour specials that include half-priced glasses of wine and drinks, and this delicious mezze platter:

Babaganoush, sweet hummus with walnuts, some kind of salady spread, some other kind of babaganoush with pomegranates, and traditional hummus. Oh, and pita chippy things.

Alas, I took no more photos of my food. But we also ate at Hakkasan, where I was explicitly told I could not take photos. Hakkasan had excellent drinks and atmosphere and a to-die-for braised beef cheek appetizer, but the main course left a little to be desired. I felt as though I could have ordered the same caliber of entree from a Baltimore delivery joint. Indeed, several people told me afterwards that it's best to stick to their appetizer menu. 

We went to Lebanese Flower and sat outside in the crowded sidewalk courtyard full of shisha smoke and lit by rings of lightbulbs on strings around the perimeter. We had shawarma and hummus with beef, salad, and a whitefish that is popular in the UAE and whose name I can't recollect at the moment. It was incredible and, indeed, "no fuss" as the reviews point out.

Overall, I found the food in the UAE to be pretty spectacular. A wide range of cuisines, influences from all over the world, and fresher than fresh produce. And the best thing is, outside of restaurants, food is fairly cheap. Many foods are subsidized by the government, such as items made with flour, rice, tomato products, and some other food items. Grocery stores also import foods from all over the world, and it's fairly easy to find common ingredients alongside exotic and eclectic choices.

The booze issue....alcohol is legal in hotels, and most major restaurants are located in hotels. Therefore, you can drink at most nice restaurants. There are liquor stores, usually small, windowless corner bodegas, but you must have a liquor license to purchase alcohol. You can obtain a liquor license after you've established non-Muslim residency, or you can tap someone on the shoulder and ask them to buy you some booze. Either way, really. Alcohol is EXPENSIVE. Bottles of wine that run about $12-$15 in the states (even those imported from Europe) will be $28-$30 in the UAE. A glass of wine at a restaurant can be $16-$20 where it would be $10 in the US. Pours are frugal, and cocktails are loaded with sugary juices and syrups. And don't order doubles - you'll just get two drinks...for the price of two drinks. Unless you want two drinks. In which case - order away.

Some restaurants not located in hotels will ask you if you want to see a cocktail menu. Go ahead and look, but don't get excited - it's completely alcohol-free.

In fact:

Even for kids. 

Stay tuned for: henna adventures in Abu Dhabi.


Hot Curry said...

Hmmm... the liquor laws still seem more lax than Salt Lake...

Also, this post has given me a strong craving for tortured animal. Damn you. Can we get some when I come home? For br-lunch?

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