Saturday, November 1, 2008

Shopping and Fine Dining on the Cheap...

As anticipated, Pashmina Fest continued a bit on Friday with a trip to the Old Souk. This shopping center is in yet another cool building – this one looking genuinely old and sort of like a fort, rather than new and fancy like most of the other cool buildings around here – and features shops selling trinkets, rugs, and pashminas for much lower prices than you find at the Blue Souk. After lots of fun with bargaining (my favorite being Alicia talking a guy down from 130AED to 30AED on a nice pashmina) we walked away with a couple more pashminas plus really cool antique-looking flasks for me and Stanley.

On Saturday we headed over to Café Chic, rumored to be one of the nicer French restaurants in town. They have a set lunch where you can have 3 courses with a glass of wine for US$30, so it seemed to be worth checking out. First impressions are that they seriously don’t eff around at this place. The service is ridiculously attentive (almost too attentive, if that’s possible) and the staff were definitely doing their best to bring us a fine-dining experience to remember. Things started off with a plate of canapés:
The shrimp one was fairly mediocre (to me), but the other two were quite nice. At this point they also brought over the house Viognier that Alicia and I had ordered to go with our meal (Stanley was the driver, which meant no wine at all for him since there is a zero-tolerance alcohol policy for drivers here). I’m fairly particular about how I like my Viognier (I think I only found one during my two years in Australia that was made the way I like it..), and this one turned out to be exactly the kind of Viognier that I love. The servers also brought over an adorable plate of salt, pepper, and good French butter to enjoy with the assortment of fresh-baked bread they were offering. (I think Alicia hurt the nice bread man’s feelings by not letting him give her a second mini-baguette…)
There were two options for the starter. Alicia and I ordered the Tomato Gazpacho with Roasted Tiger Prawns, while Stanley decided to try the Baby Asparagus Mille-Fuille with Fresh Goat Cheese. Both of these dishes were pretty darn tasty. The shrimp were extremely flavorful and complimented the gazpacho, which was much richer than I’m used to. The goat cheese in Stanley’s dish was seasoned with herbs to give it a really bright fresh flavor. Good stuff.
The options for the main course were a Braised Veal Shoulder with Vegetables or Pan-fried Halibut in Butter with Fennel Comfit and Vegetables. Both of these dishes were… “good.” Were we to go to a restaurant and see them on the menu, we would not likely order them, but they were perfectly fine. A bit of a let-down after the strong start, but it’s hard to complain too much when things are so reasonably priced…
Finally was the dessert, for which we all selected the Chocolate Variation with Vanilla Ice Cream. The cake thingy was pretty good and the homemade vanilla ice cream was awesome. I love me some homemade vanilla ice cream…
After dinner they brought over a few little petit fours, which were OK (nothing special for the most part, although the sesame-coated cornets with pistachio and chocolate inside were pretty tasty):
All in all, it was a really nice experience, even if some of the food was a bit underwhelming. I suspect they do some really nice things here at dinner, when any one meat dish costs more than our 3-courses-with-wine deal, but such things are not in the cards on our budget at the moment.

After lunch we went over to check out Mall of the Emirates so I could see the (in)famous Ski Dubai (adorable kids in winter coats in Dubai!) and do a bit more window shopping.
This mall is also home to Almaz by Momo, a restaurant that has a juice bar with amazing fruit cocktails and also a really pimp shisha-smoking room.
We ordered some hummus with lamb and pine nuts while waiting for our (non-alcoholic) cocktails and Stanley’s shisha. This was very very good but not quite as good as the version we ordered at the other juice bar in the other mall last weekend. The lamb-in-a-bowl-of-hummus concept is pretty awesome in general, really, and is something I'm going to have to start doing at home.
Alicia and I weren’t up to ordering our own shisha, so we just shared Stanley’s mango shisha. It was really quite tasty, but I think I need to practice before I would be ready to order my very own rather than just stealing a few puffs of somebody else’s… For beverages (from left to right), Stanley ordered a Strawberry-Lemon-Chili concoction that was really interesting and spicy, I ordered a Blackberry, Vanilla, and Faux-Champagne thingy (also super-tasty), and Alicia ordered some crazy thing with kiwis and cucumbers that was surprisingly delicious as well.
In summary, just another weekend in Dubai filled with good food, gorgeous buildings, fun shopping (I know… That’s a fairly strange concept to me, too…), and good relatively lazy times hanging around in this super-cool city… Next weekend: Desert Safari!

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