Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Emirates Palace Hotel: An Iftar to Remember

Lantern and Dates:
Iftar at the Emirates Palace Hotel

So just when I had given up on Iftar buffets at hotels, Matt informed me that we'd be having one at the Emirates Palace Hotel (of Sex and the City 2 fame), and on the company's dime.  Needless to say, I was very pleased.  I, of course, in all my excitement of putting makeup and a dress on for once, forgot my camera, Roman's bottle, and even Roman's stroller.  It was an ominous beginning to the evening that was, thankfully, not indicative at all of how our dinner went.

* * *

Some Aesthetically Pleasing Impressions from Our Feast
courtesy of my cell phone

After driving through the amazing grounds of the hotel to reach the parking garage (which incidentally had an entire floor of nothing but white BMWs, I swear to GOD!), we were ushered through different hallways lined with glass cabinets housing hundreds of antiquities from all over the world - Ancient Rome, Greece, Turkey, and even Mexico.  Matt took the opportunity to remind Roman that one of those things was worth more than his life. :)

Finally, we arrived at a beautiful ballroom that had been dressed to look like an Arabian tent, with velvet-draped cielings, moroccan lamps, colorful table dressings, and intricate Islamic China to eat off of.  

Amusingly, we were both handed "gifts" at the entrance which included a robe called a bisht or Mishlah for Matt and a red velvet "kufi" hat to go with it and a black sequined wrap for me.  

Roman and Matt with the
Giant Dallah (Arabic Coffee Pot) in the Lobby
But back to the food...

Every table boasted plates of dried fruits and nuts, prominent among them dates stuffed with dried fruits and nuts, and water and Iftar drinks (which are generally exotic juices - pineapple, apricot, grape, etc.).  The walls were back-lit images of Arab-esque paysages which lent the entire room a strangely ethereal feel.  

Those are the walls; I kid you not.

At the back of the giant room (which must have had table settings for at least 500 people) was another large room for families which had a movie-size television screen, 2 bouncy castles, a ball pit and several other larger than life toys for kids to indulge in while the parents feasted.

And feast we did.

the tasteful and tasty buffet
My first course was a typical Emirati soup: a lentil soup flavored subtly with cumin and garnished with lemon juice and croutons.  I also finally got more than my share of the irresistible whole roasted lamb and rice dish I'd been seeing at all the buffets; turns out it's a dish originating in Yemen (but considered a national dish in Saudi Arabia) called Majboos or kabsa (file that away for a rainy day!).

I also discovered a new sweet to add to my list of yummies.  Not sure what it's called but I did get a picture. 
Mystery Sweet
 Overall, the quality and experience were far superior to that at the Shangri-La, and while I did not have a personal butler or get to stay in the super crazy suite, I left feeling like a million bucks (or at least weighing that much more).

* * *
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Paradise Lost. Qatayef Found.

Qatayef Asafiri bil Kashta: Qatayef with Cream

Shangri-La: the mere mention of the place is enough to evoke images of a grand utopia or earthly paradise.  Despite the reality being that Shangri-La does not and never did exist as it does in James Hilton's novel, people have happily adopted the concept as something that conjures up the essence of an intrinsic desire for the sublime.  Appropriately, one of Abu Dhabi's best known luxury hotels is called the Shangri-La, and for all the hype and money that surrounds and flocks to it, you'd expect it to be no less than a place where you no longer age.  So you can imagine my surprise when the hotel and the Iftar buffet at the "legendary" Shangri-La in Abu Dhabi was, well...underwhelming.

* * *
Paradise Lost.
Matt and I walked in dressed for a celebratory anniversary dinner only to find every short-wearing-tourist, local and their screaming-newborn-child scarfing down buffet-piled plates of semi-bland food in a shocking display of outright I-don't-even-know-what.  Let me revise that slightly: going to Iftar at a hotel was probably a bad idea to begin with because Iftar is usually a family affair, where friends are invited and food is consumed in a jovial but not race-you-to-the-dessert-station kind of way.

What I hated about it was the feeling that you were racing everyone around you to the buffet, racing them to finish your first, second and even third plate, getting more food than you could possibly consume, and delighting in not consuming it.  At one point I saw a man with a plate of nearly 20 ice cream scoops pass me.  At another point I found myself shamelessly shoving chocolate covered marshmallows into my mouth, fresh from one of the 3 chocolate fountains.  And even when I could eat no more, I managed to force-feed myself an extra couple of sour-gummy-candies, mounted on peg displays for easy access.

What I loved about it was the informal, haphazard and somehow familial feel to it.  Entire, large families were sitting at tables together, eating, celebrating - from the wide awake newborns to the proud grandparents - and this at 9pm.  After having spent Roman's first year in London, where highchairs are about as scarce as good service at restaurants and all children are banished to their bedrooms promptly at 7, I'd spent a lot of time feeling like a misfit and unfit parent for wanting to take our little one out to dinner now and again.  The Emiratis embrace their children as part of every aspect of the day, and that's something I can admire.  I loved seeing traditional Emirati cuisine prominently displayed and the fact that every table had its own date receptacle, so that you might break the fast traditionally (dates and milk, like the Prophet). 

* * *

Qatayef Found.
Sadly, without warning, about 30 minutes into our meal they suddenly and abruptly took down all the Emirati food and replaced it with the normal hotel buffet dinner food, leaving me, once more, without a taste!  I didn't get to have any of the whole roasted baby lamb served over rice, or any of the many interesting soups and stews next to it.  But I did have some Umm Ali again (it was better at the Raha Beach Hotel buffet) and plenty of one of my new favorite desserts: Qatayef.

To me, Ramadan might not mean fasting or even that much feasting, but it has definitely meant new beginnings.  It seems that to recover from a full day of no food or water, Muslims pull out all the stops with regards to culinary splendor during the holy month.  And so, to celebrate Ramadan (as much as a Catholic girl might), here is a list of my 4 newly discovered, deliciously appreciated Arabic (Ramadan) Sweets.  I have had the pleasure to indulge in them almost every day so far because all the major supermarkets set up special tents in their bakery section just to sell Ramadan sweets.  Roman and I are regulars now, and that is saying a lot for a mother-son duo with not a sweet tooth in sight.

* * *

Roman and Brenda's Top 4 Favorite Ramadan Sweeties
Oh, Matt kinda likes them too. :)

My Lu-Lu Supermarket spoils: qatayef, anonymous sweet, Awamat

I have to admit, I hate baklava in all its syrupy-sweet glory.  I was therefore highly suspicious when faced with a giant tent of baklava-esque sweets.  Arabic sweets draw heavily from the phyllo-honey-nut concept, and you'd think the variations would be tiresome, but they aren't!  I don't know how but all these sweets somehow incorporate honey, nuts, phyllo, cheese or cream and they are all different and uniquely delicious.  They also include a lot of rose and orange blossom water which is a flavor people in the West generally neglect, to their loss, if you ask me.  If you have an Arabic sweet shop near you, I highly recommend you go in and have a try, despite the unfamiliarity and vastness of the counter display.  The sweets are rich, but the portions are generally small - which means you can try 2 or 3...or 4 or 5. :)
Small Disclaimer: The spellings of these desserts vary as they are obviously transliterated into English from Arabic, but I've done my best to use the ones I see here in the UAE. 

4. Muhallabia: Milk Pudding is good for the Soul
image credit
I have known of this sweet for some time because it is one of my mother's favorite desserts.  Being obsessed with Lebanese food as she is, she ordered it every time we ate at Noura, her namesake restaurant, in London.  At most posh restaurants you are served this dessert in a glass bowl, but during Ramadan you can find it in the sweet tent being cut with a small knife into small squares which you cart off on a small plate.  I prefer this snack-y way of serving it, actually, because it is usally at room temperature which seems to suit the dish.

This is a unique pudding in my mind because it is like a primer in Arabic desserts: it is made from milk, rice powder and cornstarch - so simple - but flavored with rose water and orange blossom water and then sprinkled with the deliciously ubiquitous pistachios (or "pista" as they say here).  It has the consistency of a creamy jell-o if you can image that, but is much more sophisticated.  I also find it cleanses my palate nicely, in preparation of the next sweets...

Roman's Favorite: Awamat
3. Awamat: Little fried lighter-than-doughnut-balls
(Also called Lokma in Turkey) This is one of Roman's favorites.  Everytime we go up to the sweet tent, he inevitably gets away with one of these firmly gripped in his little hand - and believe me when I say that is a treat in and of itself, because these things are HEAVILY slathered in honey and sugar syrup.  Lots of fun for me to clean up. 
But in all seriousness, these are wonderful little sweets not just because they look unctuously delicious but because they are.  While they may appear to be honey-soaked doughnut balls, they are significantly lighter than donut holes.  These small little balls are crispy on the outside but delicately doughy on the inside.  They are sweet but not as sweet as they look, which is why I like them.  Maybe this has to do with the use of yogurt in their dough. 

2. Arabic Cheese Sweet: Vague Name, Delicious Sweet
I am still convincing myself that I actually did see and eat this, so hard is it to find and describe and therefor get a name for.  It's a hard business speaking to supermarket and bakery employees, most of them not Middle Easter, and begging for help with a recipe, name or origin of a sweet.  Alas, the best I can do is "Arabic Cheese Sweet" because that's what it is.

This sweet is made with Akawi cheese, a Levantine cheese that is semi-soft.  The cheese is melted and then mixed with a sugar syrup and semolina to create a strangely pliable, delicious dough that is filled with cream.  It can be rolled in pistachios or left on its own, like I had it.  This is the only recipe and picture I could find, and it does not do it justice, but we will make do.

PS: If anyone knows what this is called, I'd be much obliged!

1. Qatayef: The Holy of Arabic-Sweet-Holies.
These little pancakes won my heart in about a nanosecond when I first read about them on Anissa Helou's blog post about Ramadan sweets.  Qatayef are the sweet to eat during Ramadan and whether you make them at home or buy them premade and packaged on a Styrofoam tray with cling film over it at the supermarket (a common practice), they are delicious.

These sweets vary from the regular and stereotypical Arabic sweet in that they are actually yeast-risen pancakes.  And because you know how much Matt and I love our pancakes, you know that I had my grubby little hands all over these as soon as I saw them.  I got all the different flavors and kinds - deep fried and not deep fried.  And of course I obsessively took pictures of them and even brought some to a new friend's house the other day.

You can make them the size of a silver dollar, but here they are more the size of your palm, so they deep-fried end product is really the size of a one-per-person portion.  But I can never have just one.  Or two, actually. :)  And by God, I will make it to the Ramadan Brothers stand in Damascus one day (Thanks Anissa for the tip)!

* * *

Honorable Mentions:
These are delicious and delicious looking - they just aren't my absolute favorites.  Given the chance, though, I would totally scarf them down before dinner.

Kunafa: a typical Ramadan dessert of shredded sweetened phyllo dough and filled with cheese; thought to have originated in Palestine. (image credit)

Basbousa: A delicious almond semolina cake often cut into little diamonds, as seen here. (image credit)

 Jalebi: fried pretzel looking things which are actually fried and sugar-coated batter. This dessert is particularly popular in India and Pakistan for celebrations. (image credit)

Bamieh: A Persian dessert that look like mini-churros but are nutty tasting and slightly heavier, also soaked in a sugar syrup / honey.  Delish. (image credit)

 * * *

Qatayef Asafiri Bil-Kishta

Makes 12

Qatayef are different from American pancakes because they use yeast instead of baking powder, and therefore require resting time.  The batter is also more like a dough making them tricky little buggers to fry in a perfect circle!  Lastly, they are only cooked on one side, while the other is allowed to bubble and dry while on the pan, whereas American pancakes are flipped.  I cheated a little and flipped mine because the first couple of tries I used far too much dough.

The Qatayef you see most during Ramadan, from my limited experience here in Abu Dhabi, are the deep-double-fried ones.  They look like empanadas soaked in sugar syrup but are much tastier because they are made from small pancakes (much moister than an empanada pastry) and are indeed soaked in a sugary syrup.  They are stuffed with either an Arabic clotted cream called "Kashta," unsalted cheese (like ricotta), or a nut mix (usually walnuts, almonds or pistachios).  I would be lying if I said I did not love these, especially the ones filled with cream or unsalted cheese.

But my other favorite Qatayef is a fresher, less deep-fried-y version of the sweet: the freshly made qatayef pancake filled with kashta which is flavored with rose and orange blossom water and topped with roughly chopped pistachios and just a drizzle of sugar syrup.  I think it's the perfect ending to a Middle Eastern Iftar meal - or any meal for that matter.


1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp of rose water
1/2 tsp orange blossom water
1/4 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice (or to taste)

1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1/2 cup + 2 tbsps warm water
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

4 oz (113g) ricotta cheese
1 1/2 tsp rose water
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice (or to taste)

1/2 cup roughly chopped pistachios

1/2-3/4 cup vegetable oil for frying

1. Make the syrup by combining the water, sugar and lemon juice in a small pot and slowly bringing to a boil.  Allow it to boil a minute or two while stirring and then add the rose and orange blossom water, stirring and then removing from heat.  Allow to cool completely and set aside.

2. Combine yeast and warm (not too hot your hand can't go in it) in a bowl and allow to activate for 10 minutes.  Then whisk in the flour and salt until you have a smooth dough.  Set aside in a dark, dry place and cover with a damp cloth.  Allow the dough to rise for 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, make the filling by combining all the filling ingredients in a small bowl.  Refrigerate.  Chop the pistachios and set aside.

4. Once the dough is ready, heat a pan and grease it with 1/2 the vegetable oil over medium heat.  Once the pan is hot, measure 1 rounded tbsp of dough onto it, spreading it into a small circle about 3 inches wide and 1/4 inch thick.  The dough is sticky and tough to spread so don't be afraid to press down with the spoon until you achieve the desired thickness and shape. 

Allow the qatayef to cook until the top has bubbled and dried, but do not keep it on too long as these pancakes are lighter than American ones and will become tough.

5. Repeat step 4 until the dough is used up, replenishing the oil as necessary and placing the qatayef on a clean plate with paper towels to drain the oil as you go.

My wonky little qatayef; beginner's charm, I always say.

6. When ready to assemble (right before eating them, ideally): hold the qatayef in the palm of your hand and place 1 tsp full of the ricotta filling in it.  Pinch one side of the qatayef closed.  Do this with as many qatayef as desired.

7.  Drizzle the sugar syrup over them (or simply serve on the side for people to doll out themselves) and sprinkle with a generous amount of chopped pistachios.  Enjoy!

* * *

Ramadan Kareem!

Translation: "Ramadan is generous" - this alludes to the spirit of good-doing and generosity Muslims all over the world are taught to undertake during this month of fasting.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of Arabian Nights and Wedding Anniversaries

Qatayef: traditional Ramadan sweets;  basically deep-fried
mini pancakes filled with cream or walnuts.  Yum.

8 years ago in Rome, almost exactly one month from today, I met a goofy guy in a Boston Red Sox hat who claimed to know a little somethin' about Latin and how to make me happy.  4 years ago in Texas, to the day, I told him I'd go ahead and spend the rest of my life with him.  He said he'd be ok with that arrangement and since then we've lived in New York City, London, and now Abu Dhabi.  We've traveled and eaten and laughed and even had a kiddo named Roman along the way.  Life is good.  Life is fun.  Life is full.  

Life has to be, when you spend every day with your best friend.

And so it goes and so it will go, forever I hope. :)  Happy 4 years!

Back in the proverbial day.
May 2004

* * *

Arabian Nights and Arabian Days
Daytime Fasting; Nighttime Feasting

It's officially Ramadan here in Abu Dhabi, the holy month of fasting in the Islamic faith.  It requires that Muslims fast (no food, drink or sexual relations) everyday  from sunrise to sunset.  The change in the pace of daily life seemed subtle at first, until I ventured out of my cave and into society after a two day hiatus needed after 1 month of non-stop "moving madness."  The malls are like ghost-towns.  The food courts are completely shut-off: no lights, no personnel, and not a single hamburger wrapper to be found.  Only a few stores are open for business, but almost nobody is there to shop anyhow, so the feeling is somewhat surreal.  Muslims are allowed reduced work hours (from 11-3, I believe) and so even workplaces are radically changed during this time.  

Ramadan, however, does not only affect Muslims in a Muslim society like Abu Dhabi.  For this month it is not allowed to consume food or drink in public at anytime from sunrise to sunset (desperate foreigners have been known to sneak snacks and drinks into public bathrooms).  Children are exempt, as are others in extreme cases, but it's still tough for a food lover like me.  And I know what you're thinking, and yes, you're right - no more Friday brunches! 

It's culturally eye-opening to see Ramadan in full swing for the first time.  While I have always known Muslims and even had Muslim friends, and could even liken the experience to Catholic Lent (on a much grander scale, it seems), it is an altogether different thing to live it.  While the days are somewhat devoid of pleasure in a suddenly quieter, foodless, sweltering hot Abu Dhabi, the nights of Ramadan are really a treat.

When the sun goes down Muslims all over start their feasting during a meal or breaking of the fast called "Iftar."  They set up tents all over the city where giant buffets and traditional feasts are held.  All Muslims traditionally break their fast by having water and dates, and after that any kind of delicious food goes.  It is a giant family affair where much merrymaking and even networking is done, from what I hear.  After the nighttime feast they stay up all night only to have breakfast at 4am before the sun comes up, after which they go to sleep.  It's like they're living at night for a month - very cool!

This year as my anniversary gift, Matt has booked us a table at the Shangri-La hotel Iftar feast, rumored to be one of the more luxurious and exciting in Abu Dhabi.  Still not being entirely clear on what Emirati cuisine is (see this post for my thoughts on the subject), I am excited to dig-in in true Ramadan-feasting-style.  I'll let you know how it goes.   In the meantime, I am going to go feast on some Qatayef, pre-sunset.  Naughty me. :)

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

TGIFriday: The Day of Brunching

My favorite brunch fare - eggs florentine hollandaise.
Nothing like poached eggs, hollandaise sauce and sauteed
spinach to make you feel like laying around for the next 24 hours.
Photo credit: From a great food blog called My Salt is Maldon.

*NB: I meant to post this on Friday but the weekend and moving into our new house got away with me. Here it is, a day late!*

It seems like there is something intrinsically special about Fridays everywhere. People thirst for them in the West because they are the portal leading to the weekend. People revere them in the East because they are the Holy Day, a day of rest and prayer and family. I look forward to Fridays for many splendid reasons: because the radio always plays the best "ready for the weekend" songs, because in my synesthetic conceptual calendar of the week Friday is symbolized by a pretty summer's sunshine, because I still associate it with drinks at Jake's Dilemma on the Upper West Side, because it is the most exciting day of the weekend in the sense that you still have two "fun" nights ahead of you before the dreaded joykill that is Monday, because, in short, it's Friday.

Ironically, having just moved to Abu Dhabi, many of these traditional reasons to love Friday no longer apply. The weekend here starts on Thursday and ends on Saturday. It's a little bit of a mind-jerk to be honest, and I can't help constantly feeling jipped when I wake up on Saturday morning realize Matt goes back to work the next day. No Sunday brunch, no Mass as a family, and no lazy Sunday afternoons watching black and white movies.

But on the bright side, I now have a new reason to look forward to and enjoy TGIFridays as the "bread and butter" of the weekend...
It somehow became known to us that in the UAE there is a certain pleasure reserved solely for Fridays and - no, it does not have to do with Mosques or worship of any traditional sort - it has to do with food.

Fridays are the day of Brunching in Abu Dhabi, and like with everything else in the UAE, when the Emiratis do brunch, they go
all out.

* * *

Friday: It's the new Saturday
Or rather Sunday, in the brunch sense,

What is Brunch?
Brunch has meant lots of different things in the various places we've lived, but everywhere people agree and know it means good food - and lots of it - somewhere between breakfast and lunch. The idea is to stuff yourselves so you can cover two meals in one - breakfast and lunch.

This wonderful portmanteau conjures images of sweet and savory dishes, drinks hot and cold, and even unbreakable traditions depending on who you ask. Here are some of the meanings in some of the places we know.

Domer-Style: At the University of Notre Dame, my alma mater, brunch took place on Sundays, and for a Walsh-Wild-Woman like me that meant getting up at about 10 or so and walking across God Quad and South Quad with my 3 or 4 closest girlfriends to the legendary South Dining Hall. They generally had the full-gamut of traditional choices, buffet-style: scrambled eggs, eggs Benedict, and even hash browns. If you were a freak you could also get a full choice of 20+ different cereals or savories such as roast chicken and beef with veggies, or even sushi. The sky was the limit - as would make sense in God's brunch locale of choice. ;)

You can't really say you've ever had Sunday brunch until you've had it in New York City.

Sunday brunch in the Big Apple is a tried and true, full-blown institution. Women and men alike crawl from their tiny apartments donning impossibly fashionable casual clothes and prerequisite designer sunglasses (both for effect and to help with last night's hangover), small dog alongside, and sit outside at one of the many cafes and international venues the city offers. In New York you are spoiled for choice - French, Italian, Spanish, Mexican, even Chinese Dim Sum - everyone does brunch. But if you want the real deal, you've got two choices: an American cafe or an American diner. (image: Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel don the typical NY brunch look, on their way to eat)

Any place with a brunch worth its weight in gold will have a brunch menu and special: your choices generally consist of coffee (American is traditional but it is also acceptable to indulge in an Italian or French variation), a cold drink (Mimosa or Bloody Mary are traditional), a starter (yogurt and granola, fruit salad or toasted muffin), and a main which is typically egg-based: eggs any style with home fries, toast and bacon, eggs Benedict, eggs with smoked salmon, or any kind of gourmet omelette. If you go all out you can get salads, sandwiches, bagels, pancakes and pastries of all sorts - the list never ends - but in NYC you always go a la carte, no buffets here.

Matt and I were even sadder (if that's possible) to leave NYC when we realized that brunch is all but non-existent in London. There is a negligible crowd that adheres to this tradition, and those who do generally do it in extremely expensive locales: Cecconi's, The Wolseley - you get the idea. If they don't go to posh British places, then they go to posh American ones - The Diner, Christopher's, or even Automat. The food is good-ish, but overpriced for what it is. Some local pubs have started offering brunch fair in an attempt to feed the growing demand (one of our Putney locals did a good one: The Normanby), but it just doesn't compare to any normal American diner. For the life of me, I could not find a good, normal fried eggs and hash in London! So I basically wrote American-style brunch off...until, that is, I discovered the British version of Sunday brunch: Sunday lunch.

It's later than brunch, but in England it's worth the wait: Sunday Roast, beef or chicken with roasties, veggies, a Yorkshire pudding and gravy to boot. My all-time favorite Sunday roast was had with Matt and his parents at a hidden-gem of a pub in Primrose Hill, just down the street from Primrose Bakery: The Lansdowne. All four of us ordered the roast chicken and instead of the typical, tired half-chicken with watery gravy and soggy roasties, what we got was a platter with a full chicken on it (!) surrounded by the necessary and perfectly-cooked accoutrement and au jus. Unforgettable, aesthetically pleasing, and almost worth passing on brunch for. :)

Abu Dhabi-Style:
In Abu Dhabi much of the culinary scene takes place in hotels. Because it is a Muslim country, hotels are the only places legally allowed to serve Alcohol, which means the truly-gourmet, Western institutions are drawn to them and their wealthy clientele (largely expats). Hotels also have enough man-power to produce a production such as what I am about to describe.

Over the past two weeks I have been learning to drive again: we rented a car on a monthly basis until we buy our own, and so I was essentially let loose in a city I didn't know, Roman buckled-up in the back, and told to find my way around. As I attempted to keep my calm in what is, or so I am told, one of the 10-worst places to drive in the world, I listened to the BBC radio. The chap on the other end kept blabbing on about "Friday brunch" and so I looked into this, as of yet, unknown phenomenon.

On Fridays, between the hours of 11-2, people in Abu Dhabi flock by the thousands to various luxury hotels where they enjoy the most sumptuous, international version of brunch I have ever experienced (outside of at the JW Marriott in Phuket, which does an un-believable daily buffet breakfast). Prices range from 125AED (about 40USD) to upwards of 300AED (about 100USD) per person, and can either include alcoholic drinks (usually called a "bubbly brunch" because of the traditional offering of champagne) or not. Your main choices for venue in Abu Dhabi are the Shangri-La Hotel, Le Royal Meridien Hotel, Fairmont Hotel (they have a Frankie's!), Sheraton Hotel or for a boutique-y feel - the One to One Hotel. We chose to go to a place very near to our new house: Al Raha Beach hotel, Abu Dhabi's first "boutique hotel." I would hardly call it "small."

The dining room at Sevilla, Al Raha Beach Hotel
It was not crowded because of its relatively out-of-the-way location, but the venue was beautiful, immaculate, and the service attentive and warm. The choice of foods left me, for lack of a better word (again), speechless. Perhaps a pictorial description and Time Out Review would do it all better justice.

My first plate of food: crab claws (pre-peeled), seared tuna on a papaya salad, shrimp ceviche and octopus salad.
Second plate included: full lobster tail, raw oysters, grilled shrimp, and beef wellington. Indulgent, I know.

The Asian / Seafood section, next to the carving station, "Arabic" corner and full salad bar, as well as the whole-lamb roast, whole turkey, whole beef wellington and Indian section.

A whole roasted Hammour fish.

Part of the dessert section.

Favorite new find: Umm Ali Arabian bread pudding made with croissants and pistachios.

Oh and as an added perk, many of the hotels offer discounted use of their pool and beach facilities when you eat brunch with them. Good thing - it can cost up to 80USD to use some of them!

Why Brunch, anyway?
Why bother with brunch? Why get up out of your lazy weekend slumber and venture into the cruel, cruel world rather than continue to hibernate in the relative safety and assumed comfort of your home? Because brunch as a concept and tradition reaffirms humanity's need and desire to commune, to be together, to share, to break bread (or toast, as it were) together and to relate life's happenings, for better, worse or hilarious.

There could be nothing more satisfying, in my mind, than a meal well-had and well-shared. And brunch, wherever one may be, is that perfect, almost cosmic, combination of comfort-food and friendship that makes it a tradition worth passing on to the next generation and the one after that.

the little prince, brunching away at Al Raha Beach Hotel
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