A Carnivorous Friday Feast

A Carnivorous Friday Feast

Mexican Food, travel I might be in Arabia, but my stomach remains faithfully South of the Border

You all know I love food, and Mexican is probably my most favorite food on this planet. There aren’t too many Mexican restaurants that are tasty in the UAE, so I have expanded my palate to include all the spicy flavors served south of the United States. Thankfully, Toro Toro Friday Brunch is here to pique everyone’s Latin palate, and it’s great for carnivores. Vegetarians do call ahead and make yourself known.

Toro Toro Abu Dhabi Richard Sandoval DubaiThere’s a brand new brunch to add to your brunch bucket list. Toro Toro, the capital’s newest Latin hotspot, is throwing its Panama hat into the mix, and we have high expectations for it.

The stylish restaurant is located in the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers and serves Richard Sandoval’s signature spicy pan-Latin/South American fusion.

Brunchers can choose between tables inside or outside with a stunning view of the capital waterfront. We’ve been to Toro Toro Abu Dhabi before by night but never by day. It’s bright and airy. Sadly, it’s too breezy to sit outside so we are seated in the dining room.

Serve Yourself?

The layout of the brunch is a bit funny, but we adapt quickly to its self-service drink model with a little assistance from the friendly staff. In the past, the service has been a little dicey, but today the staff is out in full.

Toro Toro Abu Dhabi Richard Sandoval Dubai Fine Dining South American The drink selection seemed sparse: an array of self-service white and red wine sangrias and Mexican beers. Apparently, you could ask your server for other drinks from the bar, but we didn’t get the memo. We weren’t displeased with the white sangria which was light and refreshing and our tee-totaling companions were thrilled with a coconut mocktail, which was beautifully garnished with wildflowers.

For Starters

Toro Toro Abu Dhabi Richard Sandoval Dubai Fine Dining South AmericanThough the drinks are self-service, the food is brought to your table, and it seemingly never, ever stops coming until the end. For starters, we noshed on Sandoval’s signature smoked guacamole, and it’s always a hit. Spicy, smoky and toothsome, this guac makes this avocado dip so much more than the sum of its piquant parts.

In addition to guac, the star of the starters, there was a delicious array of savory hot and cold bites. The highlights included the seafood ceviche, the LomoSaitado empanada (beef), wild mushroom flatbread, chicken Antichucho (chicken skewers served dramatically on hot coals). The Toro Toro salad and cornbread were a touch too sweet as were most of the dishes that were more suitable for vegetarians.

  • Toro Toro Abu Dhabi Richard Sandoval Dubai Fine Dining South American

The Main Event

Before you can even loosen your belts, the table begins to swell with a carnivorous feast ranging from achiote-marinated chicken to lamb chops, rib eye steak, prawns and something referred to as picanha, which we think were barbequed beef cubes drawn served table-side by a server straight off the skewer as were the prawns. Note the tastiest bits were served rather parsimoniously.

The sides included sweet potato fries, with the emphasis on sweet. Think churros Mexican-spiced donuts sprinkled with cinnamon sugar — yes, like too sweet. The Quinoa salad was also, you guessed it, too sweet. The spicy cauliflower, marked with a “V” ran the risk of being devoured by the carnivores so many times that I had to covet one all to myself. This spicy main almost made up for the lack of other vegetarian options.

We, a table of six with four devout carnivores, one who dabbles and one vegetarian, could barely finish half of the food.

We then capped off the feast with an enormous dessert course of decadent cheesecake, tres leches cake and fruit platter. The plating was lovely and the piquant scoops of fruit sorbets were a cool delight after a waistline-bursting feast.

Toro Toro Friday Brunch: The Takeaway

This brunch is not cheap. We would have preferred drink service to self-serve.  We would have loved to have been made aware if it were available along. That was an aberration to the otherwise faultless service, which was fabulous and indeed never stopped until the clock struck four.

In fairness, I didn’t call ahead to let the restaurant know that I am a vegetarian. Toro Toro brunch is not an easy landscape for vegetarians. But, if you dig your meat, run, do not walk to Toro Toro Friday Brunch. If you are vegetarian, do let them know; you will be grateful you did.

Toro Toro Friday Brunch is ready to cook up a storm every Friday so get in there and give it a try. I’d love to know what you think.

Dhs295 (soft drinks), Dhs445 (house beverages and mixed drinks), Dhs545 (bubbly).

Fri 12.30pm-4pm. Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, West Corniche (02 811 5882).

Dubai Daytripping

Dubai Daytripping
The gates of Ibn Battuta
The gates of Ibn Battuta mall

Despite living only 45 minutes to the south of Dubai, I don’t get up to the big city much. So when an odd lunch invitation is extended up there, I accept it willingly.

I agreed to meet a friend who I have not seen in a bit to catch up over lunch. While we could eat anywhere, we opt for easy. Ibn Battuta Mall is the southern most mall in Dubai, it’s easy in and out and thus the perfect place for people from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to meet up.

I parked in the China Court where we were told the restaurants were. There were a bunch of venues to choose from, but we were craving seafood and Urban Seafood beckoned us in with its minimal décor and simple menu.

Urban Seafood's seating
A sleek, simple storefront

The service was fast and friendly. I could see this being an excellent place for an express lunch, but it was equally suitable for friends who want to linger over a long lunch.

My friend and I like similar things so, as we peruse the menu, it seems we gravitated towards the same items: spicy Thai Tom Yum soup with seafood, the mussels 5 ways (served with 5 sauces) and the steamed buckets of your choice of two: blue crabs, prawns or mussels. The buckets come with a choice of five sauces; we opted for the Thai curry in keeping with our hot & spicy themed lunch.

The server asked us how spicy we’d like the soup, which we made clear we hoped to split between two bowls. We both nodded that we like it quite spicy. Normally, servers smile, nod back and disbelieve that you can actually take the spice level you just ordered—at least, that has always been my experience ordering spicy food. Thankfully, this was not the case at Urban Seafood.

Spicy Tom Yum soup
Spicy Tom Yum soup
Mussels 5 ways at Urban Seafood in Ibn Battuta Mall in Jebel Ali Village
Mussels 5 ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The starters arrived swiftly. The presentation was quite elegant for mall dining. The spicy soup was laden with tender calamari rings, large, succulent prawns, mussels and fish along with an array of vegetables to round it out. And, oh boy, was it spicy–just what we ordered and more!

The Mussels 5 ways was fabulous. Each mussel was served with the following array of sauces: Singaporean red chili, black pepper chives, Thai curry, creamy lemon butter and dukkah, a delicious Middle Eastern blend of nuts, seeds and spices.

Each baked mussel brimmed with flavor, some spicy, some creamy, some simply too decadent to describe. They were just perfect.

At this point, we are kind of full. Ordering starters at lunch proved a tactical error for our long lunch. Fortunately, our server was on the ball. She could see we needed some time, and she delayed our seafood bucket accordingly.

As we chatted, she non-invasively checked in from time to time to see if we were ready for our shared main, and finally we were.

She darted into the kitchen and returns with a steaming basket of freshly cooked blue crab and prawns. It was gorgeous, a work-of-art, but we both just stared into the eyes of the 4 big crabs and thought “how on earth are we going to eat you without making total pigs of ourselves?”

Seafood bucket at Urban Seafood in Ibn Battuta Mall in Jebel Ali Village
Meet just one of my little friends who have been steamed to perfection! 
My apologies, vegetarians. I swear I am more with you than against you.

Our server must have read our minds, asking “Would you like me to clean them for you?” “Yes,” we nodded in unison.

IMG_6818 She disappeared again and returned with a set of tools and–with a surgeon’s skill–she took to our crabs and made light work of the shells, adeptly prying out every small piece of tender crabmeat she could, and she made haste. We carried on chatting, but it was very hard to not watch her at work. She split the piles of sweet meat evenly between two plates, ladling a bit of Thai curry sauce atop the generous piles of crab meat.IMG_6821 IMG_6826She asked if we’d also like her to do that with the prawns while we ate the crab. Another collective “yes,” was nodded. She performed the same skillful extraction with the prawns and served it on another two plates.

I should mention that along with the bucket came a heaping portion of steamed vegetables. We had the choice of French fries, cole slaw or rice, and we opted for the veggies. They were crisp and fresh, and the perfect side for all that light and flavorful seafood.

Now, I am not really a dessert person but, once the buckets and dishes were all cleared away, I had a peek. Servers always try to convince you that you need dessert, and most of the time, I absolutely do not need it. Eating professionally has it consequences, and its greatest consequence is felt at the waistline, so I just say no to dessert.

Get your cuppa and ice cream fix in one! Brilliance!
Get your espresso and ice cream fix in one! Brilliance!

I made an exception on this day when I saw the cappuccino torte as it seemed the best of two worlds: my post-meal espresso mixed with ice cream, salted caramel and nuts–these were worth the extra hour in the gym, trust me. My friend had the Lotus Choco bites, because Lotus. Enough said.

Lotus biscoff Choco Bites at Urban Seafood Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai
This is heaven, if heaven were Lotus Biscoff. Isn’t it?

The desserts were enormous, messy, sweet and gut busting, but sometimes over a long and natter-laden lunch, a girl needs to appeal to her sweet tooth for that bit of energy to carry and ultimately make that long drive back to the Dhabs.

We ate as much as we could, which was less than half—they were that big! We toddled out of Urban Seafood thinking that this was no ordinary mall meal. It was reasonably priced, for the most part quite light, and the service was excellent. This will probably be our meeting spot for our catch up lunches for the foreseeable future—as long as she is in Dubai and I am in Abu Dhabi.

Not too bad for a humungous lunch.
Not too bad for a humungous lunch.

Urban Seafood, China Court, Ibn Battuta Mall, (800 7527)

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