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).

I’m not a bruncher, but I’m open to persuasion

I’m not a bruncher, but I’m open to persuasion

I am not really a bruncher but with the right food and ambience combination, I’m open to persuasion. Because Friday brunch is an institution in Abu Dhabi and I can’t resist the call of a new brunch concept, I found myself in Roberto’s in the Galleria Mall one blustery Friday.

I have been dying to try Roberto’s since the early buzz about the outlet began. I was heartbroken to miss the opening, so I jumped at the opportunity to try their new Friday Andiamo Brunch when it launched.

From the moment you enter to when you depart, the service is impeccable. The Roberto’s team has all the European flair and charm you can dream of without the pretence and price inflation you might find in other Italian franchises.

So here I will just give a brief outline of how Roberto’s Andiamo brunch works.

Every guest is offered a quick tour of Roberto’s trademark Crudo Bar: an exquisite Oyster and Martini Bar. The oyster bar serves a fanciful array of several kinds of oysters and all their gourmet fixings, while the Martini Bar is replete with jar after jar of colourful fresh herbs, flowers and berries. Your barman will whip up any number of exotic concoctions, including the signature Casanova Martini (oyster martini)—watch out, James Bond, there are now a lot more options than just “Shaken or Stirred.” Prepare to have your minds blown, martini fans.

You are then guided to the Dessert Salon, a surprisingly social way to culminate your brunch experience. It’s mostly standing room only, but that’s often the perfect antidote to the few hours you just spent sitting and eating course-after-course of Italian favourites.

So, getting back to Italian favourites, because that is what brunch at Roberto’s is all about, your hostess will then take you to your seat once you know the geography of this brunch—not that you need it— because thankfully this is not your average queue up at the trough kind of brunch. This brunch service is positively elegant.

We are seated at a table for two by the window with a lovely sea view and offered menus. Our drink offers are taken swiftly and our server explains the concept of this brunch, which, to us, sounds like lots of small plates of our choice of seafood, seafood-meat misti or vegetarian antipasti.

In that characteristically Italian way, our server plies us in between martini sipping, order-taking and dining with decadent olive bread and warm focaccia and fresh pizza. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Roberto’s 1970’s Rhythm and blues/Soul playlist, which was quite possibly the most on point soundtrack to a lazy Friday brunch ever heard in this town. Brunch seems to present most restaurants with a musical dilemma, and they so often get it wrong. Most music is too loud, too fast or too slow, but this playlist was just right.

The feast continues at the table, with a mouth-watering selection of classic and contemporary antipasti including Tartare di Manzo, a grade 9 wagyu beef tartare, prepared tableside and with great flair by the Chef, followed by the theatrical Risotto Bosco flavoured by a few turns of the parmesan wheel and finished with a generous portion of freshly grated truffle—made even more generous, we discovered, if you tell the server you want to take a quick video, but don’t say I told you this. I don’t want to be responsible for breaking Roberto’s Andiamo Brunch truffle bank.

In between the pizza but before the Risotto and freshly made pasta which is all before your main, I might add, were a slew of fabulous antipasti. Most memorable for me was the grilled octopus (polpo), which was reminiscent of an Italian seaside village where you actually witness the fisherman hauling them in every morning. The meat is so fresh and tender, you would never guess you are eating octopus.

Just when you are bursting at the seams and can eat no more, the mains come, and your server, like an Italian grandma, will give you that look which implies that you simply must try this. You are certain that you have no space until you try it, and slowly somehow bite-after-bite you have devoured it under watchful and admiring appraisal. In this case, my companion and I fought against all odds to eat more, but we each made light work of our grilled prawns that were complimented by a light, tangy mango sauce.

We were almost bursting at the seams. But, of course, that was not the end…

As we loosened our belts to make the long roll home, our server guided us away from the door, straight into the Dessert Salon, which was ambient, vibey, full of friendly faces and did we mention there were vast swathes of decadent desserts, because you know there were.

Over conversation, we managed a few tastes of tiramisu strictly for the caffeine buzz, and we were glad we did. Whatever your stance on tiramisu, tired old cliché of Italian cooking or a classic that simply needs a reboot. No one can deny its power to lift you up after a long Italian eating fest.

The Verdict: Roberto’s Andiamo Brunch is not to miss if you are a fan of Italian food, eating, remarkable martinis and/or elegant service. In my humble opinion, there is no other Italian brunch in Abu Dhabi with such a perfect mixture of home comforts, great music and friendly service.

What: Andiamo Brunch

Where: Roberto’s Abu Dhabi

When: Every Friday from noon to 4 pm

Prices:

AED 295 for the Classico brunch, including soft drinks and fresh juices

AED 395 for the Andiamo brunch, including signature cocktails and unlimited house wines

AED 495 for the Riserva brunch, including Italian Bubbles

Children between 6 to 12 years eat for AED150 – children below 6 years free

Website: http://www.robertos.ae

Reservations: reservationsauh@robertos.ae or +9712 627 9009

Address: Rosewood Hotel, The Galleria Mall, Al Maryah Island

Have a look at the menu: Brunch Menu

 

 

 

 

 

Get A Room Already

Get A Room Already

My unremitting blogging about Saadiyat Island may lead some to wonder “Why Don’t You Get A Room Already” out there? I really should, I know–I love the place. Saadiyat Island is already home to a museum, beaches, wildlife and great restaurants and will soon to be home to the Guggenheim and the Louvre. I would say it’s almost urban (being only about 5 minutes away from the heart of the city), but it also feels like a SoCal beach town on a sleepy Sunday morning. In short, it’s perfect. So, why don’t I live here? Well, I cannot afford it—it’s pricey. It’s far from everything in our life and, honestly, I LOVE Al Raha Beach. So, this girl will have to be content visiting, which is what I did the other night. I teased this yummy night out here a week or so ago in veni, vidi, vici locustam marina. Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabiWe called in an overdue date night. I reserved a table at a restaurant, named Caramel, that I had heard great things about, and we made the exquisite, pre-sunset drive out to Saadiyat Island. It was a lovely night there, but it always is. We caught the tail end of yet another sun descending into the turquoise sea like a watercolor painting. Ahhh, are you with me people? I digress; let’s get back to food. I was starving. It was almost 8pm and, well, I work, and I am a mom, and I usually eat around 6pm. Can you hear my stomach growling?! We walked through “The Collection,” which is simply an assemblage (kind of a labyrinth) of upscale shops and restaurants, to find Caramel. Do not be deterred by how tucked away it is. I’ll give you Caramel is a wee bit hard to find if you are a man, and you refuse to ask for directions, but don’t be! There are friendly security guards all over the place. Just ask. They will happily guide you to Caramel—it is, after all, where you need to eat if you are as hungry as I was. All the restaurants in the Collection are upscale, inspired and amazing. I chose Caramel because it’s friendly and easygoing with a L.A.-meets-Ibiza kind of vibe. Several fabulously attractive, tall, must-be-model kind of gals greeted us at the door. I had to forcibly elbow my dear husband’s tongue back in his mouth once or twice that evening. Fortunately for us—and by “us” you know I mean “me”–a wonderful young waiter, named Chamith—a dude—waited on our table. He couldn’t have been any better at his job, unless he had been a 5’10 bleached blonde model wearing such a short skirt—get off of here, husband! Seriously, Chamith was perfect. I cannot easily think of anything he could do to improve—I never say this about anything/one. The same was true for the Floor Manager, Surranga Kank. He floated cordially from table-to-table, saying hello to every diner so naturally, as passionate about his every customer as he was his ingredient sourcing/derivation/preparation and, of course, his cricket—yes, husband had to go there. :/ Let us not talk about cricket though; it’s my blog and I’d rather talk about food. Let’s get back to the menu.

Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
Wednesday, wine night!

It was a Wednesday night, so the wine bottle was out. We both had to work early the next day. Nevertheless, one glass can’t hurt, right? Caramel’s wine selection is representative of every major wine-producing region. It was hard to select just the right glass, so we went with our waiter’s recommendations. He knew a lot about wine, and his choices did not disappoint us. The menu at Caramel is inspired. It was so hard to choose a starter. We were looking for something different, unlike dishes we usually order, so we went with Crispy Eggplant and TNT Shrimp and scallops. We also ordered our mains because, again, it was Wednesday—not exactly a big night out. My husband ordered the pan-seared lamb loin (southern hemisphere thing), and I went with the 1.5 Kg Maine Lobster (western hemisphere thing) and OMG! What a lobster it was! Enough about the lobster though, let’s talk about the starters. Was it fair to call these lavish indulgences “starters”? The Eggplant was crispy and succulent with the yummiest hoisin sauce. The TNT shrimp and scallops were firm and flavorful with a piquant topping that could be described as something like Srichaha meets sweet chili and then meets creamy and makes perfection. I don’t know exactly what the sauce was, but it was good, and we were both full after polishing those off. Thankfully, the wait staff gave us a bit of time to digest before they brought out our mains. 

Caramel's crispy eggplant starter Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
Crispy Eggplant 
Caramel's TNT Shrimp & Scallops Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
TNT Shrimp & Scallops 

There wasn’t rest time enough in the world to be ready for the enormous delicacy that was set before me about 30 minutes after the starters. Behold, my dining challenge. Say “Hello” (and goodbye) to my little friend! What presentation! It was elegant and enormous. I wanted to take its picture more than I wanted to eat it, because I was still so full. 

1.5KG Stuffed Maine Lobster Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
My marine foe–All 1.5Kg of it.
Pan-seared lamb loin Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
Pan-seared Lamb Loin 

I took a few photos of my feast, while my husband dug into his gorgeous lamb loin. I am not a fan of lamb, but it did look great. So you know, I am not usually one to take food photos. Not only is the practice bad restaurant etiquette, but it is disruptive to your night out–seems narcissistic and self involved (imo). Nevertheless, that night I made an exception. There were few other diners, and those that were there were very cordial as was the management, so I snapped away. I finally took a deep breath and dug into my titanic Maine lobster, and, well I ate the whole thing—all 1.5kg worth of it; it was heavenly. I had not had a Maine lobster in a long time—as in a longbefore-we-moved-to-Abu-Dhabi kind of long time. I don’t usually pig out like that but the freshness, preparation and presentation offered the “perfect meal trifecta,” and it just happened. I could see the wait staff was pleased—they didn’t think I could do it, and I did it. I really do like to surprise people.

Creme Brule Get A Room Already on Saadiyat Island #finedining #saadiyat #abudhabi @ Caramel #abudhabi #saadiyat #thecollection #stregis #finedining #mainelobster
Crème brûlée

I was lobster-deprived; it was a fact. Surranga, the manager, made certain that we left Caramel sated and having had a full appreciation of the menu. He would not allow us to leave without sampling the dessert, and sample we did (despite being ready to burst at our seams). I tried the Crème brûlée meets bananas Foster because why not? It was rich and divine; I took two bites and that was that. Let’s call it a wrap. You can now officially roll me out the door. Please stop me now from eating another bite at Caramel! I am pleading with youWe settled up. Surranga kindly offered to give us a brief tour, and we obliged happily. A DJ was just about to spin, and the night was only beginning for all the night owls spilling in from wherever they came, but we early birds had to mosey along, stuffed and happy. Someday I may be fortunate enough to get a room already on Saadiyat but, until then I can visit and dine there. Caramel is a restaurant that truly knows its stuff. The food and wine menu is as diverse and inspired as the ambience and staff were flawless. I will happily return to Caramel Abu Dhabi the next time I feel the need to visit a happening restaurant that somehow manages to integrate the aura of home: a place that will not let you leave feeling unappreciated, unacknowledged or hungry. Give Caramel a try; I doubt you will be disappointed. Follow Caramel on twitterinstagram and Facebook.

 

 

I Came I Saw and I Conquered A Lobster

I Came I Saw and I Conquered A Lobster
Say hello to my little friend, Caramel, Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat, Boston lobster in Abu Dhabi
Say hello to my little friend, er…goodbye…

Every now and again you face a foe so fearsome you quake in your flip-flops. I met my match in a restaurant on–yes, you guessed it, Saadiyat Island–my favorite place in Abu Dhabi. On Wednesday night, I came I saw and I conquered a lobster.

My foe was a crustacean, and he wouldn’t have seemed so formidable if I had not already been so sated. And, here I am, of course, talking about eating the darn thing–not slaying him. Someone somewhere near Boston was kind enough to capture him, a slew of people were instrumental in his journey here across the globe—alive. And, then a talented chef or two here in Abu Dhabi boiled him. He really wasn’t much of a threat to me when said chefs plated him, or when a lovely waiter served him to me. But, man-oh-man the thought of eating him challenged me. Why, you may wonder? Well, I’ll tell you when I talk about my enjoyable foray into fine dining food reviews, which I had the unique opportunity to sample the other night. Coming soon, and when Lizzy of Arabia says “coming/opening soon,” she means it.

Mean Lobster Lizzy of Arabia I Came, I Saw, and I Conquered A Lobster
My foe