Monday, March 31, 2008

Katie's Birthday Extravaganza

Mohammad is not the only one with a birthday this time of year! My big day was on Friday, and lucky for me, in Dubai, that is the weekend! On Thursday night Matt took me out to dinner at the Cellar, the same place where he got us a table for Valentine's Day, he treated me to a great dinner and told me to 'rest up' for the birthday plans he had orchestrated for the next day.

The next morning while I packed a bag for the day. (I was instructed to bring a change of clothes in the event that we wouldn't return home all day...) Matt ran to grab breakfast, and returned not only with my tall latte, but with a mug with the name of each of the GCC (Gulf Coast Countries) emblazoned on the side. A total impulse buy that he tried to pass off as a birthday present! Now we have a geographically correct tea cabinet.

Matt had convinced me that we were going to have brunch at a restaurant in the Marina, but when we arrived he suggested that we take a stroll along the pier to look at the yachts that we docked. As we approached I saw a crew scurrying about on a yacht which was decorated with balloons everywhere. When we approached they said "you must be the birthday girl!" and invited us onboard, the El Girasol (sunflower in Spanish) was ours for the day! Matt had planned for us to take a tour of the Dubai coastline and watch the sunset over the ocean before we returned to shore. The crew suggested that they give us a quick tour of the boat before we shoved off, and as they opened the door to the cabin down below I hear "SURPRISE!" Eight of our friends had been hiding down there for over an hour waiting for our arrival! I was completely overwhelmed. They had all pulled together to help out Matt and had packed three coolers with all essentials for the afternoon: wine, champagne, sandwiches, cheese, bread, and the all important chocolate cake! I had a great time on the boat, it was really nice to see Dubai from the water, we got a close up of all the new construction including the World and the Palm. Really cool!
After dinner we retreated to an Capanna Nuova, an Italian restaurant at Dubai Marine (not to be confused with the Marina) and we had a delicious meal with our friends Emma, Dan, and Nick, while the other half of the group headed next door to the club, Boudoir (I suggest clicking on the link just to see the promotional video they have on their site - it's pretty funny), to secure us a table to dance the night away. We decided to forgo dessert at the restaurant so we could get to the lounge earlier to break out our dancing shoes! Not missing a beat, Matt made sure that there were strawberries and cream waiting at the table. A girl's gotta have sweets! The club was great, it had a really good blend of techno and R&B, which is really hard to find in Dubai. The night ended at about 3:30. Matt helped me hobble to the cab - strappy heels + four hours of dancing = major blisters, but more importantly it's the sign of a great night on the town!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Eid milaad saeed!

Today is a holiday in Dubai! No work! Who needs a snow day when you can celebrate Prophet Mohammad's Birthday?!

I guess we'll sleep when we're dead...

When the weekend hits in Dubai, the idea that "sleep is fun the dead" never rang truer. Thursday night starts a frenzy of activity that literally does not let up until Saturday. (The work week in Dubai runs Sunday - Thursday, so Friday is open for worship). In Dubai, "I'm just going to hang out and watch a movie" just doesn't fly with your group of peers. The weekends, in fact, tend to be even more exhausting than the work week! This past weekend, had us hopping all around town. Matt and I kicked of Thursday night with an exciting trip to Ace Hardware right after work. That's right, they have them over there. We started the weekend with a power drill and potted plant purchase - I think it set the tone quite nicely…

We were then crazy enough to actually think we were going to make it out to the Marina for a networking event aboard some guy's private yacht. The Marina is about 15 miles west of where we live, but rush hour on Sheikh Zayed road becomes completely hopeless, it would have taken longer to get there than the length of the cocktail event itself. For our DC friends - Sheikh Zayed road is our version of Route 66, only bigger and badder. It is 6 lanes in both directions and almost always congested.

We instead headed to our new friend, Nick's villa, for a delicious home cooked meal of lamp chops and cauliflower puree with a cranberry chutney. Matt, as usual, just could not resist helping in the kitchen. He is with our friend, Nick, in the picture. Well done, Nick!
We left Nick's place at 1:30am and headed on over to the 400 Club at the Fairmont to boogie down with our friends, at what is considered to be one of the 'hottest' clubs in town. Pretty hot indeed if you ask me, especially when our good friend Nick inadvertently set my hair on fire with his cigar…it was extinguished promptly, I've been meaning to get a trim anyway. The music more than soothed my wounded hair, for the first time since we've been in Dubai we found a club that played some decent rap music in concert with techno and house. If I hear Zombie Nation or Sandstorm one more time I am going to scream! The night ended at 4:00am where we fell asleep as soon as our head hit the pillow.

Five hours later, like clockwork, our friend Basile calls to ask if we want to go off-roading in the desert on his four-wheeler (over there they are called quad-bikes). It doesn't matter how late we were out the night before he is practically biologically programmed to drive in the desert every Friday morning. Unfortunately we have to turn him down because we've got fun activities like hanging curtains to do! (Hence, the earlier buying of the drill) But we agree to meet him at the beach later.

We finally made it to the beach this weekend, and it was absolutely gorgeous. The water is about 80 degrees and blue like the Caribbean. It was a perfect day to lounge around in the sun. There are only a few precious months left to go to the beach until the heat is so oppressive that people won't even go to the pool. The beach is mostly populated by European expats, but you can check out a version of a conservative Muslim "bikini" below. (Coming soon to a Sports Illustrated near you!)












By sunset we retreated back to Basile's flat to shower and change for the evening. We headed to the Buddha Bar for dinner and drinks, and although we had a table reserved at a new club called Peppermint, the collective group decided that we could no longer rally for another late night on the town. We got home at 1:30am - an "early" night by Dubai standards.

Saturday morning left us feeling a bit recharged, with a whopping 6 hours of sleep. We had lunch plans to meet our friends at the Barasti Bar, a beach side café in the Marina, and then to go to the Dubai International Boat Show. I can't say that I know much about boats, but I know that the ones we saw were big and beautiful. Matt and I feigned interest in purchasing a few yachts so that we could get invited onboard for a tour. (Oh yes, 10 million dollars is right in our price range.) Great thing about Dubai, is that you never know who anybody is so they have to treat you seriously! The boat I liked wasn't for sale, Noor 1. Guess who that belongs too? Yep, Queen Noor.

I think now it's finally time for a nap!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I need my beats!

Although we can pretty much get whatever we need here in Dubai, I have found one critical "store" to which we don't have access. Looks like Steve Jobs and friends decided to skip out on the "getting your product to work in Dubai" day at work. So much for my $50 gift card! Looks like there will be some major downloading on the horizon next time we are home.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Second Review! Gordon Ramsay's Verre at Hilton Dubai Creek

Welcome to our second review! The chef, the psycho, the 6-foot blond bad-toothed Brit, the nightmare himself, Gordon Ramsay's Verre Restaurant, Hilton Dubai Creek (and umm, no, that's not him - that's Matt Pickop, or "Fake-but-darn-good Gordon Ramsay").

Before we start, I want to get something out of the way. This place is good, and extra tasty - but the heaping helping out traffic you get en route to Diera is a LOT of work. So do yourself a favor - make it a long dinner. The drive back isn't nearly so bad, but if your table is before 9pm (ours was at 7 - I know, I know), then you are toast.
This meal was subsized by my dear sous chef brother, Chris (stand up and take a bow!), but would have been worth it otherwise. I've read a slew of reviews on Verre in anticipation, and the range from glowing a few years back to problems with service more recently.

I can tell you that they were most likely all right - I'll piece together the story of what I see as a restaurant just about back to the top.

First off, they were unable to find my brother's voucher - not unforgiveable, since it was a gift 3 months ago and we didn't give them any notice. However, after a bit of back and forth with the manager, he agreed to comp my bill for the voucher and try and work it out later. Well played! As for the rest of the service, here is where our story begins. It appears that in the haste to fix the service in the restaurant, a number of finer points were passed over in favor of a strong broad stroke. The entire staff is very courteous, and very clear-spoken, and very attentive - all marks of a good recovery. The problems start small, though. Our first round of wine was forgotten - when we asked for it again after the amuse, we were told they ran out, but had a wonderful substitute. That arrived quickly, and we were off.

The bread guy was very fast - all 8 times he came by. The last time was during sorbet, just before our soufflet arrived - nevermind that we didn't want bread the last 4 times. It seems nobody told him when to STOP offering more roles. Kinda funny. While we were working on our starters, they tried to bus the plates - we said we weren't finished, and the waiter smiled, nodded profusely, and took our plates. I almost had to chase him down to get the food back, but he was great after that.

Which brings me to my point - everyone is very attentive, so if something isn't right the first time, it's fixed quickly. But it's not quite right the first time, yet :)

Making up for all of this ("GET TO THE POINT!") is the absolutely spectacular food. My one complaint is that when they use truffles, they use A LOT of truffles. I like truffles, but this was a little much. Katie had to put the lid on the sauce because she was about to keel over and die. But on to the good stuff! A blue crab and cold corn soup was to die for - literally, because there had to be some serious cream in there. The scallops I had as a starter (seared watermelon, ginger infusion, caviar, satueed pork belly) were easily the softest scallops I've ever eaten. They felt like a seared marshmallow. The pork belly was good (not that I care for that kind of thing), and the sauce excellent. Katie's RAVIOLO OF RISOTTO, lobster meat, and salmon (yes, you read that right) was like eating fresh off a fishing boat in Maine, to say nothing of making ravioli out of fresh risotto.

Moving on to the main course, we were told the beef wellington for two was going to be medium rare. A bit about medium rare in Dubai - I eat steak tartare all of the time, and I've sent my medium rare back to be cooked 3 out of the last 4 meals. Cold in the middle, still black-and-white-spotted-cow on the outside. It's ridiculous - like they're trying to conserve energy and make my steak "green". It was green. Now it's supposed to be pink. But alas, this one showed up blood red again - but wait! What's this? A deceiving amount of heat and deliciousness - it actually looked cold and rare, but tasted just right. Basically, the opposite of an underripe orange gassed to be the right color.

The sommelier, Simone Luca (who is definitely our new best friend), was amazing - he pulled out a bottle to go with the beef that he actually imports HIMSELF. As in brings in 4 bottles from Italy off of the plane in his bag. I asked him where to get it, and he asked me when I was going home next. We'll pass along the info as soon as we track it down ourselves - in the meantime, he recommends "Perfect Pairing" by Evan Goldstein (he actually brought the book out to our time) for a little try-at-home wine chemistry.

So, dessert. We ordered a raspberry mint soufflet to split (our sommelier friend said "Who splits a soufflet?", I asked "Who doesn't???"), and I wish we had two. Instead of a sauce, they serve a fresh mint ice cream scoup on top that melted down through a hole in the middle, and "sauced" the soufflet on the way down. FANTASTIC. I want one right now. Even Katie, hater of all seeded fruit, wanted another one. Instead, we rolled out of the restuarant, into a cab, and back on home.

Definitely repeatable, decor is nice but not unique (great for a state-side restaurant, but Dubai ups the standard, keep up!). The cost keeps it out of every-day dining (except for, you know, the crazy rich people who were dining there as "weekday food") - our dinner for two with apps, beef wellington, and enough wine to keep you busy ran almost four $$$$. Still, the food was worth it!

Game...Set...Match!

I never truly understood the actual technical meaning of these words until I got a chance to see an actual tennis match! In keeping with our current tradition of attending sporting events where you have to wear a collared shirt, Matt scored us tickets to the Dubai Tennis Championship final between Andy Roddick and Feliciano Lopez. Dubai has built a fantastic tennis stadium which is actually quite small, the whole set up makes you feel like you are right next to the players (mostly because you are!). The match was awesome, really exciting, and the place was just charged with energy. When you walk in the ushers actually give you an American flag and a Spanish flag so you can decide who support.
One thing I didn't know is that you are supposed to be dead silence and not move during game play. People would get up to go to the snack bar and not return for 30 minutes because they weren't allowed to walk-about during play. In one hilarious incident, the whole stadium was seated and the game was about to commence when the head referee gets on the microphone and says "excuse me, please, take your seats". Everyone scanned the stadium and realized that his comments were directed at the luxury box where the Sheik's cronies and a bunch of top UAE government officials were just strolling in and chatting like nothing was happening. The audience started laughing and cheering, because in no other forum is it ok to tell an Emirati what to do -but in tennis the rules are the rules.

video

Andre Agassi was there too, and they showed him a few times on the big screen. He was easy to find - sitting courtside, shiny bald head, huge arms. Once after a Lopez scored a point and his supporters were going wild with the whole "Ole, Ole, Ole…" thing. (Seriously guys, that cheer has already worn out its welcome in soccer (aka. Football) do you have do to it at tennis matches, too?) The referee got everyone quieted-down and right before Roddick's next serve someone yells from the side "Come on, Andy. Come on!" It was Andre Agassi! Talk about motivation, even I could ace a serve if Agassi was cheering for me! Ok, probably not, but you know the feeling.
In the end Roddick won, it doesn't hurt that he was serving at 140mph! Although, I feel bad for the guy. More people care more that Federer got knocked out in Round 1, than they do who won! Andy said some nice things about Lopez, at the end, and was given his prize by Prince Hamdam, the son of Sheik Mo. The match was great, hopefully it will be the first of many!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Horrific 200-car Pileup Between Abu Dhabi and Dubai

This is why I'm buying an SUV.

Yes, that's an actual accident, not a car-burning party organized by oil-rich citizens to clean out their dusty old car inventory. Just yesterday we were car shopping, trying to decide between an SUV (which we know we should really get) and a nice, svelte little city sports car. I knew deep down that it should be an SUV, but secretly still wanted a nice coupe or saloon car (look it up!). But wow - take a look at the pictures below, and you'll see that the people who survived the pile up were definitely in SUVs.

Ghantoot: At least six people have been killed after a series of horrific accidents on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway near Ghantoot on Tuesday morning. Police have said around 200 cars were involved in the crash, which happened in heavy fog, with 25 cars catching fire. Police also said that because of the bad weather helicopters were unable to begin airlifting the injured until 11.30am.

Marco.....Polo!

If you ever found yourself tailgating and thinking, "Man, I just wish I could swap my beer and brats for some champagne and brie", then you need to get yourself to the nearest Polo match!

Welcome to the sporting world's most upscale tailgate, complete with tents, couches, caterers, and of course, delicious food and drink. Polo games are really popular here and are almost exclusively attended by our UK expat friends. We were lucky enough to be invited to the outing by friends, who had wine and cheese, chicken sandwiches, pasta salad, grilled veggies, chicken skewers, new potatoes, and chocolate, on hand to "snack" on through out the game.
It was really entertaining, and mercifully easy to understand the game unlike some of the other UK favorite pastimes (you know who you are - cricket and rugby). Quite simply, there are four riders on either side and they try to get the ball into the goal. For those of your that want to brush up on the details of the game you can
click here.

I did learn a few things, turns out that the horses are actually quite lean and are called "polo ponies" even though they are actually thoroughbreds. As it was explained to me in a car analogy, they are the Lotus of horse world. Essentially, they are bred to be able to stop and turn on a dime and have no "extra parts" weighing them down, if you will.

My only other Polo experience has been watching the scene from Pretty Woman about 50 times on TBS across my teenage years and this real-life experience did not disappoint! I got involved in the all important divot-stomping ritual in between halves and felt just like Julia Roberts, minus the hat and the gloves. I did manage to steal a boater hat from our friend, Basile, to partiallly complete the look. Only problem is that 3" high heels tend to create a lot more divots than they replace, so I'm not sure my contribution was
all that welcome!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Oh, the humanity!

You want to know why there's been silence for two weeks?
Well, you're right - every one of you have been extremely
bad at writing comments, so we're done with this stupid blog
thing. You suck, and it's all your fault. Don't you
remember what your parents taught you? You want to receive
mail? Write some already! What do you think this is, some
sort of online web-log with an email component that keeps
you up to date regardless of your willingness to contribute?

Man, bluffs are so much better in person. You win. I'm
totally caving, and I'll do whatever you want.

Unless, of course, an elbow has been put through my laptop
screen (see exhibit A, above). So, this is time, dear
readers, that I reach out for a tithing! What are you going
to do without our blog? I reckon, probably, read a good
book - and none of us want to happen. What's it gonna take
for you to get Matt and Katie a new laptop? Play the latest online
game (http://www.addictinggames.com/monkey.html), and see what you can win!

Oh Boy, This is Some Sweet Stuff

Rashid here, reporting in from a typical US "bed and breakfast". They call it the "Inn at Little Washington", but I see no little kids in wigs no matter how many crazy Southerners I come across. I'm telling you, George Washington founded this little town in Virginia, and it has 200 people 200 years later - if that flop happened in Dubai, somebody would be dropped off in the desert without a camel! If you've heard of - ahem - His Highness Sheikh Mohammed UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai - you'd be knowing yourselves some enlightened dictatorship.

Yes, I have picked up the "dope lingo". But at the same time, I'm still thinking, what do my peeps want to get down with on my happenins? Oh, for shizzle, that's right! We gots you helicopter lessons, real estate, and - *gasp* - pork. No, I didn't eat any, but I totally saw like 5 people eating bacon. And not the beef bacon we have in Dubai (may it rest in peace, that tasty jerky), but crunchy, tasty, yummy, not-for-your-Gulf-resident Friday brunch-extravanganza kinda guy. So, land of the free, home of the brave - but seriously, there's enough heresy here to fill a Texas thimble. I can't wait to get back home to Dubai, but I have one last hurdle to pass beforehand - the "night out". I bet they can't hold a candle to desert camping, but I'm willing to give it a try - stay tuned!

While you're waiting, you can see my first helicopter lesson. That crazy instructor - he thought I knew what I was doing! Good thing there were two sets of controls - I can't imagine how the Shiekh gets into one of these every day...

video

Rashid Totally Spiked My Drink

(or: How I learned to stop hatin' and love the jet lag)

It's FREAKIN 3AM. Unfortunately, me, my glass of Sangiovese, and Katie talking to her mom on the phone in the background say "oh come on Matt, it's totally 6pm. You don't have any meetings tomorrow - stay up for the sunrise!". When people say jet-set, I completely understand the picture now - it's a totally confused body clock 24/7.

Let me back up.

All the best literature says "hey, fake it till you make it" - in show business, modelling, transexuality, transmogrification, and yes - jet lag. We, dear readers, have taken the bullet - "what happens when you totally succumb to the urge to sleep, and don't try to adjust to a new time zone? " Oh, our scientific study will tell you!

Here's what happens - you get tired at about 11pm the first night. You think, "swell, this will be a breeze!". You wake up at 2am. Not so breezy. You stare at the ceiling, then you take a bath and get some work out of the way, knowing most people you know are enjoying dinner in Clarendon (you suck, by the way). At about 8am, you get really sleepy. But also really hungry, only for dinner. This is academically known as the "oh no, I can't get tired noooooww....." period. This continues until you return home from work at 7pm. You nap. Then, you wake up at 9pm, and are all sorts of ticked off. "Who woke me up? You?! Oh, I'm totally going to punch you. Oh, sorry Pleo!" Then you hit up the all important Red Baron pizza at 12 midnight, and you are completely, utterly confused. The oven you have in your apartment only goes up to 250 degrees. What?! Then you realize - jet lag applies to metric too. That's right, the sucker's in Celsius. Right about the time you realize that, your tasty pizzas are burning a jet black. So, dear "the kings foot is 12 inches" person - let this be a lesson. Order delivery, not Digiorno.

As I mentally prepare in my mind for a workday that starts in 3 hours, I leave you with a quote ("not a sermon, just a thought!"), along with my apology for a rambling post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPgI-7hTZkQ&feature=related