Tuesday, March 31, 2009
This I promise will be the last post on the birthday weekend; however, I did promise an atonement story regarding my first birthday cake. You might remember from my previous post, regarding the party that Matt threw for me, that my cake looked like this:
It was absolutely beautiful, and delicious, and all of our guests loved it. The only problem is that I can't stand fruit for the most part (especially for dessert) and I hate seeds even more. Although, I thought the design was really pretty and I am not picky - a quick scrape of the top of the cake and I was left with a very yummy pound cake with cream filling - just fine by me! Matt however couldn't stop 1) laughing and 2) apologizing because never in a million years would he order me a cake like that which I already knew. He told me that he had specifically ordered a 'yellow box' cake with chocolate frosting. I am sure the hotel considered this confection an upgrade. I am just not a dessert upgrade kind of girl. I like my sweets strait up, if you will!
Fast forward to the day at the races, after standing in the rain, and rigorously (ha ha) competing in the best dressed arena, Matt decided to surprise me with dinner at Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, the absolutely amazing French restaurant we had frequented once before (reserved for very special occasions only).
I could go on and on about the food and the service, but to suffice, it is most likely the best restaurant I've ever been too. We were sat at our table and when they delivered our bread I looked up and it was Pierre! Pierre Gagnaire delivered the bread to our table and said "good to see you again". In a word "ahhhhh"!
I managed to settle down with a menu after a brief conversation with him, and we decided on dinner. The meal was superb and when it came time for dessert I was about to pass. I was so full, that I thought maybe I should skip it this time, when Matt said "I think that we should just see the menu again". However, instead of bringing out the menu, the manager arrived at our table with a flourish and set a bowl down in front of me. What was it? Crème Burlee? Chocolate Fondant?
It was a homemade soft pretzel dressed tableside with chocolate sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream...
I stared at my bowl in disbelief and looked back at him and said "I know that this isn't on the menu..." and he said "no it's not, and it's even harder to find a wine to pair with pretzel" he said as he winked at me. Matt had snuck off to the kitchen to request this special dessert based on my love of all things pretzel and chocolate - if you are from Pennsylvania then you understand - otherwise you are probably very confused. What's more is that they actually had to send some one out to buy the pretzels from a local bakery to complete the task.
I was thrilled!
I then flip open today's timely 2009 restaurant awards and the front page reads "Reflets Par Pierre Gagnaire was crowned the Best Restaurant in Dubai last night. The high-end French eatery also took home Best Contemporary European and Best Newcomer, much to the delight of Head Chef Olivier Biles. The restaurant was awarded the accolade after much deliberation over the emirate’s best places to eat out. And, despite the tough competition, it was no surprise that the posh nosh spot and baby of six-time Michelin-starred French chef Pierre Gagnaire took home the gong."
That's right. Matt personally asked a six-time Michelin starred chef and the kitchen at the best restaurant to serve me a soft pretzel with chocolate sauce dumped on it. If that isn't the best birthday cake I don't know what is!
As we left I jokingly asked the manager if they'd been convinced to add this new specialty to the menu, and he replied with a humorous tone "I don't think so, and if you tell anyone we made that for you, we'll deny it..."
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Milliner - is a hatter who designs, makes, sells or trims hats and dresses
Facinator - fascinator is a headpiece ,a delicate, slightly frivolous head decoration worn on the hair almost exclusively by women. Modern fascinators are commonly made with feathers, flowers and/or beads. They attach to the hair by a comb, headband or clip.
My actual birthday fell on Saturday, which just happened to be on one of the biggest weekends of the year in Dubai, the World Cup. It is known has the richest horse race in the world, with a $6million dollar purse going to the winner. It's often joked that most people go to the races and nary see a horse, alot of people are purely their for the fashion and social aspect of it all.
I learned last year just how seriously the fillies and stallions (read: ladies and gents) take their fashion at this event so this year I was determined to put together a outfit worthy of a show pony! Two month ago I bid on the chance to have a local milliner make me a fascinator for the event. Karen Hamilton did an amazing job helping me put together the outfit, and made a fantastic hat. In fact she was so generous she even let Lisa borrow one of her pieces just to wear to the races.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Matt nearly died when this cake came out! I don't like fruit for dessert and he ordered chocolate...such is Dubai! Watch for an upcoming blog post where he atones for this mishap...
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
This is not the first time on this trip that my travelling companions from Jordan have said "Did you ever think you'd be...", and every answer is "well, I didn't think I wouldn't..."
At the same time, it's also familiar - Saudi has a distinctly American mark on it. Many outlets are US standard, and Floor 1 on some buildings is the ground floor (that actually confused me for a little bit). Then there's trying to use the bathroom in the airport, where I can't get in because everyone is washing their feet in the sink before prayers - not that you'd want to use these bathrooms anyway.
So, to answer the question another way, did I ever think I'd be taking a late domestic flight from Riyadh to Dammam on the gulf coast, while typing a blog, listening to all of the heated conversations around me in Arabinglish, and staring at the occasional bonfire drifting by in the desert below? Nope, but it's something I'm happy I'm experiencing. More to come when I'm back on UAE soil...er, sand.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Now if you are from Pennsylvania you know that it's really not pronounced creek, but "crick" and you also know that a creek is really just a narrow stream of water, certainly not something that you sail a boat down. The Dubai Creek really used to be a creek - a small ribbon of water coming in from the Arabian Gulf - until a huge public works project dredged the creek and made more of a Dubai River.
When I booked the table, the receptionist asked me what nationality I was. "Why?" I asked, "Do we need passports, are we going into international waters?" "We just need to know" was her response. Hmm.
We were welcomed aboard the sleek glass vessel by a staff dressed in all white and were immediately handed a welcome drink of fresh mango juice. So far so good. As we were guided through the center of the boat, they took us down the stairs to the all glass walls and gave us a table in a darkened corner, how romantic! It wasn't until the boat was becoming prime for departure that I realized they hadn't sat anyone at the nice tables in the elevated center of the boat. I wondered if we could change seats, when 2 crowds of Emirati women and men swooped in and were seated only in the center of the boat. That's when it occurred to me! We weren't given a romantic table, they were hiding us! The nationality question was to determine ahead of time who they thought would be presumed alcohol drinkers. Anyone who was keen to imbibe was put downstairs in the dark!
All joking aside, we had a great table, and it's a small price to pay for the relatively little sacrifices we have to make living here. The meal did not disappoint, it was delicious! And even better it was served on a schedule...just heaven. Living in Dubai you are forced to get used the epidemic of tardiness that affects everyone here. Every task you can imagine takes 3 times as long to complete because of total inefficiency. So "dessert will be served promptly at 10:20pm" was music to my ears. Is it possible that a dessert served on time tastes even sweeter?
Sunday, March 22, 2009
On Wednesday, Matt and I, along with a hundred of esteemed American Business Council members gathered for a luncheon to hear a speech from the current US Ambassador to the UAE, Richard Olson. I know that you are dying to know just a little bit more about His Excellency, so here you go:
He is a career foreign service officer and a member of the senior foreign service. Mr. Olson joined the U.S. Department of State in 1982. He has served overseas in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia (as the Embassy's liaison officer to General Schwarzkopf during the 1991 Gulf War), Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, where he served both at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi (1999-2001) and as US Consul General in Dubai (2001-2003), and in Najaf, Iraq..
His Washington assignments include: State Department Operations Center (twice), NATO Desk, the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs (twice, including as Director), and the Office of Iraqi Affairs (NEA/I), including as Director.
Now before I move on let's address the statement above (which comes from the State Dept.'s website). He has served "overseas in Mexico"? This part of the official bio was also read aloud at the luncheon to a room full of chuckles. Come on State Department, quality control!
Once he took the stage the Ambassador made a few interesting statements of which I've tried to capture the most relevant here.
“We seek the advice of the UAE on these thorny political issues, particularly in the case of Iran, in the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and on the question of support for the Palestinian Authority and more generally the Israeli-Arab conflict. The UAE is a very significant player in the region now, in a way that it wasn’t at the same level five or 10 years ago. ... There is a very good appreciation in Washington of the strength of this relationship, and I think it argues well for the future."
But when it came time for questions Ambassador Olson definitely played the role of the well groomed diplomat. Many of the people in the room wanted specific details on the presumed back door dealings that are happening to help ease the recession in Dubai. As it is assumed that the US is pulling its fair share of strings, the eager public wanted to know what Ambassador Olson knew. Of course much of the questions were met with a "I can only comment so much on this" or "we respect the sovereignty of the UAE government". So needless to say we didn't get any of the goods!
But we did enjoy a nice lunch in the presence of the Ambassador, and happened to sit next to the manager of the new Ruth's Chris steakhouse in Dubai. That is an essential connection worth having!
Monday, March 16, 2009
Two of the celebrity chefs were even there that night. Gary Rhodes, who is the head chef at Rhodes Mezzanine, served us our white tomato soup and we got a picture, and Giorgio Locatelli, who is the head chef at the Locatelli's Italian Restaurant at the Atlantis Hotel, was doing a live demonstration in the Chef's Theatre. After being more that fully satiated we raced off to a free wine tasting to learn more about some of the tasty affordable wines in the region. There was one wine that was the clear winner - it was the from the Bakaa Valley in Lebanon, the Cuvee Rouge Chateau Musar. A few things make this wine special. The first is that it is fermented in cement! Very odd, but it makes for a unique and delicious flavor. The other is that this vineyard and winery were located just beyond the enemy lines in the 1980's war in Lebanon and despite having their main house bombed several times and needing to flee their estate at times, the owner still managed to make their wine, even having it secretly transported case-by-case in row boats. We were certainly glad some of it made it to us!We ended the night with a perusal of the marketplace area, and between the chocolate chess boards and carved fruit we found the display meant for my future father-in-law. The Weber stand. For years I've been teasing him about the small Weber grill he has set up behind the house, but really it's just more disbelief that he makes such delicious meals from such a rinky-dink grill (no offense!), but I think now I think this beauty is just what he needs for his father's day present!
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The Chagall we liked best
There were some really incredible pieces on display. In addition to the Picasso-Chagall art work upstairs, the gallery also had their entire bottom floor on display with many more modern works of art. Matt really took to the picture of Mao below, which was made up of a repeating 'AK47' pattern, where as I preferred the several hundred individually painted Marilyn Monroe’s that comprised a shadowy face of JFK. Matt asked how much it was and was told “oh, well this was going for $2,000 recently, but um….then the artist died and now Christie's auction house just sold one $80,000.” Man! Forget hedge fund managers, maybe artists should do a little death-faking. That’s a 40x mark up, people!
Friday, March 13, 2009
Nelly, the famed US rapper, touched down in Dubai on Tuesday to promote the opening of his Apple Bottom Jeans store in the (the world's largest) Dubai Mall. Also, if you have to ask what an apple bottom is, this would also indicate a severe lack of Nelly 'nowledge.
After the usual hassle of entering the club we were escorted to our table, labelled with a "Ms. Fiona" placard. You can imagine our surprise when the table 10 feet from ours had a similar sign, except it said "Nelly". We were next to Nelly's table! With anticipation building, we hit the dance floor but kept a wary eye on the area, in case he arrived at any moment. Finally at 1:30am, he was there! We saw a commotion and ran over and there he was rolling in with his entourage. After a brief appearance he was whisked away for a small performance where is did about 4 songs on stage. As we watched from the VIP, Lisa and I started plotting - we needed to get an 'in' with one of Nelly's crew. A few of them had hung back with the table and we approached one of the guys and started chatting, telling him we were from the States, etc., and asking him what he thought of Dubai. It looks like we made the right impression, because when Nelly returned to his table and security surrounded his table, the entire crowd converged on Nelly trying to get a glimpse, and as security was pushing everyone back, Lisa and I waved to our new friend on the 'inside' and he said to the security, "those two are with me let them in". AHHHHHH! We were IN. There we were chilling at Nelly's table with him and 10 friends! Of course we wanted to say hi and get a picture, but we were trying to play it cool and not freak him out so we just causally sipped our drinks and danced while he was like 1ft away, waiting for our chance to strike! As we stood there thinking 'we are partying with Nelly!' our friend Fiona must have just slipped through security because she bounced up and said "hey guys! how did you get in here, this is awe..........sooommmmmmmmmmmmmeeee". Fiona's last word was interrupted when, whoosh, a huge guard grabbed her by the waist and chucked her on the other side of security. Fiona! I turned towards Lisa and said "what do we do!?" and she said in all seriousness "Katie, there is nothing we can do for her now." Hahaha. Fiona was fine and like a trooper yelled to us to "go on without her!"
Behind the 'velvet rope', the guy in the black hat was our "new Nelly friend"
This is how close we were,
And this is when security lost control...
Well, it appears that Fiona wasn't the only one that didn't have trouble getting behind security because before we knew it, they completely lost control of the perimeter and people just crushed in from all angles. The body guards were overwhelmed, and Nelly's friend yelled to us, that he was sorry but that there were pulling Nelly because now it was a security concern. And just like that they were gone. So much for our plan to play it cool - look where that got us, a great story, but no pictures with Nelly! Next time we will be sure to not so highly prize discretion!
(The video isn't great, but if you are in the mood for a little Nelly jam, you can click below)
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Friday, March 6, 2009
Lisa was invited to this new fragrance launch as part of her role at the magazine, and was nice enough to take me as her date. It’s a good thing too, because she needed the extra estrogen in the room! When we first entered the ballroom lobby we realized that we were the only women in the room, that’s when Lisa took a peak at her invitation to find that we were invited to the launch of a men’s fragrance. Touché.
We had the chance to snack on some canapés (the samosas and the sushi get our vote!) while we were waiting for the official presentation from the brand. We became a bit confused however, because understanding the organizational chart of everyone there became difficult. This is what I picked up the ‘Baldessarini’ line is owned by ‘Proctor and Gamble’ who has chosen the ‘Selective Beauty’ distributor to bring the fragrance to Dubai and they then have their own PR and ad agencies who work specifically in the Middle East? Hey, if you know the answer let me know!
We got to preview their new ad campaign and plan for the product roll out in Dubai, which was pretty interesting. Did you know you could spend 2 years designing a cologne bottle? I surely didn’t, but their marketing team must know more that me! Afterwards we had the chance to have a lovely dinner on the terrace of the Raffles Hotel. It was a beautiful view of Dubai but there was one problem – listen closely because I probably won’t say this again for 10 months – it was cold! Our cocktail dresses weren’t providing as much warmth as we hoped but lucky for us the dinner courses kept our mind off of the temperature.
Just one thing however, the print ad campaign that is running in Europe features a ‘smoldering good looking guy’ standing in front of a rooftop pool with a few ‘babes’ sunning themselves in the background. However, the version running in the Gulf is a bit different; in the words of our French host, he clicks on the next slide to reveal the Middle East ad campaign and says “volia! and ze women are gone…” The bathing-suit clad women are conspicuously missing. But wait! The ladies can’t really be missing, because we know that only thing that truly “separates the men from the boys” – is a good woman.
Exhibit B - The poster at our event, sans Hot Babes
And just in case you want to know a little more about the "Strictly Private Man", here he is in all his glory...