Tag Archives: United Arab Emirates

Dubai Dragon Mart

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Dubai’s Dragon Mart

www.dragonmart.ae

Really big warehouse/madhouse full of really cheap stuff!  Pretty much if it’s made in China, it’s been unloaded here.  At 1.2 kilometers  in length, it is the largest hub for Chinese products outside of China.  This market is truly huge, contains over 3500 individual shops, and is generally open from 10 am till almost midnight.  You can buy wholesale or retail here, and bargaining for the best price is a must!  Here’s a picture of the dragon-shaped facility – notice that even the end of the head is marked by a “tongue”.

aerial view

aerial view

 

So, what do they sell you ask?  Everything.  Our experience there started with a perk from the bank we use here in the UAE – if you are an HSBC customer with a Platinum Advantage credit card, you will receive valet parking at no charge for as long as you shop.  This is about a AED17 perk, so drive right up to one of the orange cones beside the “valet parking full” signs that they must use to simply block the lanes.  They’re really not full.  Plus, you won’t be adding a long walk after your shopping, and this is a big deal, so take advantage of that HSBC perk!

Oh, out front is a cool fountain with a globe and a dragon wrapping itself around the globe – pretty cool for photos, and the entrance is dramatic.  If you’ll look off to the sides, there are also some small outdoor kiosks, and the prices there were better than many shops inside!

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pretty cool dragon, huh?

pretty cool dragon, huh?

Main Entrance

Main Entrance

 

First stop was a costume jewelry section – the facility is roughly separated into like shopping, all the tools in one section, all the jewelry in another, etc.  I say “roughly” because it was likely the original plan, but once a shop owner has a shop, they’re gonna sell everything they possibly can.  Little separation.  I took a couple photos of some “pageant jewelry” that I thought my friends in Alabama in the US would appreciate.  I did resist the desire to buy a monstrous tiara, though – they are truly CHEAP here!

Definitely had southern Pageant Jewelry!

Definitely had southern Pageant Jewelry!

fabulous fakes, to be sure

fabulous fakes, to be sure

shiny crystal earrings

shiny crystal earrings

chandelier earrings

chandelier earrings

 

And, unlike most of the shops in Dubai staffed by friendly Phillipina women, it’s staffed by generally unhelpful, young Asians, I assumed they were children or relatives of the shop owners, who were almost all Chinese.  Oddly, it was really really difficult to get their attention, they were all glued to their phones, texting, gaming, watching videos…… After several attempts to interrupt one video-viewing young lady in a kiosk that had some batteries that we wanted,  TBG was frustrated and asked me “How do you get their attention??”  I said “like this”

“Hello.  How much??”  Loudly.  Almost rudely.  And weird, because it’s not my style.  But, it got her attention and she grudgingly put down the phone, removed one earplug and looked at us.  Didn’t stand up because that would have been WAAAAY too much trouble, you see.  And as soon as we asked for something, she shook her head “no” and went back to her phone.  So, we didn’t know if they actually *had* the battery we wanted, or if she simply didn’t want to be interrupted.

Oh, this sign made me smile……

A sign from one of the merchants at Dragon Mart......  the "Goats Grinding Wheel" just made me smile.

A sign from one of the merchants at Dragon Mart…… the “Goats Grinding Wheel” just made me smile.

I did pick up some wickedly-kitschy artificial floral stems that will make an excellent corner accent when I finally get around to making that happen.  Also got a small speaker for my ipad for when I want to watch movies or TV shows, and some forms to put inside pillow covers.  And a Dyson-look-alike fan for something outrageously cheap, like $40 US – crazy.  I did not buy any of the “Prada” bags or the “Jimmy Choo” shoes – I thought that $60 US was just waaaaay too much for a genuine “Prada” bag…. <snort>

Oh, and a couple of really huge silk jungle plants, I forget the names of them – they’re tropical, but stupid expensive in the States, I’d shopped for them before.  I tend to murder indoor plants, so silk is the way for this gal to shine.  I snagged both these beautys for only AED350, IIRC…. That’s about… um….. Just under $130 for them BOTH.  Shoot, I’d found the cost in the States to be more than that for just ONE.

a smidge dusty, but the price was REALLY good!

a smidge dusty, but the price was REALLY good!

nice plants, huh?

nice plants, huh?  And yes, those are TBG’s bigass boots I forgot to crop outta the photo.

 

There’s also all sorts of food-ish choices in the middle of every section – popcorn, corn (!), gelato, tons of fresh fruit cut-up.  Resist them, go upstairs to “Charley’s” and get a toasted sub.  Yum.  http://www.charleysme.com/

The escalators were oddly-decorated but interesting, and there were some Chinese entry-points that were fun.

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All in all, a great shopping place for things where quality isn’t critical or you’re looking for nothing in particular.  Or if you’ve got an entire afternoon to just wander around and look at stuff.  It’s sort of a Chinese Wal-Mart, but pleasantly confusing.

The Burj Al Arab (Tower of Arabs) – Video inside

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My friend Koral and I decided we wanted to go to the Burj Al Arab for High Tea.  You know, that big sail-shaped incredible looking building sitting on its very own *island* off the coast of Dubai?  The only 7-star resort in the WORLD??

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Yup, that’s the one.  Now, being a 7-star resort and all, they are not gonna let any ole riff-raff in off the street.  No siree bob.  Shoot, this is a resort that has a fleet of TEN white Rolls Royce Phantoms as their airport transfer cars!  As you approach the causeway to gain access to the resort, you have to have a reservation of some kind, and have your name on the “list” at the guard gate.  Otherwise, you’ll be directed to complete the “drive of shame” – turning around and leaving…… in the direction that’s NOT towards the Burj Al Arab. L  But us?  We had reservations, and our name was on the list, so we were waved on.  Here’s what it looked like as we approached…. And yes, I wish I’d taken our reservation paper off the dash, too, it would have made for *much* nicer photos…..

*sigh*.... isn't it just beautiful??

*sigh*…. isn’t it just beautiful??

This is the short causeway across the water to the island that the Burj Al Arab is situated.  There's also a walkway to the right.

This is the short causeway across the water to the island that the Burj Al Arab is situated. There’s also a walkway to the right.

Looks like Koral was zooming along, doesn't it?

Looks like Koral was zooming along, doesn’t it?

You can see the sides of the man-made island here.

You can see the sides of the man-made island here.

Are ya getting an idea of exactly how BIG this thing is??

Are ya getting an idea of exactly how BIG this thing is??

This is the view from *almost* underneath this structure.

This is the view from *almost* underneath this structure.

Before I forget, the website of the architectural firm and designer (Tom Wills-Wright of WS Atkins)that designed this building has some awesome information on it – take a peek if you’re just geeky enough to be curious about whether it’s built on sand or bedrock, and why it was designed to look like a sail, and why it was placed on an island, instead of built on the beach…..and exactly what that “sail” is constructed from and how it stays so clean.    Now the designer also has a personal site which has got some crazy-cool stuff on it as well… don’t miss it!

Oh, and lookie here…. You know TBG is a helicopter pilot right?  GUESS WHAT was on the helipad running as we drove up?  YUP!  A helicopter!  You can *just* see the tip of one of the rotor blades on the helipad hanging off the side of the structure.  We were convinced it would take off as we approached and since Koral’s hubby is a pilot too, we’d have the MOST meaningful photos ever.  So we sorta hung back and drove slowly, and waited and waited….. and it shut down.  *sigh*  Oh well,  we heard it as it ended up taking off while we were inside the hotel lobby.  Made me smile.

See the edge of the helicopter's rotor blade??

See the edge of the helicopter’s rotor blade??

When we drove up, the number of extraordinarily exotic autos was pretty surprising, you’d expect them to all be parked as soon as they arrive – the entrance area is actually quite small for the Burj Al Arab.  You drive up, the valets open your doors, you get out and they drive off.  There are staff members to direct you to wherever you need to go, and will answer any questions you may have.  It’s quite busy, but didn’t seem frantic.  Oh, and there’s a colorful camel just to the side of the entrance which made me smile.  The walls are of glass, and the outdoor columns are pretty cool looking.

Now, something tells me that these are "fire" columns.

Now, something tells me that these are “fire” columns.

The nation's rulers

The nation’s rulers

these portraits flanked the entrance

these portraits flanked the entrance

Ya think it's just coincidence that this hotel looks like a big ole wave?

Ya think it’s just coincidence that this hotel looks like a big ole wave?

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All shiny steel and glass outside.

All shiny steel and glass outside.

cars waiting for their drivers

cars waiting for their drivers

Much closer view of the cute camel tucked back off to the side of the resort.

Much closer view of the cute camel tucked back off to the side of the resort.

This walkway also hosts golf carts.

This walkway also hosts golf carts.

Lovely fountain in the center of the round-a-bout

Lovely fountain in the center of the round-a-bout

looking back towards the beach from the resort

looking back towards the beach from the resort

a much better photo of the sides and edges of this island.

a much better photo of the sides and edges of this island.

As we entered the lobby through a revolving door, we were greeted by staff members in the most lovely uniforms I’ve ever seen.  Jewel-toned and opulent looking – the costumes truly matched their environment.  They were both warm and welcoming to us, and encouraged us to enjoy their lobby and public areas.  Understand, there truly is VERY LITTLE “public area” in the Burj Al Arab –  the lobby is quite sizeable, and there are beautiful water features with “water snakes” very much like Disney has at Epcot – and there are matching aquariums on either side of the water feature and escalators.  But it’s not huge by any means.  Restaurant entrances are to the left and right, and we were directed to the escalators, across the upper level, and to the elevators for a ride down to the Ground Mezzanine level.   OK….. here are some photos…..

all shiny and bright....

all shiny and bright….

see that red leather sofa?  Wait till you see a bigger photo of the curve it has....

see that red leather sofa? Wait till you see a bigger photo of the curve it has….

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this is the ceiling over the main area of the lobby.  Just stunning.

this is the ceiling over the main area of the lobby. Just stunning.

Rooms start just above the mezzanine level... there's a coffee shop/cafe there.

Rooms start just above the mezzanine level… there’s a coffee shop/cafe there.

OK, so we’re still looking around, and starting to look up…. holy cow!

looking up through the atrium

looking up through the atrium

aren't the colors divine?

aren’t the colors divine?

a little closer

a little closer

wow - that's the very top!

wow – that’s the very top!

 

Now, our reservation was for the Asian Afternoon Tea, AED285 per person.  It is served in the Junsui Asian Restaurant,  one of the 9 restaurants in this resort.  It was actually so very cool that I’m gonna write about it separately.  Also, there’s a ton of food porn photos that will go along with it.  <smile>

We took the escalators up to the next floor, past the aquariums on either side, and looking down on the lobby area, it’s pretty interesting looking seeing the carpet and big curvy sofa from this angle….. oh, and here’s what some of the gorgeous insets on the floor down there looked like…..

Some close-up detail of the flooring just inside the doors.... of *course* it's gold, silly!

Some close-up detail of the flooring just inside the doors…. of *course* it’s gold, silly!

As we stepped off the elevator, the “public areas” were clearly indicated by “no photography” signs towards the open café looking over the lobby from the mezzanine level.  That’s cool – but it was a beautiful looking little café, and I’d like to return to try it.

one of the restaurants

one of the restaurants

Tons more photos of the mezzanine level…..

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The lights at the base of these massive support columns change color!

The lights at the base of these massive support columns change color!

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After the escalator ride, there is a quirky little water feature in the center of the walkway, filled with various pieces of glass that looks like sea-glass. But look at what you’re walking on to get there!  Awesome tile work.

Simply stunning tilework here, isn't it?

Simply stunning tilework here, isn’t it?

my favorite water feature - on the mezzanine level.  It reminds me of the "water snakes" I see in EPCOT at Walt Disney World.

my favorite water feature – on the mezzanine level. It reminds me of the “water snakes” I see in EPCOT at Walt Disney World.

My favorite water feature there.... did you go to the designer's website and read about it?

My favorite water feature there…. did you go to the designer’s website and read about it?

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The colors are exactly like the ones in the atrium!

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and look! There’s the water tubes!

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Between the lights and the water, I was mesmerized

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Just too pretty to stop taking photos, right??

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Tiny little loose pieces of glass

 

The colors and placement exactly mimic the coloring of the atrium area when you look upwards…. Now this thing was designed to shoot water up 50 meters!  I read about it on the designer’s website.  Really cool and entertaining….I think I have a video of it!

Now, if I remember correctly, I saw a TV special about the design and building of this tallest hotel in the world – the atrium inside – the room walls, not the sail part – was originally white, stark white.  And when HH visited, he asked for more color.  Or I could be making that part up, but it seems like I remember it…….

We crossed past the water feature, and passed by some very luxurious-looking shops to where the bank of elevators is located.  All mirrored and shiny, this was beautiful.

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Transition area from the mezzanine to the elevators and shopping.

Transition area from the mezzanine to the elevators and shopping.

Well *certainly* there's a Rodeo Drive here.... sheesh!

Well *certainly* there’s a Rodeo Drive here…. sheesh!

 

At the far end, there was a woman behind a desk in a cordoned-off area.  I asked her what that area was, and she said “private elevators”.

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Snuck a peek out of the window in the "private elevator" area.

Snuck a peek out of the window in the “private elevator” area.

Lovely glass sculpture/laser rendition of the hotel was enclosed in glass….. I tried to capture it in photos, but it was tough.  Pretty interesting looking though.

Side view of the crystal replica

Side view of the crystal replica

Swavroski crystal Burj al Arab.  Mercy!

Swarovski crystal Burj al Arab. Mercy!

Donated by Mr. Swarvoski.  Frankly, I didn't actually KNOW there was a Mr. Swavroski.

Donated by Mr. Swarovski. Frankly, I didn’t actually KNOW there was a Mr. Swarovski.

OK, our elevator’s here, and Koral and I are headed to the Junsui restaurant for our Asian tea!

Just so you know, a one night advance booking for a one-bedroom suite here (least expensive room) will set you back a cool $1951 USD  non-refundable and payable in full at the time of booking.  But included in that price is the following

“• Personalized butler service. • Sumptuous breakfast buffet for two in the privacy of your suite, Junsui or Bab Al Yam Restaurants. • Full range of Hermes luxury amenities for her and him. • One complimentary bottle of red wine or Bateel juice on arrival. • Complimentary in-suite tea and coffee facilities. • Fresh fruits, Arabic desserts and dates. • Complimentary internet access (Wi-Fi). • Unlimited access to Wild Wadi Water Park”

For me?  Not likely that I’ll ever spend a night here, but my experience there was certainly fun, entertaining, and a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Hope you have enjoyed seeing it as I did!

Truly Grand

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The Grand Mosque, that is.  Its official name is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  We were invited to a reception recently in the nearby UAE capital city of Abu Dhabi, and that’s where the Grand Mosque is located.  It’d been on my “must do” list since I read about it, and this was an excellent opportunity to visit.

Muslim mosques are not generally open to the public, there are only two in the area available to visitors, this one and the Grand Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai.  Tours are at no cost, but only available at certain times and days, I was thrilled that this time would work out for us to visit.

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I was definitely impressed as I approached this mosque.

TBG as we approached the Mosque.  I think even *he* was a bit impressed!

TBG as we approached the Mosque. I think even *he* was a bit impressed!

Upon entering, there are signs describing appropriate clothing.  There are people that will let you know if your attire is not appropriate, and will either direct you to the exit or to borrow appropriate clothing.

This sign was outside the main entrance - pretty clear depictions of what is and is not considered appropriate.

This sign was outside the main entrance – pretty clear depictions of what is and is not considered appropriate.

My clothing was modest and passed the inspection, and my pashmina shawl was perfectly acceptable as a shayla (headscarf), but I feared with the wind that it would blow it away, and that would have been disrespectful, so I opted for a loaner abaya (traditional black robe) which provided the appropriate coverage without worry of the wind rearranging it.

We noticed a man in a white kandura close to the entrance and there was a large group of people forming around him.  I assumed that he was one of the tour guides, and he was – you just find a group and join in.  He started telling us about the outer areas of the Grand Mosque, the walkways, the spires and minarets and domes,  the columns, floors, it’s all pretty elaborate.  And the floors of the exterior area are made of white marble which helps keep them cool in the summer’s scorching heat.

It was not until a month or so later that I discovered that the gent who was our guide was actually a local celebrity, Ali Al Saloom, aka “Ask Ali”.  This gent provides a local outlook on Arabic heritage, culture, customs and the history of the United Arab Emirates.  He’s not only informative, but manages to pass on a ton of information in a short period of time, and intersperses the delivery with humor.  A winning combination!  He also writes a regular feature column in the local newspaper, The National.  We were very fortunate to land in his tour group.

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The columns are inlaid with semi-precious stones, and they are so well-made that you can barely feel seams where the materials join together.   And there are over a thousand of them!

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Inside the minarets, there are scriptures inscribed from the Holy Quran, each in a different calligraphy style. Some styles are so very elaborate that they’re an art form on their own, and extremely difficult to read.

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The floors in the courtyard area are all inlaid white marble.  White because it reflects the sun and stays cooler to walk (or kneel) on.  But look at the elaborate inset bits that are formed into amazing flowers!  And look at the sheer SIZE of the courtyard area!  It houses worshippers in the event that the prayer room or reception room is full….

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Then, just before you go through these arched doorways with their beautiful glass-work, you’ll remove your shoes, and place them in the shelves provided.  Everyone that enters the mosque must remove their shoes.

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Inside, there’s a large reception area, with one of the most lovely chandeliers I’ve ever seen.  They’re actually gilded in 24 karat gold!

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The entire room was bright and felt welcoming.  The vining flowers on the walls are a work in relief, and they’re pretty amazing.  Everywhere I went, I was so impressed by the amount of work and planning (10 years!) that went into this facility, and couldn’t stop touching the work that had been done.  The hall off to the right side was generally used for the women’s prayers.  They separate men and women here during prayer times because the Holy Quran bids worshippers to pray “shoulder to shoulder and feet to feet” – this connection confirms their solidarity as well as causes them to focus more on their prayers.  If women and men prayed together, it would be seen as a distraction.  This information came from our guide.  Interesting.

A short walk further and we were in the main worship room of this mosque, and please understand when I say that it was truly *magnificent* – that is such a small word to describe this space!  Ornate beyond belief, quiet, with a feeling of reverence enveloping us as soon as we all walked, barefoot, inside.  And the only photo I snapped of TBG and I inside…. sorry it’s so blurry!

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There is the most amazing carpet in the main prayer room – it is the largest single hand-knotted carpet in the world.  Look at how vivid the colors are!

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It took a group of over 1300 Iranian craftspersons to make it, and it was brought in pieces to the mosque and re-assembled.   This wool and cotton carpet has lines shaved into it, you can see them here….

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The purpose of these lines is to help  “line up” up the worshippers.  You see, this mosque can accommodate over 40,000 worshippers at once, and having them line up provides the highest number to be inside at once.

The ceilings, the chandeliers, they’re all so incredible – photos simply don’t do them justice once you’ve actually seen them in person.  The colors, the shimmer, the amazing effort put into the design and construction was simply breathtaking.  Here are some additional photos of the inside of the mosque……

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Our visit managed to overlap both late afternoon and early evening lighting here – it was a truly spectacular view.

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As we left, there was another, less-obvious entrance we passed.  And, as we approached a police car came out, followed by a large SUV with dark windows, and four dark sedans following it at a high rate of speed….. and the SUV had no number on its plate, simply a crown!

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We are assuming that we saw a royal motorcade.  Pretty cool cap to our amazing visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Never did I Imagine

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That I would be living here.  Seeing these sights, living this life.

Never did I imagine that I would entertain myself on longish drives by watching for camels in the desert off the side of the road.  Or that I would be fortunate enough to have a massage therapist actually come to my villa and give me a massage.  Or that I would be shopping for bacon in the back walled-off section of a grocery store, feeling slightly unsettled, or somehow tarnished.  Or that I would learn haggling over prices so quickly, refusing to pay first or second asking price for just about anything.

This is a photo showing an abra crossing Dubai...

This is a photo showing an abra crossing Dubai Creek in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on 31 May 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes it hits me that this really *is* unimaginable.  Like the other day, a friend and I were sitting on this incredibly crowded rickety-looking wooden boat thing called an abra.  I was sitting in the back, next to the old rope and decrepit-looking wooden paddle/rudder thing for steering.  It was piloted by a man that didn’t speak any language I could identify, who simply hissed at us to pay the Dirham fee.  This abra had no rails, no ropes, no walls, no hand holds, nothing, just a big platform upon which to sit and smush together.

We were crossing over the Dubai Creek to a souk (market) on the other side….. I looked over at my friend and said “Do you realize that we are in a foreign country, riding an over-loaded boat that OSHA would go freekin carnival-ape-crazy over, to an open-air souk with no controls over what’s sold or how, and we’re not paying any sales taxes??  Did you ever imagine you’d be doing something like this???”  She smiled and said “And the ride’s costing us a whopping 27¢ too!”  Crazy.

Some of the things that we’ve done here, the experiences we’ve had, the stories we’ve heard, they’re like nothing I ever imagined would happen to me.  Please don’t read the way I come across in this blog like this whole adventure is routine for me – there ain’t *nothing* routine about Dubai or the Middle East, far as I can tell.  Not at all.

Food Review – Ruth’s Chris – excellent red meat!

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TBG and I had the opportunity (and Entertainer vouchers!) to have a meal at one of the local Ruth’s Chris restaurants here in Dubai.  The H Hotel (formerly the Monarch) is close to the Trade Center roundabout.   Reservations are definitely suggested, and they’re easy to make.  Traffic getting there is crazy, as normal.  But, always navigable.

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I’d never had the pleasure of dining at one, but had heard that they do steak quite well – we were not disappointed.  Valet-parking will allow you to simply step out of your car (and they wouldn’t park it right next to the red Ferarri parked outside the door, either, he asked.) and enter through the big glass doors manned by a rather tall gent from Kenya.  We were directed through the lobby and upstairs to the restaurant.  There were some lovely areas in the lobby, but we were *really* hungry and not terribly motivated to take photos….. but here’s a traditional seating area that was really pretty.

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Seated immediately, we snuggled into a quiet half-circle booth with upholstered walls, leather seats and pillows.  Yes, pillows.  I loved that.   And had our own crystal chandelier overhead with just the right lighting.  Our server was Patrick, who spoke excellent English and even got some of TBG’s jokes – or at least laughed at the right times.  We had a late lunch (for us) reservation of 1 pm, and the restaurant was virtually empty.  There were perhaps three other tables filled.

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Choice of sparkling or still water, and the menus and some lovely crusty bread and butter arrived.  The bread was nothing special to us, fairly flavorless, but since my stomach had started growling about 15 minutes earlier, it quieted that.  We’d browsed the menu online prior to our arrival, and TBG had decided that after a positive experience with the Macaroni Grill’s “Sampler” type dish, he’d order the same thing today.  He was sad to find it not on the menu at this location, and asked Patrick was it possibly only available for dinner service.  He got my favorite answer – “Of course sir, we will make it for you!”  *sigh*….. gotta love it.  I opted for a couple of small filet medallions with a crabcake & bearnaise on top, and spiced grilled shrimp alongside.  Asparagus and mashed potatoes rounded out our order and we were left to our conversation while our food was being prepared.

Understated elegance and quiet comfort is how I would describe the surroundings here.   TBG is not a fan of extremely fancy, pretentious restaurants, and he was sitting back and telling me about what all had happened in his workday – perfectly at home.

One annoying thing was that my stomach wouldn’t stop growling.  We could literally smell the steaks brought out sizzling in butter as they were delivered, and it was making us hungry!!

Food arrived, and look at this.  Lovely, but austere presentation on VERY hot plates…. And the focus was on the meat, as it should be.

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Both meats were  grilled to perfection, the crabcake was likely one of the best I’ve ever eaten, and TBG was enamored of the chicken stuffed with cheeses – we were both very happy.  The side dishes were good – tasty, but not the stars of this meal. Fresh asparagus, stalks trimmed and steamed just right with a cheesy hollandaise sauce on the side.  The stars were the steaks – fork-tender and prepared just right.   The rich béarnaise sauce was a lovely complement to the filets, which can tend towards dryness.  Not these.

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All in all, our meal was one that we literally ate until we were full.  Stuffed.  And happy.  Thanks for an excellent lunch, Ruth’s Chris – we’ll be back, and next time, we’ll try dessert first, and if we have room, we’ll eat meat too!  Our lunch was not inexpensive, including all the add-ons we selected, it was right around AED700 before the discount offered by the Entertainer voucher – about $190 USD, and after the voucher, AED485 – about $130 USD.  Well worth it, and we’ll return!  Sadly, our return to the valet pickup area did not provide TBG with the vehicle he was hoping for…..lol……

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