72 Hours in The Middle East: Ristorante

Now that I’m back in the thick of things – laundry, working, days where potato chips are my main source of fuel – I almost forget that I had a mystical 72 hours where I ate caviar, drank champagne, and cuddled with (okay, stalked) Kylie Minogue.

But I owe you another few reviews, mainly about the ultra opulent Armani Hotel, housed in the Burj al Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

I can’t go into all of the specifics until my article is published, but I think that it’s safe to talk about the world class Italian meal that I ate at Ristorante.

20150201_161305 The restaurant itself is exquisite. White and gold and domed and high ceilinged. It’s definitely Italy by way of Dubai. Bring on that bling bling. 
20150201_161724 Start with a crunchy, buttery breadstick on a golden plate. Golden forks, too, of course.  20150201_161735 The champagne list is vast, but why not go with the rose Veuve Cliquot? It’s a little sweet, light, and has a full, round flavor. Champers pairs with everything, after all.  20150201_162819 Your server won’t be turned off if you choose one of every bread.
20150201_162841 The Parmesan bread is good but the artichoke bread is unmissable. Soft and warm with meaty artichoke hearts. Ideal with a ramekin of spicy Italian olive oil.

IMG_2162 Parmesan truffle custard

Cold and refreshing, which isn’t often a word that I associate with truffles. It’s a thick, dense custard covered in a layer of lighter-than-air foam. 20150201_163313 An ideal way to whet the appetite.
IMG_2166 Soft boiled egg with truffles, potatoes, and croutons

They do everything over the top here.

I can get into it. 
20150201_164951 Soft, rich egg. Crunchy, buttery croutons. Salty potato chips and a flurry of dark truffles…this is just decadent. And delicious. Well planned and executed.

IMG_2165 Salmon tartare with caviar, capers, and shrimp

The tiniest, sweetest little shrimp on mild, delicately sliced salmon. Quenells of salty caviar, whisper thin beet shavings, and a bright, herby vinaigrette. The combination of seafood is really delicate and surprisingly subtle – not over the top at all.

Unlike the next course.

IMG_2168 Parmesan lemon  risotto with langoustines and caviar

Not since London have I had such sublime langoustines. Tender and velvety with a positively sweet taste. They almost melt in the mouth. The risotto is al dente but soft, thick but not dense, with layers of creamy, salty, and bright lemon and Parmesan flavors. The caviar on top is really over the top, but I’m not one to refuse it. This is a MUST get.

IMG_2169 Chicken and foie gras pasta pockets with truffles

You would think that I would be getting truffle overload by now, but you would be wrong.  Truffles beget truffles, that’s my takeaway. This is a standout – soft, tender pasta with a meaty, deep, light but round flavor. In a meaty, rich demiglace that is enhanced by the headiness of the truffles.

IMG_2174 Scallops with truffles

Wonderful. Where the hell do they get scallops in such warm environs? These are huge and soft, with a buttery flavor and a lovely, crispy sear. More truffles, natch.

IMG_2180 Sugar dome with meringue, passionfruit, and cream inside

20150201_180932 Pretty much what angels eat for dessert. Don’t skip that passion fruit on the bottom – it’s bright and adds another aspect to the sweet dish. 

Il Ristorante is…over the top. The food is truffles, caviar, champagne,and more. The restaurant is like a Faberge egg. It’s ornate, plush, and has a view of dancing fountains that make the Bellagio fountains look liek a wishing well at your local strip mall. The service, while not quite up to Asian standards, is enthusiastic and warm – one more artichoke roll isn’t enough, try the whole wheat, too! And though the price is WAY up there, it’s a world class meal that rivals the best that I have had in Italy or France. 

It’s an unforgettable, truffle-licious experience. Bring your A-game.

Disclaimer: This meal was part of a press package. I was not required to write about my experiences and my opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Boucherie – Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding and So Much More

It happened…Boucherie, that is.

The meal that I had been waiting for for months. I had heard nothing but outstanding things about this NOLA area restaurant.

Did it deliver?

Wait and see…

20150314_210845 The service is excellent – friendly and knowledgeable. The pace here is relaxed, but it’s that way all over the South. Get used to long, lazy dinners and “relaxed” seatings for reservation times.
20150314_210852 The restaurant is dark and relaxed but still upscale-homey-chic. Like your Southern grandma started a restaurant in Santa Monica. 
20150314_211655 Smoked drum amuse bouche

Whitefish salad with a southern name. Smokey, creamy, whitefish salad on tiny toasts. I loved it, but if you aren’t into fish, this might be too strong for you. 
20150314_215644 Shrimp and grits cake

Fabulous. The shrimp is sweet and very mild, coated in a spicy, peppery, garlicky glaze. The grit cake is like fried polenta – a thin disc, but still creamy inside and wonderfully crispy without.  20150314_215725 Boudin balls

EXCELLENT. Not as creamy as I prefer, but with a very complex, porky, sweet and savory falvor that surpasses other boudin balls I have enjoyed. Similar to chicken croquettes, but with more texture and that fabulous pork. 20150314_225932 Baby back ribs with pimento cheese toast

Standout of the night. These are not wet, sweet ribs. These are dry rub ribs, with a sugary, sticky crust that conceals juicy, tender meat. It has a deep, pleasantly charred taste and a wonderful soft but not mushy texture. The meat really tastes of meat, not of sauce or spices. And the pimento cheese toast…well, that’s just a cheesy, spicy, gooey, garlicky slice of heaven. Much enjoyed. These are unmissable.
20150314_225954 Pan fried drum with artichoke and crab

The fish is good – light, flaky, crispy yet moist – but that artichoke and crab relish is where it’s AT. Room temperature and almost disarmingly sweet, this is the stuff that makes me think that artichokes are the unsung hero of the veggie world. reminiscent of artichoke-spinach dip but with the addition of sweet crab and some fresh herbs. This isn’t too salty or at all fishy. It’s sublime with a piece of toast or bread. Or, ya know, your mouth.  20150314_231716 Krispy Kreme bread pudding

Say it with me, y’all. Krispy. Kreme. Bread. Pudding. FULL STOP.

Pound cake. Doughnuts. Homemade vanilla ice cream. The crispest, moistest, most fragrant bread pudding ever.

GET THIS. GET 2 ORDERS OF THIS.

Boucherie isn’t conveniently located, but if you are looking for a special occasion dinner, they do a great job with large parties. The food is VERY reasonably priced, the atmosphere is lovely, and the food is delish. don’t be in a hurry, don’t skip dessert, and don’t be kosher, and you will do well here.

Till we meet again, NOLA!

Brunch in NOLA: Cafe Amelie

If you are looking for bunch in The French Quarter, you could do worse than Cafe Amelie.

This sweet little cafe, with ample outdoor seating and a spacious dining room, offers elegant Creole-inspired food at excellent prices. Plus they take both reservations AND walk-ins – great for whatever you need.

Just be sure to wait in line early if you want to be seated at 11 am when the doors open.

20150314_121734 Bread and butter

True to its French roots, New Orleans offers only exceptional bread in its restaurants. The carbs here are unbeatable. And the butter is pretty damned good, too.  20150314_123453 Egg sandwich

My girlfriend ate this so quickly that I didn’t even have time to steal a bite. Of course, I repaid her by snarfing down my entre just as quickly.  20150314_123510 Sunny side up eggs with cochon de lait and spicy gravy over a chive biscuit

Beautifully fried egg atop a dense, buttery biscuit that soaks up all of the spicy, smoky, porky gravy. That cochon is soft and juicy, with a slightly earthy, almost gamey taste. It goes will with the rich egg and that buttery biscuit. The portion is huge, but clearly…
20150314_124639 I had no problem cleaning my plate.

What a find! Cafe Amelie is very fairly priced, the Bloody Marys are strong and spicy, and the food (while rich) is totally New Orleans. It’s a wonderful place for brunch with a group and it couldn’t be better located – right near Bourbon and Royal streets yet secluded and charming. If you’re in a rush, there is even a casual offshoot at the corner that looks like a great spot to grab a very quick bite.

Just don’t miss that insane cochon de lait…it puts roast pork to shame.

Tomorrow: Dinner at Boucherie.

Muffaletta at Central Grocery, New Orleans

On my first trip to The Big Easy, I ate quite well.

But I left without trying something that I have always dreamed of eating.

No, not some ultra expensive caviar or deluxe champagne.

An original muffaletta from Central Grocery.

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Legend has it that Salvatore Lupo, the store’s original owner, invented this sandwich in 1906 for the dock workers and produce grocers of the city. The Sicilian immigrant layered cold cuts, cheese, and a spicy relish onto freshly baked loaves of round bread and served them to hungry customers.

The rest is history.

20150313_160349 This tiny grocery store is packed full of Italian and European imports. Cheeses, meats, olives. Preserved fruits, breads, olive oils, and vinegars.  20150313_160358 The real pull here, though, is that mufaletta. Just line up, wait your turn, and order a half  ( each quarter of the sandwich is HUGE).

20150313_160902 This is a great example of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” What appears to be an ordinary sandwich is, in fact, quite extraordinary.

It’s the best damn cold cut sandwich I ever had in my life.
20150313_160845 Garlicky salami, ham so sweet and thin that it might as well be prosciutto, and creamy, tangy provolone. Bread that is thick but not dense, substantial, but not cottony. And that relish. THAT RELISH. Garlic, olives, capers, peppers, vinegar, and love? That’s all I can guess that’s in there. Both my sister (olive-hater) and I (olive-lover) were crazy about this relish. If we had done stow-away luggage, we would have brought some home! Here, the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts. I don’t like ham – never have, never will. When it comes to sandwiches, I ALWAYS need more veggies than meat. And I have always thought that this sandwich looked a little too dry for my tastes – where’s the mayo or mustard?

This. is. perfect. I had no fewer than 2 of these in 36 short hours.

And I brought one on the plane.

Sure beat that packet of peanuts.

Don’t miss this sandwich – stand and eat it at the counter or bring it home for a midnight snack.

Next up: A real Southern brunch, y’all.

On Flying Days, We Eat Fried Food

I just finished a whirlwind trip to New Orleans for my girlfriend’s bachelorette trip, and there was everything you might expect.

There were fluorescent drinks.

There were ghost tours.

There were 4 hour naps which resulted in 3 AM bedtimes.

But, first, there were flights. 

And for me, flying means fried food for breakfast at my layover. 


20150315_103941 If you are in Charlotte International Airport, head to Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar. It serves breakfast and burgers from morning through evening, the service is sweet and efficient, and the food is good. 

And by good, I mean fried.  20150315_104013 (1) Sure, the pimento cheese is just Velveeta with some hot sauce and red peppers mixed in, but the potato chips are fresh, not too salted, and wonderfully crispy.  20150315_103945 The chili isn’t fried, but it is blanketed in a thick layer of tangy cheddar cheese. It’s filled with beans and spicy ground beef that would be perfect hot dog chili. This is just what you need after waking up at 4 am for your first flight. 

20150313_150037 Cheddar Jalapeno Poppers

Johnny White’s Pub and Grill is in no way a destination restaurant, but you could do a lot worse for a bar on Bourbon Street. During the daytime, at least, it’s clean and breezy with a large menu, great prices, and competent (if surly) service. The gumbo is savory and smoky and the jalapeno poppers are GOOD. Molten cheddar cheese inside a tender jalapeno pepper encased in a thick, crunchy breading. The ranch dressing that comes alongside is homemade and it is downright addictive – more like blue cheese than standard ranch dressing. And be warned – these are real N’awlins poppers. They are SPICY.

Next up: The world famous Central Grocery Mufaletta!

72 Hours in the Middle East: What I Learned

This trip was a TRIP to say the least (see what I did there?). To do something like this, you have to be either a sheik or a major mileage traveler – chances are that I will never be either one. However, I do have a few takeaways from my marathon, whirlwind trip that I thought I would share here:

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1. On a long flight, the seat is king.

The best flight of my life was the one with the best food, not the best seat. And yet, I can comfortably say that I would not have wanted to take that flight for the longest, 14 hour long haul portion of my trip. For that, I wanted the biggest, widest, plushest seat available. It doesn’t matter if the airplane has a crappy entertainment system or you have to sit near the toilets or they only feed you peanuts for 12 hours. You want the BEST, FLATTEST, CUSHIEST seat that you can afford.

20150202_135841

2. Take a little helper

A sleep aid is essential to sleeping well and thoroughly on your flight. I suffered next to no jet lag when I returned home, and I’m convinced that it was due to some moderate use of a simple over the counter sleep aid. I had never before taken anything on a flight because I was so scared of having a terrible “hangover” when I landed. I was careful to hydrate a ton, eat enough to absorb the medicine, and not mix it with booze (though it seems like I drank nonstop, I really only indulged on flights where I didn’t take anything.). I’m now a convert!

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3. Red eyes are not the devil in first or business class

Combine tips 1 and 2 and you may well just arrive well rested enough to grab breakfast and a quick shopping jaunt at your destination before you crash for a nap. I have never arrived so well rested as I did after that first overnight flight to London. If you can get a relatively cheap flight in business class just because it’s the red eye – OMG DO IT!

20150201_045655

4. Certain airlines are worth the layover

I have always been a “straight through is best” kind of gal. Get me there and home with as few complications as possible and all that jazz. And I still feel that way about traveling with kids or nervous travelers (hi mom and husband). BUT…if you, like me, rather enjoy a glass of 2005 Sauternes and seeing an airport where they sell Tang by the bushel, a slightly more complex routing can be a delight. I loved the new business class seats that we had by taking a slightly less convenient flight to London. The chance to sleep one night in the Qatar airport was, unexpectedly, totally delightful. And I would fly loops just to use that incredible Etihad suite again. One small layover for an incredible airline is something that I would absolutely do again.

20150202_043411

5. Make your credit cards work for you.

I am not a finance nor a miles blogger. I’m just saying…if you are interested in building up miles to fly on some of these incredible airlines, take a look at one or two of these blogs to get an idea of credit cards that can help you build up miles at the same time that you are just buying groceries, staying at hotels, and paying for gas. It should go without saying that you need to be fiscally responsible – the idea of “churning” credit cards isn’t something that I could ever imagine doing. But if you spend on a credit card any way – why not make it work for you, right? I might not ever have 12 million miles, but it won’t be for lack of having a credit card that works my spending for me!

Like I said, this trip was once in a lifetime for me. I would love to fly any of these airlines again, but I don’t know when or if that will ever happen.

Thank you so much to my dad for making this happen. You have always made my dreams come true and I couldn’t ask for a more enthusiastic, generous, and fun flying trip buddy.  I’ll never forget this Krug-infused, lay flat seat-laden, first class extravaganza. 

Especially when I’m on my next Jet Blue flight, praying for a can of seltzer. 

72 Hours in the Middle East: Etihad Airways AUH-JFK

*This series covers a once in a lifetime trip with my dad. He is a member of an elite squad known as – no, not the Special Victim’s Unit – the Concierge Key Crew. He has flown and accrued over 12 million miles with American Airlines and, as such, he has been invited to be part of this unpublished, invite only, members’ club. You can’t buy your way in or request membership – you must fly some unpublished number of flights/miles per year in order to gain entry. He flies a certain number of qualifying miles each year to keep his outrageous perks. Every year he does a few crazy, 72 hour trips in premium cabins to  maintain his status. This time, he invited me to accompany him. This is my story.  (DUNH DUNH – SVU music).*

When you are on an airplane for 14 hours, you hope that it’s comfortable. You don’t know that it can be the best sleep of your life, fabulous entertainment, and a dining extravaganza. Not to mention more spacious than your actual NYC apartment.

20150202_062537 My own personal wardrobe and a cabin manager who insists on calling me “Miss Sarah.”
20150202_062909 Minibar that is incredibly warm, but still cool. Check out this blog for a fantastic review of the suite. 20150202_063916 More Arabic coffee and dates, along with a personal note from the captain of the aircraft. I never get tired of this Arabian hospitality.  20150202_064424 As soon as we take off, it’s LUNCHTIME!
20150202_083006 I really was pretty champagne logged by this time, but I managed to rally. The veggie chips were really tasty – fresh and crunchy, with a particularly delicious onion one that tasted like an upscale Funion!

20150202_084920 It’s just about showtime. Please note the exceptional extra virginolive oil. We are lucky to get a pat of margarine on US flights.

Ugh. This was so great.
20150202_090240 Smoked salmon amuse bouche

Light and delicate. Soft but not mushy, scattered with dill and a dollop of creme fraiche. Very appetizing. Please notice the fold and mother of pearl plates. Just like the paper plates we use at home.  20150202_092006 Savory chickpea soup with yogurt

Fabulous! Somehow, the middle east knows how to make soups that are spiced but not OVERLY pungent or spicy. This soup is a thin broth with a rich texture. It’s mostly smooth with a few chewy chickpeas in there. The yogurt provides a wonderful cooling aspect. This is so comforting and just what I wanted after a CRAZY few days.  20150202_093231 Mezze platter

I apologize for the horrible picture – I scarfed this right before I bunked down for about 4 hours. This is not as good as the Qatar mezze platter, but is still LEAGUES above any American or European airline’s food. The minced chicken is particularly noteworthy – crispy, juicy, and complex in spices.

20150202_135841 One mattress pad, a beautiful duvet, and some more champers later, I was ready to sleep. To say nothing of the fabulous doors that closed to my extremely private suite.

20150202_144301 When I woke up a few hours later to “2 and a Half Men” on the tv, I realized that Ashoton Kutcher has no talent and that I was RAVENOUS.  20150202_155012 Steak sandwich with turkey bacon, melted cheese, onion compote, arugula, and oven baked fries.
20150202_155034  Was I starving? Were my tastebuds compromised by exhaustion and altitude? Was I still groggy from the champagne fest of the last 3 days? Or was this just plain old the best steak sandwich I have ever eaten? I remember that he bread was crispy but not hard. The steak was incredibly tender but with a rich, meaty, minerally taste. The bacon was crispy and not too thick, the onions were sweet, and the mayo/mustard spread was tangy against the melted cheese. The fries are a little undersalted and not quite crispy enough, but they were made on a PLANE. Come ON. This is, IMHO, the finest steak sandwich in the sky, Qantas included. I would get another one right now.  20150202_162643 Baklava

I’m  a sucker for this stuff. 
20150202_185256 Cheese plate

Tete de moine, gorgonzola, and a surprisingly rich and creamy brie. I just couldn’t stop eating on this flight!
20150202_193937 Smoked salmon sandwich

Dad gave it a thumbs up. I was too busy eating my cheese plate. 
20150202_213601 My last view of Arabic water.

All too soon (I KNOW…I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT I JUST SAID THAT, EITHER!), we started our initial descent and landed at JFK. This Etihad Airways flight was exceptional. The food was excellent, the entertainment was endless, and the seats were extraordinary. The food, drinks, and amenity kits were not quite as over the top as Qatar’s, which is why this did not make the grade as the best flight of my life. But the seat was the BEST airline seat I have ever enjoyed. It was incredibly private, comfortable, and spacious. The doors closing really made it feel like I was flying on a private plane. When we landed, the magic didn’t end – 0ur complimentary chauffeur whisked us back home. Then, of course, I came home to laundry, a broken shower, and credit card bills. That’s when the magic ended. 

And with that, it was done. My incredible, magical, amazing flying trip was done. 12,000 miles in 3 days. 

Coming up…my thoughts and tips for long haul international travel.

72 Hours in The Middle East: Abu Dhabi Airport and Etihad First and Business Class Lounge

*This series covers a once in a lifetime trip with my dad. He is a member of an elite squad known as – no, not the Special Victim’s Unit – the Concierge Key Crew. He has flown and accrued over 12 million miles with American Airlines and, as such, he has been invited to be part of this unpublished, invite only, members’ club. You can’t buy your way in or request membership – you must fly some unpublished number of flights/miles per year in order to gain entry. He flies a certain number of qualifying miles each year to keep his outrageous perks. Every year he does a few crazy, 72 hour trips in premium cabins to  maintain his status. This time, he invited me to accompany him. This is my story.  (DUNH DUNH – SVU music).*

As Miranda Hobbs said in perhaps the worst piece of cinematic schlock ever created “Abu Dhabi Du!” It was time to check out another bling-tastic airport. Though, since we were flying a different airline, the standards were not quite as incredible as what I was used to.

I became so spoiled in such a short time.

Trust me, I actually hate myself.

20150202_025757 Beautiful mosques and buildings that seem straight out of “Arabian Nights.”

20150202_031405 Please excuse the horrible photo (bumpy car ride) and pay attention to the stuffed camel that the taxi cab magazine recommends as traditional Emirati food. Move over, turducken, there’s a new girl in town.
20150202_035200 Checking in at Etihad First and Business Class. Lots of seating, lots of help – no lines. And, because this is Abu Dhabi, after all – a ton of bling. 
20150202_041143 After an extremely easy security process we visited the first and business class lounge. Okay, here is where my obnoxious comments come into play: for a flagship lounge, they didn’t seem to have it together. The place was super busy – okay, I totally get that. But to only have 2 women checking someone in is crazy. It took us 20 minutes just to gain access to the lounge. Then, when we got in, it was a ZOO. Loud, kind of disheveled, tons of people everywhere, and a spa that was booked solid because everyone except me knew to come 3 hours before their flight to get those appointments! Look, they had very nice bathrooms, a full bar, and everyone who we asked for help was lovely. But this didn’t feel like an exlusive, flagship first class lounge experience. Not compared to the other palaces I had experienced, anyway.

Like I said, I actually hate myself. But there ya go.
20150202_041453 The food was excellent, at least – the labne was as thick and sweet as whipped cream with just a slight yogurt-y tang.   20150202_042048 The last time that I will see this kind of ticket with my name on it for a looong time.  20150202_042553 I may or may not have pocketed one of those ketchups. That’s only for me and the walls to know.  20150202_042645 Like I said, the bathrooms really were beautiful.  20150202_043411 Nowhere to buy toothpaste, but stock up on those gold bars! 20150202_050105 Palm trees and my home for the next 14 hours.

I would also like to know that we pre-cleared customs in Abu Dhabi. This is the greatest thing ever and I wish that we could do it in every foreign country that we visit. Basically, you clear customs before you leave the country so when your plane lands, it does so in a domestic terminal and you skip right through the doors onwards to baggage claim or the taxi line. The WORST part of coming home from an international vacay is schlepping through the customs line, and even though you miss out on Duty Free shopping on the way home, did you really need that set of 6 interchangeable earrings or huge handle of booze? This made the next 14 hours totally relaxing. 

Next up: The final flight and the best sleep I have ever enjoyed on an airplane. 

72 Hours in the Middle East: DOH-DXB on Qatar Airways

*This series covers a once in a lifetime trip with my dad. He is a member of an elite squad known as – no, not the Special Victim’s Unit – the Concierge Key Crew. He has flown and accrued over 12 million miles with American Airlines and, as such, he has been invited to be part of this unpublished, invite only, members’ club. You can’t buy your way in or request membership – you must fly some unpublished number of flights/miles per year in order to gain entry. He flies a certain number of qualifying miles each year to keep his outrageous perks. Every year he does a few crazy, 72 hour trips in premium cabins to  maintain his status. This time, he invited me to accompany him. This is my story.  (DUNH DUNH – SVU music).*

The short 50 minute jaunt to Dubai on Qatar airways was almost as amazing as the 6 hour one. A full meal, Billecart Salmon champagne, reclining seats and gargantuan video screens…I mean, REALLY?! I have to beg for a tomato juice on a trans continental flight here in the USA.

20150201_060315 I couldn’t believe that I was in Qatar, going to Dubai…I still can’t believe it!
20150201_061954 We saw this all over our trip – most men wore sandals and they al took them off everywhere, sans socks. WE are talking the airport, the restaurants, the planes, and the lounges. Not my cup of tea, but it’s not my culture either. I can’t imagine that these people would think much of us screaming Jersey Shore references at bachelor parties, right?
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I mean, can you BELIEVE this menu for a sub 1 hour flight?! Not to mention the fabulous, full drink menu. 

Au revoir, Doha!
20150201_071446 Onward to Dubai!

20150201_072607 Lunch was all served on one tray, so of course in this case, it was all eat dessert first! This beautiful cream puff is from Laduree’s Qatar outpost…beautiful.

20150201_072611 Juicy chicken with the smoky, savory spices of the Middle East. It’s served with sumac-spiced yogurt, tangy feta cheese, and some impeccably fresh salad. I can’t tell you how delicious the food is on this airline. This was better than many salads that I have enjoyed in quick service cafes on the ground. And it was made in a tiny galley in the air. Served with CHAMPAGNE. Yeah, I’m obviously still not over it. 
20150201_074647 It’s going to be a long time before I have this view again, if ever again.
20150201_075432 Dubai comes into view!


20150201_083739 After an extremely quick and easy customs experience in Dubai we went to the car sent by our hotel…DO YOU SEE THE CAR THAT THEY SENT?!

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IN WHAT WORLD DOES THIS HAPPEN?! This is like a Lexus or an Audi here – sure, it’s luxury, but something that is common and not really thought about twice if you see it on the street. Just the first taste of the opulence that is Dubai.
20150201_085917 And here’s our second taste – the first glimpse of the world’s only 7 star hotel, the Burj Al Arab.

Please note – Due to conflicting interests, I will be not blog my experiences in Dubai until an article that I am writing for an outside source is published. Here, we will skip directly to the next flying portion of the trip. The Abu Dhabi Airport is up next!

72 Hours in The Middle East: Hamad International Airport and Al Mourjan Lounge

*This series covers a once in a lifetime trip with my dad. He is a member of an elite squad known as – no, not the Special Victim’s Unit – the Concierge Key Crew. He has flown and accrued over 12 million miles with American Airlines and, as such, he has been invited to be part of this unpublished, invite only, members’ club. You can’t buy your way in or request membership – you must fly some unpublished number of flights/miles per year in order to gain entry. He flies a certain number of qualifying miles each year to keep his outrageous perks. Every year he does a few crazy, 72 hour trips in premium cabins to  maintain his status. This time, he invited me to accompany him. This is my story.  (DUNH DUNH – SVU music).*

The Hamad International Airport makes every airport in the USA and Western Europe (that I have visited) look like a KMart in Kansas.

NO offense, Kansas.

No joke, these airports are amazing.

And weird.

Jut like this whole trip.

Take a look, why don’t you?

20150201_051928 Incredible Middle Eastern food in the food court. Seriously – the dolmades were the best that I have ever eaten. Filled with al dente, fragrant rice that was spiced with a ton of turmeric, cumin, and some nuts. Warm and garlicky; they are served with a dollop of tahini-rich hummus and a spritz of lemon. Delicious.

20150201_053155 Skin lightening is a big deal here, just like in Asia. There were also always blonde, light skinned women in ads with men who were clearly darker skinned and of Arabic descent. Which is odd to me, because the Middle Eastern women I saw were among the most exquisite woman I have ever seen. The attendants on my flight would be movie stars here – that just goes to show you how standards of beauty differ around the world.

20150201_055122 More luxury retailers than you can shake a stick at. Bring your platinum card. 
20150201_050827 An Arabic keyboard. It was just cool.

20150201_050614 The UNBELIEVABLE Al Mourjan business lounge. Two floors, business center, a video game room, a huge restaurant…need I say more? This is the best lounge that I have ever experienced. It’s thousands of square feet with the most luxurious, over the top surroundings I have ever seen. There are more attendants that there are people int he lounge and anything that you can desire will be yours at a moment’s notice. Shower? Of course. Ipad? Naturally.

20150201_045655 Krug? But of course. That’s right…Krug served 24 hours a day, as much as you can handle until you fall asleep or barf. It’s almost obscene. Also, a chef noticed that I wasn’t taking anything from the dessert buffet and asked what was wrong. I just mentioned that I had enjoyed my fill of baklava for the moment and he fairly RUSHED to the kitchen to bring me a still warm pineapple custard pastry from the kitchen. I thought that he was going to cry if I didn’t try it in front of him. Luckily, it was outstanding –  as buttery and light as I have enjoyed in Paris. 

20150201_044655 Foul medames. Like a very light, non-curried daal made with fava beans. It’s a traditional Middle Eastern breakfast and I can see why – it’s savory and filling without being heavy. My new obsession – I have to make it, stat. 
20150201_043751 Palm tree in the airport. Because that’s how Doha rolls.

20150201_043747 Chinese New Year!

20150131_192133 The Middle Eastern place where we ate dolmades had longest line at a food court with Burger King, a salad place, and a Japanese spot. I love how most of the people here – you can see Qatar flight attendants in line! – actually eat the food that I imagine they do. I imagine that they might feel the same way when they see me scarfing down Shake Shack – it’s just cool!

20150131_192106 French cheese and yogurt and herbs potato chips. I could KICK MYSELF for not buying these.

20150131_190801 Should have bought this, too. 
20150131_185859 Pistachio cotton candy!

20150131_185801 An outpost of my FAVORITE date shop in London!

20150131_185408 $3,000 on cognac? Sure, why not? After all, you don’t get the credit card bill until you get home. 

20150131_184734 The Qatari people LOVE Tang – they sold it everywhere and people were buying it like it was going out of style.

20150131_182659 More Krug. I’m telling you, so much Krug.  20150131_182653 Fabulous samosas, halloumi, tabbouleh, and babaganoush in the lounge. The chefs make it fresh and replace the buffet dishes every 20 minutes or so, whether the buffet dish is empty or not. The babaganoush is particularly memorable. It’s not at all creamy – it’s light and vinegary with flecks of raw red pepper and roasted not raw garlic. Sensational.  20150131_182225 Chandelier big enough for ya? I mean, I could have held my WEDDING here. That’s how incredible this lounge was.  20150131_182207 The fountain has little droplets that leap UP instead of dripping down. Nothing is too opulent out here. And no small detail is overlooked.  20150131_182106 Two story lounge. Because the piddly satellite lounge in Heathrow is one floor…this one has to BEAT that one. And oh, it does.   20150131_181728 Gold coffee bar, anyone? 20150131_180547 Airport hotel. BEFORE customs. That’s right, it’s airside. So if, like us, you are only land bound for 8 hours or so, you can quickly get to the hotel, eat, and sleep, before getting back up and waltzing right to your gate. None of that shuttle or passport BS. It’s SO EASY…why can’t we do this here?! 20150131_180345 The window peeks out onto the terminal, but don’t worry – there is a wooden window shade that both blacks out the room and keeps weirdos from looking in. As you can see, it’s a really lovely hotel room! 24 hour room service, spa, pool…it beats the hell out of a lot of NYC hotels! I would sleep here again in a heartbeat.  20150131_175037 Really weird sculpture cost the Qatari royal family a gazillion dollars or so. 
20150201_051109 Cyan, not blue! I love anything that reminds me that I’m not on my home turf.
20150201_053523 Kidz n Cats…freakiest doll ever.

What an unbelievable airport. It’s large and confusing, but unbelievably luxurious. If you don’t have access to the Al Mourjan business lounge, you can access another lounge for a nominal fee. I can’t even imagine how the new first class lounge will top this one…what, will they be offering free puppies to play with while you wait for your gate?

Up next: An hour flight, a pastry from Paris, and our descent into Dubai.