72 Hours in The Middle East: Afternoon Tea at The Burj Al Arab’s Skyview Bar

Continuing on with some of my Middle Eastern Adventure – it’s afternoon tea at the Burj al Arab hotel.

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In case you haven’t seen the Travel Channel special (and who ARE you…it’s amazing), the Burj is the world’s first and only 7 star hotel – they said so. Each room comes equipped with a golden iPad. Each room is at least 2 stories and 2,000 square feet. You have to bring your printed out confirmation for meal or hotel room just to get up the driveway – there are plenty of lurkey-loos but they all have reservations somewhere in the enormous hotel.  The lobby is – well, let’s just let the photos speak for themselves:

20150201_090528 Dancing fountains.  20150201_090806 A Technicolor atrium with an escalator and gold columns. I think Liza Minelli wept for its gaudiness.  20150201_090811 A gargantuan tropical fishtank.  20150201_090921 A multicolored fountain.  20150201_090933 Aladdin’s coffeeshop? 20150201_091834 And this little setup – the tea at the Skyview Bar.

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An oasis in the clouds where white gloved servers whisk your coat way from you and encourage you to take photos of Dubai’s famous Palm Island from the vast plate-glass windows at your side. Where harp music drifts in and our of your world as you are plied with plate after plate of food and see others without reservations getting turned away coldly.

20150201_092529 A place where I almost stole the toilet paper from the bathroom because – come on – when am I going to get back here again?
20150201_092732 A place where I so lathered myself in the free amenities that I’m sure that the attendant was rolling her eyes behind my back. 

IMG_2115 A place where plump, syrupy dates are stuffed with almonds and candied orange peel. Dont’ skip these – they are so delicious all over the Middle East. 

IMG_2126 Where the amuse bouche is a buttery shortbread topped with chantilly and a forest of tiny, sweet berries that are bright and juicy as if they were just picked that day. 

IMG_2135 A place where the lamb comes to a nice, steely gray and the potatoes are little more than mealy mash. So far, the portions are small and the food is unimpressive.

IMG_2140 A place where every course is everflowing. 
20150201_095510 A place where the tea sandwiches are lovely and sprinkled with gold and caviar. The saffron bread is aromatic and the salmon salad is soft and lush – easily the best savory bite of the afternoon.
20150201_102225 A place where the tea tower looks like the hotel. Every detail is thought of here, down to the very tea tower that they use. 

20150201_102355 A place where the jam offered with the clotted cream is date jam… DATES and clotted cream. It was dreamy.

IMG_2147 A place where litchee sorbet and candied rose petals seems almost pedestrian next to the $500 whiskey that the table next to you just ordered…at 1 in the afternoon. 

The surroundings are gorgeous. The service is deferential almost to a fault. The food is…well, it’s meh. And it’s way too expensive, even with a glass of lovely, dry Louis Roderer champagne at the beginning. But it’s the only way to get into the Burj al Arab without ponying up for a room there – that’s right, you have to pay for this rather mediocre tea at a rather extraordinary price just to get inside the gilded gates.  And it’s a once in a lifetime experience.  20150201_110705 And I still wish that I had stolen that cool toilet paper.

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. 

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.

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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!

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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.

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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_062909Minibar 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_083006I 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_084920It’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_090240Smoked 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_093231Mezze 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_135841One 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_155012Steak 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_213601My 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_060315I couldn’t believe that I was in Qatar, going to Dubai…I still can’t believe it!
20150201_061954We 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_071446Onward to Dubai!

20150201_072607Lunch 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_072611Juicy 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_074647It’s going to be a long time before I have this view again, if ever again.
20150201_075432Dubai comes into view!


20150201_083739After 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_051928Incredible 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_053155Skin 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_055122More luxury retailers than you can shake a stick at. Bring your platinum card. 
20150201_050827 An Arabic keyboard. It was just cool.

20150201_050614The 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_044655Foul 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_192133The 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_192106French cheese and yogurt and herbs potato chips. I could KICK MYSELF for not buying these.

20150131_190801Should have bought this, too. 
20150131_185859Pistachio cotton candy!

20150131_185801An 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_184734The Qatari people LOVE Tang – they sold it everywhere and people were buying it like it was going out of style.

20150131_182659More Krug. I’m telling you, so much Krug. 20150131_182653Fabulous 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_182225Chandelier big enough for ya? I mean, I could have held my WEDDING here. That’s how incredible this lounge was. 20150131_182207The fountain has little droplets that leap UP instead of dripping down. Nothing is too opulent out here. And no small detail is overlooked. 20150131_182106Two story lounge. Because the piddly satellite lounge in Heathrow is one floor…this one has to BEAT that one. And oh, it does.  20150131_181728Gold coffee bar, anyone?20150131_180547Airport 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_180345The 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_175037Really weird sculpture cost the Qatari royal family a gazillion dollars or so. 
20150201_051109Cyan, not blue! I love anything that reminds me that I’m not on my home turf.
20150201_053523Kidz 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. 

72 Hours in the Middle East: Qatar Airways LHR-DOH

*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).*

Now onto the best flight of my life.  I always want to get off a plane – to get to my destination ASAP and start exploring. 

But I did not want to get off of this plane. 

It was a 6.5 hour food and entertainment feast. I actually wished that it was twice as long.

Let’s just go step by step, shall we?

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Okay, here goes nothing! We were ushered to our seats and immediately plied with Armani amenity bags filled with $150 eye cream and cologne. I  applied mine immediately in such large quantities that I looked like my face was melting.20150131_103319
The seat looks normal, but it’s really excellent. Incredibly thick and plush seating with great width and a lovely blanket.

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You can see how much room there is for just a medium haul flight. I could easily hide 5 small puppies under that ottoman. 

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Huge tv screen with a kajillion entertainment options. Those are the socks from the amenity bag. I loved them more than my college diploma.

20150131_103633Krug! I have never had it before! Plus a rose option!?20150131_103709
OMG STOP THE PRESSES! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS? THIS IS A $2,000 bottle of Chateau d’Yquem wine – widely known as the finest Sauternes in the world. It’s the pope of dessert wines. I never dreamed that I would ever get to try a sip – this goes for as much as $90 per glass when you even can get one. I felt absolutely HIGH when I saw this on the menu. 
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Warm salted nuts, including FABULOUS Iranian pistachios. These are quite savory and meaty – unlike the insipid nuts we get at home. 20150131_105744
Arabic coffee and a date so sugary that it makes the coffee taste like dessert. This was a constant on every airline we encountered and a lovely one. Like, why can’t we include soda and popcorn as welcomes on American flights? Oh yeah, because that’s nowhere near as cool.

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Potato kibbeh

Better than any I have had. Ever. It is literally better than any restaurant kibbeh I have ever enjoyed. Crispy without and gently spiced with cumin and turmeric within. It’s reminiscent of a very gently spiced samosa with a thin, crackling breading. The pomegranate alongside is an inspired touch. It’s a gentle, acidic pop of flavor against the warmth of kibbeh without being too sour.

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Chicken tikka

Straight outta yo mama’s tandoor! Tender, spiced but not spicy, juicy as all get out, and served with a thin but rich and tangy yogurt raita. I’m telling you, I haven’t ever had middle eastern food as delicious as this.  20150131_120244And that Krug…wow. It’s the richest champagne I have ever had. Bready, buttery, filling, lush…it’s almost a meal unto itself. To be honest with you, I prefer other, lighter, fruitier champers, but I still had my fill of this good stuff!20150131_121615Next to that bread basket (The bread was unremarkable, but there were no fewer than THREE different types of butter and some extra virgin olive oil!) you can catch the profile of one miss KYLIE MINOGUE! Yep, she was on our flight – slept for most of it and I noticed that she has TINY feet. Yes, I’m a creeper. But me and Kylie…basically BFFs!

20150131_121951Caviar

I mean…caviar. The most luxurious food on the planet. And with Krug…stop it. Just stop. 
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I mean, I LOVE caviar. So this was a major treat for me. Salty, briny, taut grains that pop with flavor but no bitterness. I hadn’t ever eaten an entire jar, but I really rose to the occasion.20150131_121841
The blinis are a little thick, but I dealt. 20150131_121944
The light caviar and the round, deep Krug was a fantastic pairing. I see why this is such a classic combination – each one makes the other taste even better. 
20150131_122343I actually wanted to cry when the mother of pearl spoon left several grains behind. 

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Sigh. 20150131_123202Duck spring rolls with cucumber spaghetti and hoisin sauce

Delicious. Ground duck with aromatic star anise and ginger, wrapped in super crispy wrappers and served with thin strands of spring onion and cucumbers. Hoisin sauce for a sweet, tangy flavor. These didn’t last long, that’s for sure. 20150131_124005
Palate cleanser of lime and mint sorbet. Because we are FANCY. 

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Hot Arabic Mezze

From the left:

Chicken kebap: Oh sweet HEAVEN. Moist, juicy, fragrant. Tart, bright, pleasantly charred.

Warm chicken pita: It’s amazing how good chicken is when Qatar Airways makes it. Tiny warm pita with a warm chicken, bell pepper, and some sort of creamy, yogurt binding that was halfway between here and heaven. This is everything that I want every sandwich to be…ever.

Lamb kibbeh: As good as the potato, if not better. Mild, juicy, grassy but not gamey. Mixed with toothsome bulgar. Fabulous.

20150131_125854I still haven’t eaten this yet. I don’t want the magic of this flight to end. I’m keeping it until I can fly this airline again. Or at least until tomorrow. 
20150131_153041 Flying over Egypt.

20150131_154512 The Sauternes

The best glass of wine – champagne included – that I have ever enjoyed. Thick. Amber. Tasting of grapes, raisins, walnuts, maple syrup, and even duck. Meaty but not heavy. Sweet but not sugary. Worth its price tag? Perhaps not, but it’s quite close to being worth it. This is an experience that I may never get again. I savored every moment. 20150131_164943Mecca pointerBecause you already know where the Nordstrom’s is. 

20150131_171531Descent into Doha. This is where my BFF Kylie woke up and ate sorbet while the rest of us had to turn in our champers glasses.

I just didn’t want this flight to end. The service was warm and professional, despite a slight language barrier. The seat is so comfy that I fell asleep for an hour and apparently snored like an elephant (Thanks, Dad). And the food was so amazing that I would be thrilled to eat it again in a restaurant. What’s the last time that you said that on a plane? The amenities were extraordinary and the wine list is out of this world. If we had finished the bottle of Sauternes, that would have paid for the flight in and of itself. I will never forget the luxury and opulence of this flight.

Next up: Doha airport. And by that I mean the most stunning airport that I have ever seen.