Dubai December: A Night in Eden

One of my favorite parts about travelling is meeting cool people and having random adventures. This has not always been true. While I have always enjoyed talking to strangers, I’ve only recently learned the power of “yes” (and while I usually hate self help tag lines, this one isn’t too bad). I never read the book, I heard a story on public radio about a woman (maybe the author?) who had learned that saying yes gave rise to more adventures and a generally happier life. I like the idea. I used to be a rigid schedule kind of girl, and if unknowns entered my plans it was very hard for me to change them and be comfortable.

For a while I solved this by planning spontaneous time. I would schedule times in which anything was allowed to happen and I would be ok. Outside of these times, everything needed to go according to plan. No I haven’t been tested for Autism, thank you.

In 2012 I decided that my new life goal was to be happy. Maybe one day I’ll write more about what that means or how I found it, but today, suffice it to say that one of my many tools for happiness is learning how to seize adventures, be more spontaneous and enjoy what the universe offers.

So, at the end of my delicious champagne brunch at Al Qasr, I found myself sitting on the patio, nursing a mojito and a final flute of prosecco and watching the tipsy diners around me. I’m a complimentary person. I like making other people feel better. My mother does this thing where she finds something nice about a person no matter what, and if you can give a genuine compliment, people feel it and it makes them feel good, which is awesome. So, throughout the brunch, whenever I’d run into someone and it seemed reasonable, I would pay them a compliment.

At the table next to me was a trio of young women, and I happened to compliment one on her dress, a cute powder pink dress with a short skirt made entirely of feathers. I thought it was cute and told her so. Then her friends asked if I wanted to take a picture with them, which seemed odd, but I still haven’t quite grasped the Instagram culture, so I said “sure”, and stood up to join them for snaps.


We used my phone, and of course I wanted to share the pictures, so we tried to co-ordinate sending, but in the Gulf all that is done on Facebook in the US is done with What’s App, which I had only just downloaded and had no real idea how to use.

So they invited me to sit while we figured it out, and between the champagne and the new app, I had to hand my phone over to one of the ladies so they could add their number and send the photos, but it was a success and in the mean time, we enjoyed chatting so much, they invited me to move my stuff over and stay at their table.

They were all quite tipsy too, which is really half the point of the Friday brunch, and we worked our way through the remaining drinks and coffee, chatting about our lives and continuously telling the staff we’d leave really soon.

It came to light that the girl in the pink feather dress was a person of some fame in India and the Gulf. I’m horrible with famous people in my own culture and have no idea who is famous elsewhere. And no, I didn’t get her full name, and I wouldn’t post it here if I had because that is not the point of the story.

At first, I actually thought they might be making it up. I have friends *ahem* who have been known on occasion when travelling to fancy places to pretend that one member of the group is famous as a kind of game. It’s fun, and really mostly harmless, especially since the advent of smart phones and google. And since these women didn’t seem to want anything beyond company, I wasn’t concerned if they were just having me on.

One girl kept saying to the wait staff whenever they would come ask us to leave, “Do you know who she is?” pointing to the girl in the pink feather dress. Most of the staff would say, yes of course, and continue politely telling us it was closing time soon. But then one waiter asked for an autograph. I don’t know if he recognized her or just wanted to get one in case, but it certainly lent to the air of fame at the table.

The ladies nicknamed me “Kimmie” fairly quickly and decided that they liked me and so invited me to join them at “Eden” after we left the restaurant.

Here is where the power of “yes” and the newfound plan changing spontaneity comes in. My plan for Friday had been to enjoy brunch which ended at 4pm, have 2-3 hours of “anything goes time” during which I’d hoped to see the Burj Arab because it was so close to the restaurant, and then go to the famous dancing fountain at the base of the Burj Kalifah which started at 6pm and went on and off for a few hours every night. My plan.

I’d already spent most of my “anything goes” time with these women, because while the food stopped at 4pm, we stayed on the balcony drinking and chatting until the sunlight started to fade. And I was fine, I was happy, I felt like interesting people and a fun conversation were more than a fair trade for a building.

The old me would have been paralyzed at the thought of changing my plan. How could I ever see the fountain? This was the only time I had plotted out during the visit it would be running! How can I go to a club with strangers? Alone and in a foreign land? The old me.

New me says, “sure”.

One of the ladies had a mildly intoxicated altercation with management somewhere around the final no-really-everyone-out time, and as we were heading towards the taxis, in order to distract her, I told her I was in Dubai celebrating my birthday. Perhaps just as improbably and often used to elicit fun times as pretending to be famous, it happened to be true for me. And made a fantastic distraction. She immediately went from melancholy anger to jubilant singing of “Go Kimmie, it’s your birthday, we’re gonna party like it’s your birthday”.

So after taking a few more random instagramable moments with some total strangers, the ladies shepherded me into their cab and we headed off into the sunset.

First stop was our pink feather dress starlet’s home for (you guessed it) more drinks and some pre-club music. If the reactions of waitstaff at the restaurant had not convinced me, the apartment might have. Beachfront. It was a beautiful apartment, quite spacious and well appointed. Her S.O. and another man were there when we arrived, having just woken up, along with a maid of some minority who did her best to simply serve drinks and stay out of the way.

We headed out to the balcony, although balcony is not the best description, it was more like an open wall third bedroom. There was a circular day-bed on one end, in a matching circular alcove in the wall, a couch, and a table and chairs. The view over the Persian Gulf was quite lovely.

20141219_175710bWe enjoyed our drinks, were silly, danced and reassured each other that we were all quite beautiful enough to be seen at the club without any additional makeup or changes of wardrobe, and then we migrated back to the taxis where I tried to take selfies of us in the dark… <3!

I had no idea what Eden was beyond a dance club. I looked it up the next day on my faithful Google and discovered it was a brand new (month old) beachfront club on one of the palm tree shaped islands. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing it might be kind of exclusive/hot-spotish. This is the calendar for the night I was there. Matthias Tanzmann & Djebali were apparently the musical guests, and I’m not cool enough to know who they are either. But the calendar advises people to be there by 1pm and that a “door policy” applies. Again, no idea.

20141220_001608I followed the ladies from the cab, one who had taken a particular shine to me made sure to keep hold of my arm so I would not be separated, and couldn’t hear what they said to the concierge, but we were wrist-banded and shown in to what was almost assuredly a VIP area. We were elevated, there was a semblance of roof (though after sunset that mattered less, some very lovely couches and a TON of space for us marked off from other similar areas with little velvet ropes. The people in front of us with no roofing were also packed much more like dance club sardines would expect to be, hence my conclusions as to our group’s status.


We ended up with two very tall white porcelain hookahs with minty shisha (my favorite flavor), and a bottle service of grey goose, which I believe was mixed with red bull. A waitress showed up at one point with the bottle which she placed in a bucket of ice at our table, and several glasses, asking me because I was closest I suppose, what we wanted in our drinks. Wisely, I did not take charge of this choice but asked one of my hostesses, who made the red bull decision.

The music was physical. It went into the bones, and pressed on the ears, but perhaps because we were outdoors, it didn’t feel as deafening or crushing as indoor superloud dance music. The light show was also rather … sensory. I had the sense to take some video, mostly because I was so stunned at how my night turned out that I felt the need to post it on facebook. I don’t seem to be able to post them on wordpress, so here’s a linkPost by Gallivantrix.

Around 10:30, the ladies were ready to call it a night, so I graciously took my leave and a separate cab, thanking them again for the company and the experience.

I was, I must admit,  astonishingly happy. There I was celebrating my birthday in Dubai, not only with a fantastic champagne brunch, but with a jaw dropping night out on the town courtesy of some fun, kind strangers and my own openness to adventure. I could not imagine a more perfect gift than to have everything I had been working toward in myself: happiness, gratitude, confidence, inspiring others to feel good, being open, and having more adventures – all come together in one amazing day. It really is good to be alive.

Dubai December: Champagne Brunch at Al Qasr

The main highlight of my birthday treat to myself was a champagne brunch at one of the most luxurious hotel resorts in Dubai. (ok it was Prosecco, I’m not complaining) It turns out that Friday brunch is the thing to in Dubai. If you’re ever there on a Friday, make sure you find one and go.

See, Dubai is a little like the Vegas of the Gulf, and while alcohol is legal there (unlike in Saudi) it can only be publicly served in hotels. So these brunches, with limitless cocktails, wine, beer and bubbly are where people really let their hair down. I’ve heard stories that some of the more casual places devolve into riotous parties by the end of the three hour brunch tour.

In fact, it was the huge array of brunch options that caused me to spend several days researching and weighing my options. In the end I opted for Al Qasr, located in Al Jumeriah. Three restaurants get together to make the brunch menu, and run from 12:30 to 4:00, slightly longer than the average. Since I wanted to have a chance to try everything without exploding, the longer time was important. The chocolate room didn’t hurt their chances either.

I do not regret my choice in any way.

First, as the taxi drove up, we passed by a beautiful lawn covered in more than a dozen larger than life golden Arabian horses (and some reindeer because it’s Christmas). Then as we pulled up to a beautiful building with traditional Arabic designs and more Arabian horses in the fountain. I spent some time wandering around taking photos before heading in, since I was about 15 minutes early.

When I entered the building, I was completely swept away by the beautiful Christmas decorations that greeted me. I can tell you that there is nothing like spending some time in poor, dirty places to make clean, beautiful, wealthy places seem disproportionately more amazing.

For example, my friend and I while travelling around China, staying in hostels and hiking up mountains were exposed to a wide variety of very … rural amenities. When we took ourselves to a night at the Tang Dynasty theater at a beautiful upscale locale, the bathroom nearly brought us to tears simply because it was bright, clean, private and had warm water to wash up in.

So you can imagine, after living in Tabuk for almost 4 months, working at a school where the toilets haven’t flushed for 8 months, completely unable to clean the dust from my feet or abaya, looking at dreary taupe sand colored everything for nearly the whole time how seeing a huge, beautiful hotel would be awe inspiring.

Even more so that I had been deprived of Christmas celebrations ( having only my own homemade paper ones to try to bring in a little cheer) how seeing soaring, sparkling, bedecked trees under twinkling chandeliers brought equally sparkling tears to my eyes.

I took many more pictures of the building and decorations, little brass camels, antique silver samovar sets, Santa’s sleigh and flying reindeer, and many more things. Those along with the pictures I managed to get of all the buffet displays (before the people started chowing down) are all on the facebook page.

As 12:30 arrived, the staff began to let patrons down the sweeping double staircase to be greeted by a table filled with flutes of pink prosecco and friendly servers handing each guest a brimming bubbling glass.

Escorted, glass in hand, to my table on the patio of MJ’s Steakhouse (one of the three restaurants that blend together at Al Qasr to create the ginormous brunch spread), I passed such an amazing display of chocolates and pastries, as well as a a cheese board that made me wistful at first sight.

I took myself and my camera on a quick tour of the three restaurants and their offerings. In addition to the deserts and cheese that I passed, there was a whole seafood area with a sushi station that could have been a buffet all on its own. There was Indian, Chinese, Italian, French, Creole, eggs and waffles, and some things I didn’t even recognize. All of it cooked or prepared right there in the three gourmet restaurants and served fresh.

There were also buffet drinks stations. There was cognac, beer, a station making lynchburg lemonades, one of mojitos, and one full of fresh coconuts waiting to be cut open and have rum poured into them, and probably some I missed. Just like the food stations, one had simply to walk up and ask for a drink, mixed when you asked so those keeping Halal could know they could have a “virgin” cocktail.

I started at the seafood stations (yes plural). Seafood is one of my favorite categories of food, and I’d eat sushi every day if I could afford it. King crab is a delicacy I rarely eat, not merely because of the price but also because I think it’s crazy that people die catching food in the 21st century. But, there are things to be said for exceptions. Also, steamed mussels, raw oysters, boiled prawns, and sashimi salads were all on one seafood table (and on my plate). And from the sushi table, I focused in on the unagi (smoked eel, and my absolute favorite) and sashimi of salmon, tuna and yellowtail. I should also mention that the pickled ginger was top notch.

Oh and that bright pink and green dish in the corner is lebnah (a kind of soft cream cheese/sour cream thing) with a thin slice of beet, a sliver of fig (which goes great with lebnah as I discovered) and the tiniest most adorable (and sweet/tart) cherry tomato I’ve ever seen.


It should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway, all this seafood was fresh, top quality and really delicious. I’ve had mealy shrimp and chewy mussels before when buffets (especially ones that expect you to be drunk) try to cut corners of the pricey food items, and let me tell you that Al Qasr does no such thing.

My second plate was dedicated to the cheese board. I love cheese. I’m always scouring the cheese ends bin at Whole Foods to find tiny tasty tidbits of some old favorite or some new experience. Cheese, as you may know, is expensive. Even my friends who are fully financially secure treat good cheese as a luxury which they buy in tiny slices and serve with matching fruits and wine.


The cheese board at Al Qasr contained no less than a dozen different types of cheese: cow, goat and sheep; soft and hard, creamy and crumbly, sweet and salty. Sadly, in my eager anticipation of the tastes, I did not record the names. Maybe when someone offers to pay me to be a travel writer or restaurant critic these details will become more of a focus.

In addition to the many fine cheeses, between each was a type of jam or chutney meant to compliment the flavor of the cheese. I picked up these as well, particularly being fond of the mixed berry chutney and the bourbon-bacon-onion jam (I’ll be working on a recipe for that as soon as I’m back where bourbon and bacon are legal).

Beside the cheese board was a bread table with an equally large variety of crisp and soft breads, rolls and crackers to accompany the cheese. I chose a simple pretzel roll as a palate cleanser between cheeses.

A nutritionist once told me that cheese activates the same pleasure receptors as opiates. This day I did not doubt it.

My third plate went after the meats. There was a grilling station that had grilled lamb chops and grilled beef tenderloin (among other things). The lamb was… perfect. Because of the huge amount of dishes to try, I was usually taking only one or two small bites of everything (even those things served in small portions), but the lamb! I enjoyed down to the bone.


The tenderloin was also delicious, and I also found some chicken satay (one of my favorite Indian dishes) and a new kind of curry that involved sweet potatoes, coconut milk and chicken that I dearly hope I will ever see in a restaurant again someday. Oh! and some Peiking duck, which itself is a dish that is not often seen let alone prepared well outside of gourmet restaurants in Beijing. A perfectly soft pancake, moist duck and a piquant sauce.

Along side this plate, I opted to try one of the coconut concoctions. I really like coconut water, which, like so many other things is better fresh than processed in a bottle or can from the store. These young coconuts were cut open that afternoon, and just enough of the coconut water was splashed out to make room for the rum. It might be my new favorite cocktail, but I’m willing to bet its not as cool if you’re not sipping it from the coconut.

Fresh Coconut Rum Cocktail

I didn’t mean to have a fourth plate before moving on to dessert. In fact, given how beautiful the desert displays were, I was making sure to not stuff myself too full on lunch dishes (hence the one or two bites per dish strategy). However, I passed by a fresh pasta station.

Short of going to a gourmet Italian restaurant or making it at home, one’s chances of enjoying really fresh pasta are far and few between. So I couldn’t pass it up. They had pumpkin, mushroom and spinach fillings for ravioli, and several types of sauce including cream, marinara and I believe a bolognese. I personally chose the pumpkin in cream sauce.


If you’ve never had fresh pasta, and I don’t mean the stuff in the refrigerated section at the grocery store, I mean dough that was rolled out and filled a few minutes before it hits the hot water, you need to put this on your food bucket list today. Most of my life I only ever had dried pasta, and its fine. With a good sauce it can even be wonderful, but that’s really the point. Dried pasta is a vehicle for sauce. While fresh pasta is an amazing food that sauce compliments.

And while I was there, I snagged a tiny dish of bite sized pot roast and mashed potatoes.

I wish I could come close to describing all the food that was there. I inspected and passed over a whole station of “traditional” brunch foods like egg dishes, waffles, muffins and croissants. I walked past giant cast iron skillets filled with something that looked like jambalaya. There was a small infinity of South and East Asian dishes I vaguely recognized but don’t know the names of. I’m pretty sure even with four plates, I only tried less than half the dishes on offer.

After about 2 or 2 1/2 hours of lunching (breaks to digest and sip prosecco between plates), I turned my attention to the dessert tables. I think there were probably 6-8 of these. One area focused entirely on chocolate concoctions made with Lindt chocolate. And the other was more fruit oriented with tarts, pies and fresh fruit.

In a best-for-last strategy I decided to start with the fruit station. Beginning with the white and orange dish and  moving clockwise:20141219_144159 A coconut pudding with mango sauce, the little orange ball is actually a ball of cream dusted orange resting atop a waffle cone cup filled with raspberry compote, the glass dish contains a mint-chocolate mousse with little crispy decorative bits and a fresh raspberry, a strawberry tart with a cream base and fresh berries, a chocolate caramel macron with gold flecks, the most amazing lemon tart (only thing on the plate that got finished), a mini waffle cone with caramel mousse, some kind of fresh fruit – it was the only one on the table I didn’t recognize so needed to try, it was very tart and a little slimy, and finally a mini soda bottle filled with a fresh strawberry syrup.

This plate went quite well with the mojito I picked up, lest I be remiss in failing to avail myself of a mojito station. The fresh mint and lime flavors complimented the fruit desserts perfectly.

The second dessert plate, and final plate of the three and half hour brunch experience was focused entirely on chocolate. I should point out that while the staff did a great job of making sure that the tables were always full, some of the desserts I saw at the beginning did disappear or get replaced by the time I got to the chocolates. So, if I go again, I’ll be sure to snag anything that particularly catches my eye early on.

Starting at the espresso mug at twelve o’clock an going clockwise:

A tiramisu the bottom layer of which may traditionally be lady fingers, but was dark chocolate cake in this case; a truffle cake lolipop, a pot-de-creme of blissfully creamy milk chocolate, a kind of salted caramel chocolate cream pudding thing (turned out to be my favorite, just lightly salted and a gorgeous blend of caramel and chocolate) with crumbled gingerbread on top; a pistachio chocolate truffle (green); a German torte with a nut filled dark chocolate dense bottom layer and a creamy white chocolate top layer; a white chocolate covered date; some white chocolate with candied ginger painted red and gold.


At six o’clock we have the darkest chocolate cake with deep dark ganache frosting; a little piece of gingerbread drizzled with chocolate; tied for second place with the chocolate bottomed tiramisu is the molten chocolate tart (kept under heat lamps at the buffet to stay warm and gooey); a Lindt truffle cupcake; and in the center a masarpone cream delight with chocolate and fresh berries.

Someone brought me a delightful and much appreciated cup of coffee with fresh steamed milk and options of white and brown sugar cubes (and it looked like good turbinado brown, not the silly repainted stuff). And I moved onto the main patio with a view of the Burj Arab and the boats carrying visitors by in the Al Jumeriah canal system.

The staff were relentlessly polite without being in any way overbearing. Finished plates were removed, but only once one had set them aside or made some other clear signal. Glasses were kept filled. After any dish that involved finger food (like my prawns) a small dish of scented water and a hot towel were provided.

At one point an American gentleman who seemed to be management of some kind (dressed in a white suit instead of a uniform and clearly supervising staff) asked me about my experience at the restaurant and we chatted long enough to connect over both having family in Austin.

And although the food and beverage stations closed at 4pm, many patrons had plates of goodies and a remaining cocktail or two on their tables which we all continued to enjoy for at least another hour as the staff cleaned up and continued to ply us with complimentary water, tea and coffee (common in America, but not elsewhere, so it was a pleasant surprise).

In fact, so relaxed and full of champagne and delicious food were we all, that I met a lovely trio of ladies who entertained me for the rest of the day and well into a fun-filled night, but that is another story.

In the mean time, feel free to see all the pictures of Al Qasr on my facebook page, or read about my lovely Dubai December trip to the Miracle Gardens. 🙂

Dubai December: Overview & The Miracle Gardens

December is major holiday celebrating time for me. Most westerners celebrate some version of Christmas/Yule and the New Year, and of course Americans have Thanksgiving at the tail end of November. On top of that, I’m a Sagittarius, so I get to throw a birthday celebration into the whole mix.

Saudi celebrates none of these things. Not even birthdays. Islamic New Year was in November (tho it changes on the Gregorian calendar every year) and they celebrated by fasting for three days.

I was lucky enough to have an impromptu Thanksgiving feast, and you can read about my Christmas here. New Year’s celebrations are sadly out, since it’s on a Wednesday, and we work Sunday to Thursday. But my birthday goshdarnit, I could do something about that.

I decided to treat myself to a champagne brunch in Dubai. And since I was there, to take in some other sights as well.

I started my explorations bright and early Friday morning at the Miracle Gardens. This is a huge garden filled with structures made entirely of flowers. It’s actually very affordable, merely 30 AED (about 8$ US). And like all things in Dubai, I’m sure it’s the most, biggest, -estest of it’s kind in the world.

20141219_112658I spent the better part of three hours wandering the grounds, which even in December were quite warm in the sun. Every turn brought new views of the staggering flower creations. A village of flower houses, a tunnel of flower hearts, a giant flower clock, a princess tower, a river of flowers, bowers and bells, and even a floral Burj Kalifah (the tallest building in the world also in Dubai).IMG_0731The air smelled wonderful, and all the staff were amazingly friendly and helpful, constantly offering to take pictures for me so that I could pose next to the floral architecture. There were several pagodas and gazebos where people could rest in the shade and a generous but not overbearing snack center.

This was ceilinged by a carpet of flowers providing shade, perfume and beauty while also preserving the all flower panoramic view from the central hill.  The snack center offered a wide array of snacks from countries near UAE, and several dishes I’d never heard of. Because of my brunch buffet plans I didn’t sample any of the fare, but others seemed to be enjoying it, and it was nice to see snacks that weren’t merely pizza, burgers and fries.

I was also told that they’re working on a “phase 2” which will be the world’s largest live butterfly garden if/when they can get the permits. So I’m keeping my eye out on that one because 35 thousand butterflies would be SO COOL.

It wasn’t very crowded in the morning, but became more so as it crept closer to noon. It was very difficult to take wide shots without people in them, but unlike Saudi, that’s ok. And everyone was very considerate about taking turns to pose and take photos at the best spots.

The garden is only open in the cooler months (hardly surprising given that no one wants to do anything outdoors in the summer in Dubai), so plan your visit accordingly.

I could go on about the astonishing architecture, the magnificent scents, the colors and sheer volume of flowers, but in the end, pictures do speak louder than words, so please take a look at all my photos over on my facebook page, and keep a look out for the rest of my exciting Dubai December adventures!