The Top 5 Things To Eat and Drink On Your First (or Second, or Third) Trip To Dubai
According to San Francisco chef Kim Alter—brought to you by Emirates airline.
December 21, 2017
By Cassandra Landry | Illustrations by Kristina Micotti
There’s nothing like the giddy suspense that swirls around a visit to a new city.
Every restaurant might serve the meal that could change your life, and each sound and smell pulls you in a few directions at once. Do you go fancy and celebrate your arrival in style, or hit the streets and spend your first meals in a bustling crowd? There’s no wrong way to do it in Dubai, a Middle Eastern city that contains a multitude of moods and sensory attraction.
In the spirit of discovery, we sent a group of American chefs to Dubai in pursuit of new flavors and dining experiences. Here’s what chef Kim Alter, a creator of fiercely beautiful Californian cuisine, loved best.
1. Mutton Brains Kata-Kat at Ravi
Named for the sound of the clanging knives on a plancha-esque surface, mutton brain kata-kat was the inaugural dish of Alter’s adventure. Ravi, a streetside Pakistani restaurant in Satwa, is known for its no-frills approach to stellar traditional dishes.
“We sat outside, and ate off plastic plates. The mutton brains were just done really well, really simply. When I think of mutton, I normally think gamey—but there was none of that. It was just delicious.” The preparation at Ravi is set off by heady spice and bright greens, a must-order even for those just beginning their love affair with all things offal.
2. The spread at Ayamna
“After eating curries and heavy food every day, this place was heaven,” Alter says of the Lebanese restaurant tucked into the elegant Atlantis, The Palm hotel. “Salads, tabbouleh, crudités…I got up and started walking around the table to eat I was so excited. It had been a while since we'd had vegetables.” Ayamna, which translates to “the good old days,” specializes in the kind of lush spread that requires a few hours of luxuriant lunching. Against the backdrop of the Dubai desert, it’s as close to an edible oasis as you could ask for.
“Juice is everywhere,” Alter says, “and everyone drinks it.” The habit is an easy one to adopt. Warm mornings are made infinitely better by a coffee-juice one-two punch, and the sweet, cold nectar is sipped both souk-side and at dinner. But be sure to come patient, Alter says—the best is typically squeezed by hand—and keep an eye out for a concoction called the Chubby Melon: mango and melon juice, crowned with frosty soft serve. That counts as breakfast, right?
4. Za’atar Manakish at Armani/Amal
“There’s not a lot of Lebanese food in San Francisco, so I’m not super familiar with it, but this was really delicious,” Alter says of the manakish she ate mere hours after stepping off the plane. “It was almost like an inside-out pizza: dough stuffed with cheese, with za’atar spices on top, served warm.” The name is a nod to the small indents made around the edge of the dough that create little pools of olive oil and topping. Anyone need any more convincing? No? Didn’t think so.
5. Toro + KO Dubai
“Toro definitely had one of my favorite bites,” Alter says, and with good reason: this particular dish is beloved the world over. “It’s one of our signatures. It’s on our menu in one way or another at every location,” says Chef Jamie Bissonnette [see Bissonnette’s guide to the souks of Dubai, here!]. “It’s a fan favorite.”
The Dubai iteration features a snug spoonful of uni, Osetra caviar, and a quail egg yolk topped with soy sauce, lemon juice, chives and a sprinkling of cecina—Italian-style cured beef—in place of Iberico ham. Liquid nitrogen spills forth from a hollow sea urchin shell filled with seaweed, ferrying the clean scent of ocean water across the table.