Friday, January 7, 2011

A Week of Eating Well

One thing Jeddah has in spades in good restaurants.  I have rarely been disappointed when eating out, and all tastes and budgets are covered here.  Some people find comfort in the existence of most big American chains; I feel the need to name all those that come to mind because I find it incredibly fascinating (and frightening) how prevalent they are here.  I can happily say I have not been to the overwhelming majority of these places.   McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's, Dunkin Donuts, KFC, Starbucks, Little Caesars, Costa Coffee, TGI Friday's, Chili's, Applebee's, Fuddruckers, Ruby Tuesday, Benihana, Subway, Baskin Robbins, Quiznos, On the Border, The Cheesecake Factory (cheesecake only, not the restaurant), Pizza Fusion, and probably more I can't remember right now.

There are some regional chains and some local chains as well.  For instance, Al Baik is the local fried chicken fast food chain.  They're a step above KFC and very popular, but it's still fast food fried chicken.  I haven't tried any of the other fast food chains, because, frankly, there's so many other good restaurants that there's no need.

In the past week I've managed to go to four really good restaurants, two for the first time.  One I'd been to before is called Bab Al-Yemen and serves, predictably, Yemeni food.  The restaurant is well-appointed and comfortable, the management and service is excellent, and the food is top-notch.  I've gone a couple times with big groups where we order everything on the menu, and nobody is ever disappointing.  There's a lot of lamb and goat on the menu, which I don't eat, but the chicken and shrimp dishes are delicious.  And they have amazing bread.  Plus, everything is VERY reasonably priced, so it's tempting to go often.

Another local favorite is Byblos.  It's a higher-end Lebanese restaurant not far from work.  They have a companion shisha lounge called Bubbles attached.  I've eaten on both sides.  The food is good, the ambience is awesome, the service is decent.  However, this is the one place I've ever been hassled about not wearing an abaya in three+ months, so I am a little down on them at the moment.  (They hassled me out of fear they'd get in trouble with the religious police, but it still wasn't cool, since the religious police are few and far between here.  Plus, I was dressed conservatively and agreed to put my scarf around my shoulders (which were covered anyway, but who knows).)

I joined some colleagues at the new favorite lunch spot, Marhaban, this week.  It's a Pakistani restaurant with a really nice lunch buffet.  Lots of good salads, briyanis, lentil dishes, etc.  But the best thing is the dessert - they have a carrot halwa that is absolutely to die for.  And, again, very reasonably priced.

My favorite find of the week, though, is a newer restaurant called Salad Boutique.  I think the name throws people off a bit, but maybe that's a good thing.  This restaurant is located in a relatively new strip of restaurants on the water, behind the Park Hyatt Hotel.  I've been to one of the other restaurants there for brunch, which was so-so.  But Salad Boutique is awesome.  We went for dinner and sat outside, under softly-lit palm trees.  The weather was perfect, the view was great, and the atmosphere was reminiscent of Miami.  If you could overlook the men in thobes and women in abayas.  When the waiter handed us our menus, I fell in love.  Any place that has its menus on iPads is already cool with me.  Plus, the menu was exciting.  Soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, appetizers, risottos, entrees, etc.  Something for every taste and very reasonably priced, especially considering the real estate.  I ordered soup and a sandwich.  Wow.  The soup, a creamy four-cheese soup, was incredible.  And hearty.  I ended up not being able to eat my sandwich (a steak & mushroom panini) and had it wrapped up.  (I had it for lunch the next day, and it, too, gets rave reviews.)

There are more restaurants I've been to that are good, so this is just a sampling of this week's fare.  (I don't usually go out to eat four times in a week, but that's the way things worked out.  Kudos to one of my colleagues for suggesting all of these and organizing the outings.)

The other nice thing about dining in Jeddah is a website called  It's a user-generated site with reviews and information about hundreds of local restaurants.  It's very popular here and frequently updated.  It makes finding new places fun and easy!