Tag Archives: Restaurant Review

Midnight at the Oasis

TRAVEL THERE: CLIMB ON YOUR QUAD AND DRIVE

Imagine a sheik has invited you to his desert oasis for a banquet.  What would you expect?  What would you wear?  Well, let’s pretend my nephew Ayman is the sheik and I’ll tell you about our night under the stars.

Transportation

For this adventure we had a van, that took us to a place that rented quads to tourists.  Some of the girls wanted their own vehicle but I was content to climb up behind my hubby.  Off we went into the horizon.  In every direction it seemed there were miles and miles of sand, but straight ahead was a mountain and we headed towards it.

As we departed the rental facility, the mountain appeared no further away than the length of a football field, but as we took out across the sand, it seemed to back away from us.  At the same time, it got bigger and bigger and bigger.  The ride was a lot of fun, even if it was a little tame.  We had to line up and follow the leader.  Bill tried to jazz it up a little bit, but was admonished to get back in line and behave.  It was kind of like one of those trail rides where your horse plods along in a rut he’s trodded along for decades. You were imagining galloping along with the wind in your hair and all you got was dirt between your teeth.  On the quad you got wind in the hair alright, but you also got sand in every imaginable crevice.  Still it was fun.

The Oasis

Our destination was no oasis.  I didn’t even see a palm tree – merely a collection of tables in a nook below the mountain.  We were among the first guests to arrive.  We settled around what seemed like an advantageous table and let the evening unfold.  Service was, to say the least, slow.

While I wouldn’t say we were in a hurry, you really don’t want to leave these guys without any entertainment for very long – otherwise they will make it up.  Soon plastic cups and adult beverages came out of the bags some of the ladies had brought along.  As groups wandered in and began to fill the tables around us, our guys started providing some of that entertainment they are famous for coming up with.  Yes, that’s my husband waving the checkered scarf.

Just as night fell, the servers began to pass out platters of food.  It was, in fact, so dark that we had to guess at what we were eating.  While it was not the best food we had in Egypt, it was OK and no one got sick.  Then the entertainment began in earnest.  If you’ve been following this trip on my blog, you won’t be surprised to know there were belly dancers and sword dancers and belly dancers and fire dancers and belly dancers and native music and belly dancers and whirling dervishes.

The best part was the whirlers.  I’d seen quite a few of them by this time and pretty quickly you get down the shared repertoire.  However, these guys didn’t just whirl around on the stage and then go their merry way.  Oh no.  There was a rock ledge right behind the benches we were sitting on and suddenly we had a whirler doing his stuff right next to us.  Yes, it was pretty cool.

When the whirlers were done, the sword dancers came out and shortly thereafter it was time to drive back to the bus.  After our second quad trip, I felt grimy in places I didn’t even know were places.  We crawled onto the bus for the trip back to the hotel, but we couldn’t get into bed until we’d done something about the grime.  Sweet dreams until next week, when we’ll go yachting.

 

 

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A Museum Sort of Afternoon

TRAVEL HERE: BRIGHTENING AN OTHERWISE DREARY SUNDAY

So I was just about done with my local art museum.  Lately, every time we showed up for an exhibition, we’d look at each other and ask, “Really?”  I had already tossed the most recent renewal of membership letter into the trash, but a still small voice asked, “Do you know what special exhibitions are coming?”  I didn’t, but I assumed they’d be more of the same stuff which had been disenchanting us for a couple of years.  I was wrong.  Berte Morisot is coming!  Berthe’s exhibition won’t be here at least a year, but I couldn’t abandon the museum when they were organizing a fairly incredible exhibition.  Besides, some of the smaller productions on exhibit right now seemed of interest.  So, I renewed my membership and decided to go to the museum as soon as we could.

 All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins…or Not

Arriving at the Dallas Museum of Art on a recent dreary Sunday, I dropped by the information desk to confirm the location of the exhibits I wanted to see.  We only had two hours before closing  – plenty of time to view my wish list, but not if we wandered aimlessly.  What I did not plan on viewing was an installation created in 2016 titled All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins.  I mean that’s the same vintage as the cheap wine in the grocery store.  Galleries are where you go to see the latest in art.  I think museums should focus on more proven vintages that have been laid down for awhile.  Obviously, there are plenty with another opinion.  All the general public tickets had been sold for the day and only my membership would get us a timed appointment for that particular afternoon.

Taking the bait I bellied up to the membership desk to claim my free, timed viewing ticket.  We had half an hour until our slot so we strolled up the concourse.  We’d seen Truth: 24 Fames Per Second and didn’t need a repeat showing.  We’d also been to the latest installation in the Keir Collection several times since April.  We stuck our head in the gift shop and dropped by the small Focus Gallery exhibiting Hopi Visions.  Interesting, but not among our favorite genres, so after a few minutes we were back on the concourse.

My husband likes to touch things, so he detoured into the Center for Creative Connections.  Tagged C3, this is the area where kids of all ages can make art rather than just look at it.  We looked over the shoulder of a few budding artists, handled a few touchable objects and then returned to the concourse.  We were still a few minutes away from our designated ticket time, so we checked out the Barrel Vault.  This area is ground zero for Contemporary and Modern Art, so we don’t usually spend much time here – you know my vintage issues.  However, one of the side galleries had just what I was looking for, Edward Steichen:  In Exultation of Flowers.

Photograph from DMA.com

In Exultation of Flowers

Love a good story?  Back in the Twentieth Century an artist started painting a mural commissioned by some wealthy New Yorkers.  These members of Art’s Inner Circle knew all the best people and had their artist friend paint these friends of theirs lolly-gagging among flowers.  What’s not to love?  One wants to imagine them and their friends draped across art deco furnishing sipping cocktails and discussing the pros and cons of the completed murals – especially the one featuring Isadora Duncan in the nude.  But that’s not what happened.  By the time the murals were complete, the art patrons were in a bit of a financial bind and had to sell the apartment the murals had been painted for.  The murals were never installed and it’s been over 100 years since they were displayed together.

Enter the DMA, famous among art people today for their restoration and conservation abilities.  The DMA was commissioned to work their magic on Mr. Steichen’s murals and as part of the deal, the DMA would display the finished project.  Museum Girl loved this exhibit.  In truth, the gallery was a little small for the seven monumental murals, but they were delightful to behold, so all was forgiven.

The Psychedelic Portion of our Afternoon

My watch said it was time to view the pumpkins, so we headed to a nearby gallery.  Joining the line outside the large white box containing the installation, we listened to the instructions announced by a docent.  We’d have to put our stuff into the cubbies provided.  We’d be allowed inside the installation for 45 seconds, during which time we could take pictures, but we could not trade places with one another once the door was closed, because there was a falling hazard.  Hubby was whispering derisive comments into my ear, predicting how much we were going to hate this.

He was wrong and he was the first to admit it.  The charming time keeper engaged Bill in conversation as we waited our turn and she made all the difference.  Bill stepped in, oooh and aaaahed for 45 seconds and then we erupted into the rest of the museum.  Later he admitted it was his favorite item of the day.  I still prefer the murals, but the installation is worth at least 45 seconds of your life.

Other Things

On Level Two we found Paris at the Turn of the Century.  Featuring a few tidbits from the Posters of Paris exhibition of a few years ago, these small beauties are displayed in a tiny darkened gallery and did not evoke the joie de vivre of the full blown exhibit.  On Level Three was Art and Trade Along the Silk Road.  I’d forgotten that we’d seen it before.  It’s lovely, but we weren’t covering new ground.  From there we went on to the Reves Collection which continues to be one of our favorite things at the DMA, no matter how many times we see it.

From the DMA we wandered to East Dallas to try out Smokey Rose.  Great ribs, great atmosphere and we can’t wait until the weather is better to try out the patio, but the brisket and mac-and-cheese were less than amazing.

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Charming Sharm

Off to the Desert

TRAVEL THERE: ADVENTURE PACKED DAYS

In Sharm el Sheik I took off my Museum Girl hat and embraced the Egyptian way to vacation.  As far as I’ve been able to discern, there’s not a single museum in the area.  It’s completely given over to entertainment venues and various sports rentals, from scuba gear to dune-buggies.  I can’t give you any real travel hints, because my nephew Ayman planned and booked everything.  I’d just show up in the lobby at whatever time I was told to be there and climb into whatever vehicle had been provided for our transportation.  

A Tiny Drip of Disappointment

View at the Sharm Marriot

The moment I arrived in Sharm I was ready to hit the Boardwalk and Corniche.  Some of my fondest memories of my previous visit were created there.  Each night we’d stroll along a thriving beach scene.  On one side was the beach and on the other was a line-up of amazing entertainment provided by various hotels.  At one venue you’d see a magician, next would be a belly dancer, then a singer, then a cultural variety show, then a comedian, then haunting music by a band of natives, then – well you get the picture.  And food – oh my goodness!  Each restaurant was bustling and at each one the cuisine tasted better than the one before.  I so wanted to re-live those nights of romance and excitement.

When we arrived at our hotel, the one we’d stayed at previously for old times sake, Bill was ready for a nap.  I unpacked our bags and set up the room for our stay.  Then I visited our balcony and enjoyed the view.  We were right by the pool and beyond the pool was the Red Sea.  Along with his nap, Bill was expecting a call from the family to give us the scoop on the evening’s entertainment.

Trying to make the best of a sad situation and really bad hair!

Finally, Bill woke up and initiated the call himself, because I was about to explode.  We’d be joining the rest of the crowd a little later, but first we’d have dinner on the Boardwalk.  The Arab Spring might have improved Egypt’s political situation, releasing them from the tyrannical Mubarek, but it also destroyed Sharm El Sheik.  What had once been a thriving international hot spot was transformed into a ghost town of empty restaurants with an occasional entertainer playing to an empty room. It broke my heart.  The lesser of the pathetic evils seemed to be an Italian joint, but it was bad service and bad food to go with my bad hair!

Let the Fun Begin

Heart-broken we returned to the hotel and went to the hotel portico at the assigned time.  My niece Mirette and her husband Ayman appeared in two different cars and whisked us away to enjoy the night – ladies in one car, guys in another.  Her intentions were good and she took us to a glamorous beach-side restaurant which proved there was some life in Sharm, even if the Corniche had died a brutal death.  Unfortunately, the wait was hours long and there was really no place to wait, so we climbed back in to the car to execute Plan B.

I can’t go on without telling you one very funny thing.  Public transportation and Uber are the way my grand-nephews negotiate the town of Sharm.  When we arrived with Mirette, there were her sons waiting for us.  When we moved on to Plan B, the boys wanted a lift.  They’d gotten themselves to restaurant, but the nearest public transportation was several blocks away and they didn’t want to wait for Uber.  So, since the car was full, Mirette opens up the trunk and they climbed in.

  I had a moment of jealously for this simpler way of life.  I used to live like that.  Cramming a vanload of people into a car, riding in the back of a pick-up truck, sneaking people into the drive-in in the trunk.  That was back in the days when you could legally drive with a cold one in your beverage holder.  That evening we giggled all the way to the bus stop, enjoying the simple pleasure of riding along with passengers in the trunk. Nowadays, America is so safe and politically correct that a simple moment’s pleasure has to be weighed against jail time.

The night was far from over.  Just about the time this Museum Girl is ready for bed, my nieces and nephews are just starting to enjoy the evening.  So come back next week and see where we headed after this.

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Observed at the Breakfast Buffet

The Mena House

Waiting for Izzat

TRAVEL THERE: MORNING AT THE MENA HOUSE

After the wedding, four of us went to the Mena House, while everyone else went to Sharm el Shiek, a beach town on the Red Sea.    Our nephew and his friend had headed to Sharm as I repacked our luggage the night before and Izzat would be picking us up to take us to the airport.  I regretted leaving the Mena House.  There was so much more of it I wanted to enjoy.  I wanted to laze around the gorgeous pool, enjoy my patio and continue to eat marvelous meals.  We had one more meal to enjoy at their remarkable buffet.

Breakfast at the Mena House

I won’t bore you with the details of yet another breakfast buffet.  I actually got tired of them while I was there.  Morning after morning each hotel had a massive spread of food and I had to walk the not-so-fine line between satisfying my hunger and becoming a practicing gourmand.  I will share an odd situation I observed, however.  On our first morning at the Mena House, Bill remarked on a woman who had piled a plate high with carbs.  He assumed she was gathering her own breakfast and in his opinion she needed to modify her diet.  On the second morning, she was back and I watched her, because I doubted anyone could actually eat the mound of pastries she had gathered up.

Come to find out, she wasn’t serving herself at all.  She gathered up several plates heaping with food on a table and had a bus boy deliver it to her room for her on a large tray.  Of course, I’m wondering all kinds of things, like why doesn’t her family just come down and get their own food, but most of all I felt sorry for her.  I even speculated that her husband was one of the towel wearing pilgrims I’d seen at the airport and wondered if his pilgrim status kept him from making the trip to the buffet.  Whatever the reason, she didn’t have the demeanor of someone who was enjoying their role.  She seemed huddled and secretive.  Her posture suggested she expected to be berated for her performance.  I realize I was imposing my own western ideas on her, but it was not the fact that she was performing this task for her family that bothered me, it was how burdensome the job seemed to be.

I’ve filled a tray at a breakfast buffet for Bill before and taken it back to the room.  It wasn’t a mound of pastries, but I certainly didn’t mind doing it.  I even enjoyed it, smiling as I thought of ways to make the meal more attractive.  When we’re at a buffet together we take turns serving each other.  Each of us will fill our own plate and then if we head back for beverage refills or to get a missed condiment, we always check to see if the other needs something.  Sometimes when we go back for the refill we’ll spot an item that we think the other must have missed and carry it back for their enjoyment.

My silent observation at the Mena caused me to watch for similar situations in the other places we traveled.  I did not see an exact replication of the circumstances with the huddled woman, but I did see echoes of it.  In Sharm I would see tables full of men loudly enjoying their breakfasts.  On the table were large stacks of pastries like the one prepared by the woman in Giza.  Meanwhile the women scurried around preparing individual plates for the men and for the children. Over several mornings I watched one woman and I don’t think she ever got the chance to eat.

I’m all about different strokes for different folks, but one thing really bugged me and it was those huge mounds of pastries.  Each plate seemed to have about 20 pastries carefully stacked on it and there were several plates scattered on the tables.  When the families would leave the table it seemed as if all 20 pastries were still there.  I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those mounds of pastries.  American hygiene would demand they be thrown away, but I saw so much poverty and want through out the country that I couldn’t help but wish these gorgeous tidbits were in some way passed on to people who needed them.  I couldn’t help but think that they might be taken to the kitchen for recycling on the buffet – so I pretty much stayed away from the pastries.

The red one is mine and the silver one is Bills. Farewell Mena House!

Farewell Mena House

From the buffet we made our way to the lobby and settled our bill.  Our luggage was already waiting for us.  Before long, Izzat pulled under the portico and our next adventure began – and once again it was at the airport!  Come back next week and laugh with me about Egyptian security measures.

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Step Up to Saqqara

TRAVEL THERE: VISITING THE STEP PYRAMID

The Egyptians didn’t wake up one morning and have the perfect formula for pyramid building.  They had hundreds of years of practice before the elegant examples at Giza were built.  (There’s a nick in the Ancient Alien theory!)  At Dashour we saw pyramids of various shapes and sizes.  Their most successful attempts led them to give step pyramids a try and the best example of these Step Pyramids is up the road a bit from Dashour and down the road a bit from Giza at Saqqara. 

Getting There

When we departed Dashour, our military friends didn’t seem quite so intimidating.  They barely glanced at us as we passed by.  Izzat got back on the main road, the one with the dirty canals in the middle, and headed back north.  Zuzu continued to regale us with the history lesson and before long we were at another military installation.  This one was not quite as intimidating, but to a certain extent a little more scary.  The soldiers at Saqqara were a little less serious, but also a lot more careless.  They all carried guns and seemed to be having several different conversations, and in each the guns were being casually waved about as if they were extensions of the gesticulating soldiers’ arms.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if someone’s finger slipped a bit.

If you don’t count the threat of wayward bullets, the site seems more tourist-friendly.  In Dashour everything was a street and a parking lot because it was just wide open spaces for as far as you could see.  At Saqqara, there were actual gravel-covered parking lots and roads that looked regularly traveled. 

The Museum

Another tourist- friendly feature was a small museum.  There’s actually a lovely promenade from the parking lot to the museum that looks as if it could accommodate a gift shop, a concession stand and perhaps even a small cafe, but everything was closed down tight and no signs indicated that any of it had ever been anything.  I wondered if there had been more there once or whether they were presently developing it, but Zuzu did not provide that kind of information.  He looked at me as if I’d suddenly begun to speak a language he didn’t understand and shrugged his shoulders.

We grabbed a few pictures and headed inside.  This had to be a recent development, because the interior looked like something you might see in other countries.  It was clean and neat.  The items were advantageously displayed in glass cases and lo and behold, there were placards there to identify the pieces and give a little history.  Pictures were not allowed or I would be glad to show you the lovely facility.  The museum was not large, but I liked it very much.

Wandering the Ruins

Saqqara is a significant archaeological site.  They have found a number of ruins dating to a variety of periods.  Some have been restored.  Some look as if they were once available for viewing, but have been closed up. Some areas are currently under renovation.  Even though the ruins come from different eras they are all very close together.  You can see everything without having to walk very far.

I’d say of the three Pyramid sites, Saqqara was my favorite – not more important than Giza, but more enjoyable.  Each is worth a visit.  If you can convince your guide to do them in chronological order, then kudos to you.  I think that would be an interesting progression, but that guide would not be Zuzu.  He’s going to do Giza first, no matter what.

A Little Entertainment

As if to prove they’d gotten the tourist thing figured out a Saqqara, they actually had a cultural performance!  A toupe of dancers, both male and female, performed energetic renditions of folk dances, brandishing swords, swaying their hips and stomping their feet.  The colors were a little too Hollywood to be traditional, but I appreciated the effort.

The drive back to the Mena house was daunting.  It was five o’clock traffic Egyptian style.  I was appreciating Izzat more and more.  Back at the hotel we did a little exploration, wandering around at will.  We’d been on the official tour and they encouraged us to wander the hotel – so we did.  We also had another fantastic meal, this time at the Khan-il-Khalili restaurant which specialized in Egyptian cuisine.  Back at the room I packed up.  In the morning Izzat would be there fairly early to take us to the airport for the next phase of our adventure.

 

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Dining with Home Chef

Jane Sadek Made Yorkshire Pudding

TRAVEL HERE: THE YORKSHIRE PUDDING MIRACLE

I lost my mom four years ago, but she is so much a part of my life, every day, that you might think she actually lives in my house.  She was my friend, my confidante and the biggest challenge of my life.  In her later years, when preparing holiday feasts had become too difficult for her, one of her favorite things to do in the whole world, was to gather the family for a holiday meal at Lawry’s.  This tradition was not a favorite with my husband, for several reasons.  This is just one of the many situations where I was caught between the two most important people in my life.  Sometimes I sided with Bill, but when it came to Lawry’s, Mom had an edge – Yorkshire Pudding! 

Home Chef Has Yorkshire Pudding?

So, here I am on my tour of meal kit companies and it’s Home Chef’s turn.  One of their choices was Sunday Supper English Roast Steak with Yorkshire Pudding.  I was amazed it was even an option and I doubted it would meet my expectations, but I couldn’t resist it.  Lawry’s isn’t the only place I’ve eaten Yorkshire Pudding, but they certainly did a good job with it.  I confess that as much as I love the dish, I never tried to make it.  I’d looked at recipes and I couldn’t imagine how those instructions could end up being the dish I loved so much.  So here was an excuse to give it a whirl.

Cook Within X 

A little bonus on the Home Chef Recipe Cards is a note to cook a dish within X days of delivery.  I’m food savvy enough to know it’s fish first, then chicken or pork and finally beef, but the little notes on the card remind me – otherwise I would have probably cut right to the Yorkshire Pudding, in spite of what I knew.

Within three days, we were supposed to consume the Parmesan Crusted Salmon, so I made it the first day and was not wowed.  The meal was fine and Bill was content with it, but not me.  I would have enjoyed a little less salad and a little more protein.  Edible, but marginal in my book.  Next up was Seared Chicken with Tzatziki Sauce and Harissa-Roasted Cauliflower and I loved it.  I can’t say it made it to the top of the list, but it was a lot more delicious, in my book, than the salmon. 

Time for Yorkshire Pudding

It was a Saturday night and I recruited Bill to help me with the meal.  He just does steak better than I do, on the stove or on the grill.  Besides, I had my hands full with the Yorkshire Pudding.  I was a little intimidated to see that Home Chef rated this as an “Expert” meal (another little addition to their cards I had not seen elsewhere), but I was determined to conquer it.

Making the Yorkshire Pudding was not as difficult as I thought it might be.  The card warned me of all the possible pitfalls, like not having the pan hot enough or opening the oven door.  I just did what they told me to and voila!  The meal looked so good I pulled out the good china!!

The meal tasted as delicious as it looked.  The beef was sirloin, not Lawry’s prime rib, but otherwise I could have fooled myself into thinking I was back at Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

So, cooking with Home Chef was a lot of fun.  Of the three meals, one was below par in my opinion, one was fine and the third – REMARKABLE!  Next on the list Freshly.  They actually prepare the meal to be micro-waved, so I doubt they will be my final choice, but Bill wanted to give them a try.  Come back next week and see how it went.

 

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The Marvelous Mena House

TRAVEL THERE: AN AMAZING HOTEL

I was predisposed to love the Mena House.  I’d been hearing about it for years and it sounded like my kind of place.  It had historical significance and it was a luxury hotel Bill’s place of birth would make affordable.  Let me tell you about it.

Arriving in Style

 I will admit there is something posh about being delivered to your hotel by a private driver and car.  We pulled up to the security gate to be sniffed by dogs, checked by metal detectors and generally gone over with a fine tooth comb, but our driver handled it all while Bill and I marveled at the Pyramids looming over us.  I thought we’d have a view of them.  I didn’t realize we’d be next door.

The lobby was opulent and we were treated like dignitaries.  Being treated like dignitaries takes a little longer than just being tourists, but it was kind of fun.  We were whisked to our room on a golf cart by a servile employee of the hotel and escorted around our new digs as if they rooms of the old palace, instead of the very comfortable modern room we’d reserved.

A Delicious Meal

Our next stop was lunch.  We wandered across the grounds and found a nice patio restaurant which served food all day long.  The prices were reasonable, the service was attentive and the food was amazing.  The travel gods were shining on us.

A Free Historical Tour

As we lazed about enjoying the view our nephew Steven and his friend John arrived.  They’d fallen for the 8:30 sight-seeing tour I’d rejected.  While they regretted waking up early, they were very happy with their day.  We decided to meet up again soon and see the free historical tour of the hotel I’d seen advertised in the lobby.  The parade of celebrities who have stayed at the Mena House is pretty interesting, but not anything compared to the amount of history that has occurred since it was built in the 1800’s as a lodge for royalty.

The Rest of the Stay

The only problem we had with our stay at the Mena House is that it was too short.  We loved hanging out in our room and enjoying the patio with the great view of the pyramids.  We loved wandering around the hotel and grounds, photographing all the beauty both natural and man-planned.  The service was amazing.  The food was great – whether we were enjoying the free breakfast buffet, having lunch with a view or enjoying a Middle Eastern feast at the Khan il Khalili restaurant (named after the famous Cairo bazaar).

I have a fantasy of returning to Giza some day to see the wonderful museum being built to replace the Cairo Museum and the Mena House would be the perfect place to stay – but I doubt I could ever get Mr. Bill back to Egypt.  The place he has fond memories of growing up in doesn’t exist anymore.

If you’re still hungry for more about the Mena House, watch this video.  If you want to know about visiting the Pyramids, then come back next week.

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