No, this isn't a typo - I do mean my two best foods of 2011. So what if it's only been 19 days since the start of the year? Why wait around till the end of the year to start celebrating those awesome gems that I've already started discovering now, in Jan? And if there are others down the line that trump the two I've found, so be it. I'll just gorge on those instead.
Now just to be clear, 'best' is not a term that I'll throw on any random fritter that crosses my path and happens to taste 'yummy.' Best is a title only conferred on those foods that result in
(a) an EUREKA! moment = they make me stop mid-way between a sentence or a thought when I take the first bite, and go, OMG/GASP/some incoherent version thereof of OMG or GASP.
(b) HYPNOSIS = they leave me significantly enchanted for the rest of the meal...all I'd be thinking about is, 'how the heck did whoever make this, make this? And can they make bottomless mounds of it so that I can endlessly cram my face with it?'
(c) PROLONGED HIGH PULSE RATE = they leave me all jittery with excitement like an overcaffeinated junkie, just waiting to tell someone, anyone, about what I just ate.
How convenient is it that the two foods I picked fulfill all three criteria?
The first - the Croque Monsieur at Boulevard Café, a breezy little café with soft long drapes and exactly the sort of tranquil European music that makes you want to wake up on a blissful vacation morning to pain et beurre and other pretty sounding French names that can make even bread and butter sound like duck confit. Sadly no vacation for me - I had to hop to work right after, but for the next 30 minutes, my Monday = a lazy Friday morning. I fell instantly in love with everything about the place - the peaceful location across Souk al Bahar, the way the server eloquently walked me through the brioche and croissants and other baked angels fluttering delicately within the pastry display (we both agreed that the iced cupcakes were a little over-the-top for a weekday morning breakfast), my little table outside on the patio...and above all, a menu that was peppered through and through with the best of breakfast and brunch comfort foods.My picks from the menu -
a pricey cappuccino (16 bucks! only 2 more than chainey starbucks next door. but it still hurt, especially since the pretty glass wasn't so over the top awesome after all (and since when did we start serving cappuccinos in glasses?). for just a second, that lazy Friday reverie broke out into gloomy Monday morning again. but can't do breakfast sans coffee. AND it's a French cafe after all. The French can get away with anything when they're feeding you I say.)...and then, brace yourself cause this is one of my two mega hits this year, THE Croque Monsieur. Now despite the delicate French puckered name, nothing about this sandwich was petite...it was a fat decadent block of cheese and bechamel fit to silence a starved Amazonian jungle lion. (I'm not sure where that metaphor came about since I'm quite sure that cheese and bechamel don't factor into a lion's routine diet. But, good food makes you blind to reason sometimes, and I WAS BLINDED.)I described it thus on facebook the second I left the place, because I was quivering with excitement to blurt out the experience, bite by thrilling bite, to every and anyone who'd be willing to hear:
Facebook status update: died and went to heaven after my croque monsieur at boulevard cafe this morning.
Foodie friend's near instantaneous comment: directions please?
My comment-in-response: Right outside al manzil (the hotel) opposite souk al bahar. Thin slices of turkey ham, toast, slathering of bechamel sauce, and warm layer of cratered gruyere slopped up top (I know slathering and slopped aren't real words, but sometimes awesome food calls for new and more befitting vocab).
My comment-in-response-to-my-own-comment-coz-comment 1-didn't-do-total-justice: I could swear that they had some mustard action going on in there too, which really helped keep the over-the-top richness of the whole thing under control. And a side of thick crispy potato chips with tons and tons of fresh pepper. SO good.
Truly, everything about Boulevard's Croque Monsieur stroked that little (Amazonian) lion-kitten in the corner of my heart and made it purr with smug contentment for the rest of the day.Now the second a-ha moment I've had since the start of the year is over dessert...over these playful fusion truffles I happened to try while searching for a decaffeinated pitstop during my hunt for the perfect coffee bean. I'd been to Sugarbox bakery before, at their original Sharjah location at Qasba, to pick up fourteen specially designed custom cupcakes. These guys are pros at cupcake art - you want a monkey face on your cupcake? they got your back. A bonnet-ted baby on your cupcake? they still got your back. Louis vuitton bag on your cupcake? oh jeez, really Dubai, can we not leave the bling and brands off our cupcakes at least?! Whatever...they got your back anyway. And luckily, pretty hasn't resulted in nasty - you'd think the cupcakes taste like plastic with all the intricate artwork going on them, but on a cupcake taste scale out of 10, they're actually a decent 5 or 6...maybe even pushing 7 for certain flavors like carrot or date.Anyway, I've totally sidetracked my Best Food for discussion - the truffles. These I tried at their new Mercato location...super tiny store, barely noticeable, no real splash and fanfare (though I missed their opening late last year)...sort of sitting quietly on a landmine of explosively gob-rocking (my newest vocab addition) truffles. When I nobbed off a chunk of the truffle that I'd bought, my inner voice reverberated through my soul with one and only one profound thought: If someone had to pelt me with canon balls someday, God I hope they make 'em with white chocolate balls stuffed with oreo chocolate cakey mush.Jeez, why aren't people lining up in an hour-long queue and strategizing over how to grab that last oreo truffle before the person ahead of them? Maybe cause this ain't New York. And the truffles don't have bling on them. Sugarbox - my advice to you, shove some bling on those truffles or engrave an LV or YSL or any two poshy letters on your truffles and get those crowds in. One taste, and they'd be hooked.
I've had a similar mindblowing experience with their biscuit truffle - crunchy but soft biscuit core dipped in milk chocolate. And the red-velvet fan sister tried the red velvet truffle, also a blockbuster hit. So simple, but so perfectly executed with the right combination of textures and flavors that go into making a truffle explode into little happy moments in your mouth.
On a not-so-best-food moment, I also tried their promising mini chocolate cupcake topped with baby marshmallows. It exploded all right, into plastic and rubber gagging moments in my mouth. NEVER to be repeated again.
So there they are, two of the Best Foods I've eaten this year. If I had a best of Five list, Boulevard's Croque Monsieur and Sugarbox's white oreo truffle would bag prime positions on that list. Actually...there's no reason why I shouldn't have such a list. DONE. Decided. Precisely such a list I will have. A Best Seven of 2011 (sound way cooler than Best Five of 2011). Of course, there's no predicting why my two current favs may not eventually fall of the list - we have till December to figure it all out. Will they make the cut, or will they, in the words of one of my not-so-favorite-foodie-game-show-host, be Chopped?
Al Manzil Hotel
Dubai Location: Mercato Mall
Sharjah Location: Al Qasba
Phone: +971 6 556 0622