Monday, February 8, 2010

Table for one, please

A hungry black cat, Tim McGraw tunes, complete solitude and a sparkling new Audi 8.

You never what you'll encounter when you go out to dinner in Abu Dhabi.

The spot: The Riviera, a well-recommended waterfront restaurant about a mile from my flat, located in an out-of-way marina called The Al Bateen Club. The date: A Saturday night, which is a slow night here because it's the last gasp of the weekend; everyone goes back to work on Sunday morning.

Still, it was a bit of a surprise to walk in about 8 p.m. and discover I was the only one there – not counting two hostesses, two waiters, four waitresses, two bartenders, and I assume a cook or two back in the kitchen. Probably some dishwashers, too. They all seemed happy to see me.

I had my pick of tables, of course, and chose one against the railing overlooking the marina. The moment I sat down, the black cat appeared on the slanted seawall that runs along the other side of the railing. He was a pro – he walked up, meowed hello, saw that I didn't have any food yet and disappeared into the darkness.

As I scanned the menu (Italian with English subtitles), I noticed country music playing in the background. Odd, I thought, for an Italian restaurant in Abu Dhabi. Odder still, they played the same artist the entire hour and a half I was there. Someone must have bought the box set. (I must confess, I had to Google some lyrics before I was sure it was Tim McGraw. I wonder if he knows he has a fan club in Abu Dhabi?)

The moment my food arrived, the black cat reappeared. He sat patiently on the other side of the railing, letting me know he was there without being pushy. (Panhandlers could learn a thing or two from this cat.) My bowl of seafood fettucini was huge, and I was happy to share. Small pieces of shrimp and fish and mussels dropped over the railing were quickly devoured. The cat had obviously been through this routine before – the moment the waiter took the dishes away, he once again slipped into the shadows.

The food was good but not great, the wine was fine but a little pricey. The location was a bit odd – I had to walk along a dusty road through a dark construction site to reach the club – but the view was nice and the service was great, as you might expect, considering the numbers. (Just before I left, two guys came in and took an inside table. They were the only other customers I saw.) The area around the restaurant looked worth a return trip, too – a big pool with an outdoor bar, a shisha lounge, a health club.

Oh, and the Audi A8. I asked the hostess to call a taxi for my short trip home, and rather than dialing the standard cab company she went the luxury route. The car was gorgeous and the driver was friendly, and he didn't seem to mind that he had come all that way to drive me the short mile back to my flat.

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