Despite the luscious photo of that amazingly moist and cinnamon-spiced date cake that you see above (more about that later), the Iftar menu at Paul is surprisingly healthy and satisfying. Paul is the famous French Bakery and Cafe that you may have seen in many cities across the world, but here in the UAE is the only place that you will find the Iftar menu! (A menu that has been especially created for the celebratory nightly dinner at sundown, during the month of Ramadan).
After a long day of fasting, this French twist on the nightly meal is exactly what you should give yourself. It is a significant amount of food, but spaced out, and not overly rich or heavy. You are immediately greeted with a refreshing date juice and some of the bakery's well-loved fresh and chewy french bread. Soon after, you choose from two soups, either a warm, perfectly pureed lentil (that you would swear got its silky texture and rich flavor from cream, but does not) or a cold tomato vegetable (that almost resembles a gazpacho).
Next is the salad course with two options, the spinach salad with quinoa, avocado, tomato, beets and mint was my favorite. The other was a spicy rocket salad, with green lentils, pomegranate seeds, radishes and walnuts. Both were really refreshing and very light on dressing which meant lots of crunchy fresh bites.
So while an average person might be pretty full at this point, you now have the choice of three main courses: beef, chicken or fish. All were light and a perfect balance to the soup and salad. Tender beef medallions are served with little stuffed zucchini squash, and a deliciously creamy, gravied brown rice. The chicken is pounded super thin and grilled with a nice base of pearl barley, chickpeas, quinoa and gently sauteed veg. The fish is a little more complex but still rustic: roasted sea bass, carrots, potatoes, and fennel (yum!) sitting in a warm bath of of seafood bisque. No not your 1950's seafood bisque. This one is light, flavorful, and is served with an incredible bowl of saffron rice (with or without minced black olives). I could have eaten the whole bowl!!
So, finally, you can not go to a French cafe and not expect amazing desserts. On this set menu, you have four options (so obviously make sure you go with four friends so that you can taste them all). The desserts really reflect the melding of East and West...for example the Date Eclair or the Mille-Feuille with rosewater, and raspberries. Of course the Vanilla Banana Caramel Tart was also fantastic, but my favorite was the Caramel Date Cake. I actually ended up liking it so much that I got some more for breakfast the next day. As my husband likes to point out, I am Italian and we eat cake for breakfast.