Hidden in the Crowne Plaza Hotel on one of Abu Dhabi's busiest streets, lies a little hidden secret that really is not so secret at all...seeing the packed bar and dining room at only 7pm on a Friday night. Perhaps is the generous happy hour specials, or the dim and cozy atmosphere, but this seems like the place to be. And suddenly, me, showing up with a little baby half asleep in her car seat seems a little, well, not so cool. Regardless of my super un-coolness, the hostess greets us with the friendliest smile and seats us in a quieter table towards the back, where she knows we will hopefully both be able to relax.
I love the dark colors and earthly feel. The wooden tables, the Asian artwork, and the wood-carved walls make it seem like I have just walked into a restaurant in Bangkok, not Abu Dhabi. And it actually feels real, like down to earth real, not overly fabricated like so much here is. The service is quick to our table and explaining the signature dishes before I even have time to ask, which I really like.
We were persuaded to try the uber popular Wasabi Prawns. While they are breaded and deep-fried (slightly more reminiscent of pub food than I personally prefer), the prawns were cooked perfectly to a melt-in-the-mouth tenderness and the wasabi sauce paired with the sweet mango chunks was an addicting combination. Apparently, I am not the only one that thinks so, as our waiter explained that customers always ask for the recipe and even the neighboring restaurants have tried to recreate this dish...but to no avail.
The menu is vast, with salmon, lobster, and duck in addition to the more common chicken and beef dishes. The salmon was an incredibly moist cross cut of the fillet, doused in a spicy Thai coconut curry sauce. The Peking duck was a real winner, crisp and meaty (not gamy) served with the expected steamed pancakes and hoisin sauce. Feel like noodles? Pad Thai was light and flavorful (with tender prawns), instead of the greasy pile of noodles that I always fear. And what cannot be overlooked are the generous portion sizes. Like most hotels in Abu Dhabi, the prices are not cheap, but you will most likely go home stuffed, or at least with leftovers, if you have any restraint.
The dessert selection is not my favorite. The very popular Chocolate Samosas were fried pockets of melted chocolate that call to your inner 10-year-old, but they could have been served crispier, although the accompanying vanilla ice cream was nice and creamy. If you really love Asian flavors, the Jasmine Tea Creme Brulee accompanied by Red Bean Ice Cream was an interesting twist on traditional ingredients.
So I have to agree with my little one, who decided early on that her car seat was way too boring for this exciting place. She fussed and cried until I took her out and sat her on my lap. Bad decision on her part because she somehow ended up with a few grains of fried rice in her shirt, and some curry sauce in her hair.