I am not quite sure when I will stop being surprised to find fantastic restaurants tucked into those rarely mentioned hotels in Abu Dhabi. And, each and every time I do, I try to remind myself these places need to be searched out! They are equally good, if not better value, than those popular ones that get the attention of city centre. Case in point: Teatro at the Park Rotana. It sits unassumingly just down the street from the well known 2454 building. Unless you know it is there, you will absolutely miss the life-sized red Teatro lettering on the sidewalk next to the valet ...providing the perfect Instagram backdrop.
Teatro's theme is Theater, and dining there is entertainment. Don't worry, nothing about it is cheesy. There is no gaudy decor, nor any table-side magicians. Just great food, and knowledgeable service. Past the large open bar, in the intimately lit dining room, hang white chandeliers and heavy satin curtains. It feels like a dining room converted from London's famous West End. The kitchen is semi open, which allows for a mid-meal glance "back stage" into Teatro's kitchen.
Teatro somehow manages to expertly execute on a vast menu that focuses on Asian and Italian specialties. I know it sounds like an odd mix, but they are catering to their global clientele, and they pull it off with amazing grace. Most of the plates are on the smaller side, except for the mains, which allows you the option to taste a nice variety of their offerings.
We started off with a complementary amuse bouche that really did its job to whet our appetites. Three small bites: one of polenta with caramelized crispy onions, one of spicy mapo tofu, and one of a tandoor grilled shrimp. Each one was a perfect tantalizing tease of what was to come. Moving on to a few starters, The Sakura Salad is marinated tuna and salmon sashimi in an addicitingly tangy Japanese vinaigrette. The Sweet and Sticky Veal Ribs are covered in a Malaysian black pepper glaze and cooked tender to the bone; and the Jumbo Prawn Tempura is so lightly fried in the Japanese method to leave the prawn juicy, while the coating crispy, that I will be craving these for days.
Next, Sushi. Teatro covers the spectrum from traditional to inventive. Two specialties are the Rainbow Roll focusing on a colorful array of sashimi, and the Passion Torch Roll which intricately presents "torched" slices of tuna. Just a hint of that nicely charred flavor. The fish was all very fresh, the rice sticky and if someone asked me where to go for great sushi, I would point them here.
For the mains, the popular Miso Seabass is a choice that will never go wrong. A generous chunk of moist, caramelized Chilean seabass is served atop glazed Asian greens and seared mushrooms, with pillowy potato almond croquettes. While miso glazed fish is a popular dish at a few of the uber high-end restaurants across the capital, it is undoubtedly re-created equally well at Teatro, with a much more attractive price tag attached. The classic Surf and Turf is also another not to miss. A dripping steak and a plump lobster tail are plated on creamy mashed potatoes. Homey but decadent.
Finally, The Big Show dessert option covers all the bases with a little of each signature sweet. The Espresso Mochi and the Lemongrass Creme Brulee were two stand outs. Additionally, Teatro proved that they have mastered gelato and fusion cuisine with a creamy Thai-coconut version. Like theater, Teatro's food is presented beautifully (with detail and care on intricate Japanese dishes), but like great theater, there is delicious substance behind the flair that makes you want to return again and again.
Park Rotana, Abu Dhabi
Open 6pm-11pm Nightly
* The edited version of this article originally appeared in Dining and Nightlife.