With summer holidays approaching fast, and feeling relaxed and wanting to stretch our legs a bit, we packed the family into the Fortuner, and headed off for a drive to wherever.
I've always enjoyed heading out in that fashion. Just hop on a bike, or into a car, and start moving, without an agenda in mind or a particular direction you want to travel. Then as chance, traffic, and sudden whim dictates, a direction is chosen, and a path is set. On this particular night, our path, at first, led us to the French Bakery, just behind the Shangri-La Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road.
The French Bakery has been in Dubai for quite some time. In truth the "French" part of the name appears to be mostly for marketing purposes, as the bakery is actually Lebanese owned and run. You can get the most lip smacking manakeesh this side of the Al Reef Bakery, and beef fatayer that nobody, but nobody in this city can touch. And the sandwiches? Golly. They are about the only place that will freshly roast turkeys every day, carve them up, spread on a touch of brie, and place that between two soft, pillowy sheets which cannot be called bread, because to use that label would be to sully their magnificence.
Quite simply, they take the " out of luxury, and put it in lunch.
The interesting thing about the French Bakery is not necessarily what items you can buy there, but where you can buy their items. Their sandwiches are on the shelf of every Caribou Coffee and countless cafeterias across the city. The muffins rest in the display of every Second Cup. Indeed, these days, shop after shop, super market after supermarket, I always seem to see their wares popping up. And it make sense. Quality, in the end, brings the customers, and only with quality can you charge enough to make bringing in those customers worthwhile.
After our pitstop at the French Bakery, which was an adventure in itself since the normal road leading there was entirely dug up, and we were forced to take a winding circuitous route that led to the loading dock of the building, where a single lane led to a temporary cul de sac, big enough only to pause, kick out a passenger, and squeeze around to make room for the cars behind. Heading back down that little one lane path was a lesson in silent non-verbal negotiation where flashing hi-beams were the medium of communication.
Eventually the wife returned, and we were off, again to no particular place, just letting the flow of traffic dictate our path.
We eventually ended up at the Jumeirah Beach Residence, and, feeling hungry, we decided to park and look for something to eat.
The wife felt like Italian, and felt like Italian in the strongest manner possible, and staring out at use, just as we parked, like a shining star in the distance, beckoning us forward, was La Dolce Vita - "A Taste of Italy."
My daughter ran forward, entranced by the water fountain, and I follwed behind here, smiling at the waiter. Taking a menu in hand, I noticed the kids menu labeled "Bambinos" and I chuckled. Patting my little one on the head, I gave the waiter a wink and said "This is my little bambina."
And he laughed, a short chuckle really, winking back right back at me. It was like an episode of Leave it to Beaver shot in Gino-town.
When my wife finally arrived with the stroller, and the other wee one, blissfully asleep at the moment, we headed on in. An older, short, thick necked, and eerily quiet man showed us in. By the one or two syllables he let slip on the way, I we guessed that he probably was an honest to God Italian. I mean what could be better than that! It's like having Pancho Villa wander by when you order the flavorless, queasy making quesdailla at On the Border: Mexican Grill. And by gosh didn't he just look like an extra from The Godfather: Part II? Su-per!
Sitting down, an odd note was struck upon noticing the place mats, which had little diagonal slashes down the middle, separating the La Dolce Vita logo from the Wok Away! logo.
There's signs from heaven, and then there's placemats screaming at you to f'n rear in gear and bust a move down the road. Except all the signs in the world are no use when you're an obtuse ass being a bigshot Canuck and acting like he has a clue.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?
The menus came, and we, sorry, "I" decided on the fried calamari rings. I have this thing, in Dubai, where whenever I go to an Italian place, or some place that has "Italian" on the menu, I order fried calamari rings. Johnny Carino's, TGI Fridays, I've never been disappointed.
When the "appetizer" came, it looked a bit odd, but we decided to give it a go. The fries were soggy and stale tasting, and the rings were flavorless, greasy, and rubbery, and for all intents and purposes appeared to have gone straight from the freezer to the under heated oil, and onto the plate, complete with a side of "tartar" sauce straight from a Kraft bottle.
We both ate a few, not that there were many to begin with, and tried to interest our daughter, who normally rips fries straight from our fingers, disallowing us any part of a share until she had had her fill, was entirely uninterested in what she saw on the plate. But in the end, we just couldn't finish this small appetizer. It was awful, terrible even, in the most terrible way.
Still, one bad appetizer is not enough to get me grumbling overly much. No, to do that, you have to serve the pizza with no plates to eat off of, have sand and dirt visible on the pizza, have the crust be such a soggy piece of mush that it makes wet paper look stiff. And on top of that, you have to bring my pasta order over with something entirely other than what I ordered in the bowl, smiling like you're some angel on high bequeathing a blessed gift, even though I specifically repeated the order four times!
My wife took on bite of the pizza, and spit it out. She had to wash her mouth out with the tepid water, which we'd poured into the whiskey glasses we'd been provided with.
I'm not much of a scene maker, or at least not very good at making scenes, but for the first time in my life, I stood up, told my wife to get up, got the kids and headed off.
Pushing through a crowd of waiters, all puzzled and alarmed at this behaviour, I wheeled the stroller over the the exit, the littlest one still blissfully asleep, and made my getaway.
Of course, being the Canadian I am, I paid the bill on the way. Though I did make them knock off the pasta, since the plate never touched our table.
But darned if I didn't make sure that everyone in the restaurant heard as I listed my grievances.
Actually, I sort of just mumbled a bit, confusing the Filipino hostess. But it was a good thing I wasn't over the top a-holish, because my wife had forgotten her phone on the table.
So there was at least one bright spot in the evening, and it came in the form of the same waiter I'd shared lamest chuckle in the world with earlier. He ran up to us, smiled, handed over the phone, and handily nipped our self-righteous anger in the bud.
Still, we were hungry. And we needed some place to go.