When it comes to restaurants, every great city has its leitmotif, the thing which immediately calls to mind the spirit of the place.
In New York, it's everything cutting-edge, these days molecular, intimidating rooms full of Serious Foodies. In Paris, those timeless bistros that serve French Food as if it were a sacrifice in cream and butter. In London, gastropubs. In Cairo, the fading, sweetly drowsy places downtown that try and hang on to some vestige of the cosmopolitan past (and their liquor licences). In Dubai - well, in Dubai, it's whatever they think might be going on in other cities, but on the eightieth floor.
Here in this quiet capital on the sea, I've realized, we too have that kind of signifier. It may not have the cachet of some clever little spot in NoLiTa or the chic of the sixteenth arrondissement, but it's all ours: the Indian-Chinese-Arabian-Continental.
They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from unsavory backstreet holes to something that almost approximates the American concept of the diner: a place where you can go and get hearty meal for not all that much money in a no-frills setting (only with more ghee and cumin). They serve cashew chicken that tastes of korma and dal with a hint of soy sauce; they all serve something (different in every place) called beef Stroganoff.
I think they exist so that expats will have somewhere to go, but so that local diners-out can still get the national dish, grilled chicken on rice (we were once at a local fast food outlet and saw a heated argument break out when a local citizen discovered that Hardee's, in fact, does not serve rice).
Well, Our Fair City's latest hotspot has just opened. We've been waiting for months, Mr. Muscato and I, to see what goes into a splendid little pavilion on the beach that has been being renovated. We've walked Koko past it countless times, watching as it got more and more encouraging, looking like it might be a clever little seafood place, something new and different. A glass-walled second floor dining room looks out over the sea, and a cluster of tables sit just over a low divider from the beach promenade.
Perhaps, we dreamed, it might even get a licence... ah, civilization.
Well, it's open, and what it is is in fact the very apotheosis of Indian-Chinese-Arabian-Contintental. It's that backstreet hole in the wall, with a view. Rest easy, neighbors: rice is plentifully available. As are club sandwiches, and odd juice drinks with ice cream and chunks of fruit; and kabobs, and I'm sure if I looked hard enough, beef Stroganoff.
It's actually rather nice, although the menu has nothing to do with either the name (2nd Avenue) or the décor (budget Arabian). Well, it's something new, and in a place this quiet, we mustn't, I suppose, quibble.