All aboard for a seafood sensation

Published: Saturday, July 30, 2016    

There’s only one other sea-themed activity that Sana Panjwani enjoys more than watching Jaws, and that’s tucking into seafood. Join her as she sets sails for Danat Al Ain Resort’s Arabesque Restaurant for its weekly Arabian Fisher’s Night…

There is a reason why fish serves as a traditional Emirati dish, and it has little to do with vitamin levels. Back when the United Arab Emirates was founded in 1971, the residents weren’t as fortunate to have the abundant import/export routes that are as prevalent now. The arid and hot climate also didn’t help, as not a lot of edible vegetation could survive in the extreme temperatures this region is known for.

Therefore, it is no wonder that the people took to hunting and fishing for food, especially considering the fact that the UAE is mainly bounded by sea. The saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” was taken to a whole new level as fishing was an in-demand vocation.

Fast-forward to the present and the UAE has come quite far in its near 45 years. From a fishing country to one competing to become a leader in many fields, the culinary scene in the UAE now includes a vast array of international cuisines, all reflecting the public diversity the country is home to.

The cuisine of the early days is far from lost though, and every Thursday between the hours of 7pm and 11pm, Danat Al Ain Resort’s Arabesque Restaurant brings its patrons just that, in the form of Arabian Fisher’s Night.

Currently in its third month, Arabian Fisher’s Night is spearheaded by Executive Sous Chef, Abdul Sikander, who has been with Danat for the past two-and-a-half-years, and holds 18 years of experience under his culinary belt.

“Our original theme night was International Seafood, however we found that our patrons enjoyed a more regional specific menu and so Arabian Fisher’s Night was born,” said the Indian chef whose specialities lie in Italian and Seafood cuisine.

The Chef ushered my dining companions and I around the buffet, pausing at each station to give us a brief introduction of what was available. We stopped at the crowning jewel, a large container filled to the brim with ice and the fresh fauna of the neighbouring seas including sherry fish, king fish, hammour, crabs, lobsters, shrimps and tuna – all brought in from the local fish market that very day.

On Chef’s recommendation, we piled our plates with hammour, lobster and even salmon, and I added in a bit of crab and tuna to really give my Vitamin A a boost.

I opted for my seafood bounty to be grilled although other cooking methods are also available, and thanked the Oriental Sous Chef, Magdy Rezk, whose Middle Eastern background and experience leans heavily in the creation of the dishes.

As our aquatic fare was being prepared, I headed back to the start of the buffet, where my appetiser plate did not do justice to the abundance of choices in front of me!

A wide range of starters sat upon aquatic-themed fishbowls, from shooters of Tomato Jelly with Hammour Ceviche and Orange Jelly with Salmon Ceviche, to juices of herbs and fruit along with a small mountain of shrimp and prawns.

In spite of each dish’s enticing presentation, I was careful to not fill up on just the starters and chose a Shrimp Cocktail – complete with Italian dressing and a slice of strawberry and orange – smoked salmon and trout and a small jug-like glass of carrot, ginger and orange soup.

I was contemplating on which Ceviche to sample when my eyes landed further down the buffet line where an assortment of sushi lay! Being the ‘shrimpomaniac’ that I am, I grabbed the shrimp sushi without a second’s hesitation before also picking out a vibrant greencoloured piece as well.

It was a delightful assortment to begin my meal – the Shrimp Cocktail was garnished with herbs, and tasted sweet and earthy, complementing the citrusy flavour of the orange slice.

The two highlights from my appetiser selection was the mixed soup which was refreshing and pulpy and the wasabi caviar sushi stuffed exclusively with fruits. I had drizzled a tiny bit of soya sauce on my sushi, unlike my colleague who had bravely mixed copious amounts of wasabi and soya sauce together and was happily sampling all available sushi… to each their own, I say.

My plate of grilled goodies arrived just as I was about to tackle the salad bar where I chose a tasty trio of potato salad with roasted onions, smoked chicken with asparagus and tomato pommery and mustard dressing, along with my buffet favourite, fattoush.

Seafood-based salads were also available which one of my dining compatriots indulged in and dubbed them as ‘masterpieces’ and ‘really good’, with a few more intensifiers added in!

After cleaning off my salad plate, I finally tucked into my main course. The lobster was sweet and buttery, the crab warm and soft and the salmon nicely seasoned with a tangy twist.

The only noises that came from our table for a while as we savoured our mains were the distinct sounds of shells being cracked, the soft clink of forks and knives, and lowsounding ‘mmms’ and ‘aaahs’ to convey how much in agreement the three of us were about the quality of the food! With my stomach slowly reaching its capacity but still yearning for more, I headed back to the buffet to sample the readymade dishes. Those looking for nonseafood options will be pleased to hear that other dishes are also available such as Penne Primavera or Mashed Potatoes and Grilled Chicken with Tomato and Olives.

I decided on a few spoonfuls of the Penne dish which consisted of lightly sautéed Spring veggies, then added a little mashed potato and a Stuffed Seafood Dolma – an Iraqi dish where vegetables are stuffed with meat, but in this case, seafood.

The pasta was a big hit, as was the Dolma which was equal parts juicy and spicy. The mashed potato was like biting into a cloud and it was served at a perfect temperature.

A myriad of other seafood dishes are also available in the buffet including Gulf Shrimp Biryani (sweet and spicy!), fish cakes, fried ladies fish fingers, fried sardines, fried squid, mixed seafood a la crème and an intriguing dish called Samak Patata bil Sanayah, which literally translates to Fish Potato in a Pot! Brown rice is also served separately to pair with your choice of seafood and is a good companion to seafood, according to Chef Abdul.

Moving on to my last trip to the buffet, we all know that everyone has a secret pocket in their stomachs for dessert, meaning there is always room for some. Hats off to Hom Bahadur Khadka, the Pastry Chef, who brought a wide array of mouth-watering treats to the proverbial table - and he didn’t skimp on the chocolate.

While one companion simply settled for a bowl of ice cream and the other companion’s plate was piled with fruits, tarts, macaroons and other sweet delicacies, I stuck to my chocoholic ways and indulged in a Mango Chocolate Dome, chocolate mousse, a peanut butter and chocolate bar and chocolate fudge - all baked to perfection.

Baklava, kunafa (sugar-soaked pastry) and a number of other scrumptious pastries were also available, including Umm Ali, the region’s famed bread pudding.

The entire dining experience was an absolute delight, from the refreshing starters down to the delectable desserts. The softly lit environment along with the laid-back tunes created a great ambience perfect for family dining as well as for date night with your special someone… All aboard everyone!
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