People, I present to you the TWO BEST FOODS I’ve eaten in 2011.

No, this isn’t a typo – I do mean my two best foods of 2011. So what if it’s only been 19 days since the start of the year? Why wait around till the end of the year to start celebrating those awesome gems that I’ve already started discovering now, in Jan? And if there are others down the line that trump the two I’ve found, so be it. I’ll just gorge on those instead.

Now just to be clear, ‘best’ is not a term that I’ll throw on any random fritter that crosses my path and happens to taste ‘yummy.’  Best is a title only conferred on those foods that result in

(a) an EUREKA! moment = they make me stop mid-way between a sentence or a thought when I take the first bite, and go, OMG/GASP/some incoherent version thereof of OMG or GASP.

(b) HYPNOSIS = they leave me significantly enchanted for the rest of the meal…all I’d be thinking about is, ‘how the heck did whoever make this, make this? And can they make bottomless mounds of it so that I can endlessly cram my face with it?’

(c) PROLONGED HIGH PULSE RATE = they leave me all jittery with excitement like an overcaffeinated junkie, just waiting to tell someone, anyone, about what I just ate.

How convenient is it that the two foods I picked fulfill all three criteria?

The first – the Croque Monsieur at Boulevard Café, a breezy little café with soft long drapes and exactly the sort of tranquil European music that makes you want to wake up on a blissful vacation morning to pain et beurre and other pretty sounding French names that can make even bread and butter sound like duck confit. Sadly no vacation for me – I had to hop to work right after, but for the next 30 minutes, my Monday = a lazy Friday morning. I fell instantly in love with everything about the place – the peaceful location across Souk al Bahar, the way the server eloquently walked me through the brioche and croissants and other baked angels fluttering delicately within the pastry display (we both agreed that the iced cupcakes were a little over-the-top for a weekday morning breakfast), my little table outside on the patio…and above all, a menu that was peppered through and through with the best of breakfast and brunch comfort foods.My picks from the menu –

a pricey cappuccino (16 bucks! only 2 more than chainey starbucks next door. but it still hurt, especially since the pretty glass wasn’t so over the top awesome after all (and since when did we start serving cappuccinos in glasses?). for just a second, that lazy Friday reverie broke out into gloomy Monday morning again. but can’t do breakfast sans coffee. AND  it’s a French cafe after all. The French can get away with anything when they’re feeding you I say.)…and then, brace yourself cause this is one of my two mega hits this year, THE Croque Monsieur. Now despite the delicate French puckered name, nothing about this sandwich was petite…it was a fat decadent block of cheese and bechamel fit to silence a starved Amazonian jungle lion. (I’m not sure where that metaphor came about since I’m quite sure that cheese and bechamel don’t factor into a lion’s routine diet. But, good food makes you blind to reason sometimes, and I WAS BLINDED.)I described it thus on facebook the second I left the place, because I was quivering with excitement to blurt out the experience, bite by thrilling bite, to every and anyone who’d be willing to hear:

Facebook status update: died and went to heaven after my croque monsieur at boulevard cafe this morning.

Foodie friend’s near instantaneous comment: directions please?

My comment-in-response: Right outside al manzil (the hotel) opposite souk al bahar. Thin slices of turkey ham, toast, slathering of bechamel sauce, and warm layer of cratered gruyere slopped up top (I know slathering and slopped aren’t real words, but sometimes awesome food calls for new and more befitting vocab).

My comment-in-response-to-my-own-comment-coz-comment 1-didn’t-do-total-justice: I could swear that they had some mustard action going on in there too, which really helped keep the over-the-top richness of the whole thing under control. And a side of thick crispy potato chips with tons and tons of fresh pepper. SO good.

Truly, everything about Boulevard’s Croque Monsieur stroked that little (Amazonian) lion-kitten in the corner of my heart and made it purr with smug contentment for the rest of the day.Now the second a-ha moment I’ve had since the start of the year is over dessert…over these playful fusion truffles I happened to try while searching for a decaffeinated pitstop during my hunt for the perfect coffee bean. I’d been to Sugarbox bakery before, at their original Sharjah location at Qasba, to pick up fourteen specially designed custom cupcakes. These guys are pros at cupcake art – you want a monkey face on your cupcake? they got your back. A bonnet-ted baby on your cupcake? they still got your back. Louis vuitton bag on your cupcake? oh jeez, really Dubai, can we not leave the bling and brands off our cupcakes at least?! Whatever…they got your back anyway. And luckily, pretty hasn’t resulted in nasty – you’d think the cupcakes taste like plastic with all the intricate artwork going on them, but on a cupcake taste scale out of 10, they’re actually a decent 5 or 6…maybe even pushing 7 for certain flavors like carrot or date.Anyway, I’ve totally sidetracked my Best Food for discussion – the truffles. These I tried at their new Mercato location…super tiny store, barely noticeable, no real splash and fanfare (though I missed their opening late last year)…sort of sitting quietly on a landmine of explosively gob-rocking (my newest vocab addition) truffles. When I nobbed off a chunk of the truffle that I’d bought, my inner voice reverberated through my soul with one and only one profound thought: If someone had to pelt me with canon balls someday, God I hope they make ’em with white chocolate balls stuffed with oreo chocolate cakey mush.Jeez, why aren’t people lining up in an hour-long queue and strategizing over how to grab that last oreo truffle before the person ahead of them? Maybe cause this ain’t New York. And the truffles don’t have bling on them. Sugarbox – my advice to you, shove some bling on those truffles or engrave an LV or YSL or any two poshy letters on your truffles and get those crowds in. One taste, and they’d be hooked.

I’ve had a similar mindblowing experience with their biscuit truffle – crunchy but soft biscuit core dipped in milk chocolate. And the red-velvet fan sister tried the red velvet truffle, also a blockbuster hit. So simple, but so perfectly executed with the right combination of textures and flavors that go into making a truffle explode into little happy moments in your mouth.

On a not-so-best-food moment, I also tried their promising mini chocolate cupcake topped with baby marshmallows. It exploded all right, into plastic and rubber gagging moments in my mouth. NEVER to be repeated again.

So there they are, two of the Best Foods I’ve eaten this year.  If I had a best of Five list, Boulevard’s Croque Monsieur and Sugarbox’s white oreo truffle would bag prime positions on that list.  Actually…there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have such a list. DONE. Decided. Precisely such a list I will have. A Best Seven of 2011 (sound way cooler than Best Five of 2011). Of course, there’s no predicting why my two current favs may not eventually fall of the list – we have till December to figure it all out. Will they make the cut, or will they, in the words of one of my not-so-favorite-foodie-game-show-host, be Chopped?

Boulevard Café
Al Manzil Hotel
Downtown Dubai

Sugarbox Bakery
Dubai Location: Mercato Mall
Sharjah Location: Al Qasba
Phone: +971 6 556 0622

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

16 thoughts on “People, I present to you the TWO BEST FOODS I’ve eaten in 2011.

  1. saleem says:

    Must go to some of the places you have mentioned with you to explore – take me there next time.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Dad – you bet, this is on our Friday family list of places to visit!

      @Sarah – bon appetit! :)

  2. Jenn says:

    Just added Truffle Procurement to my Dubai wishlist.

    Awesome on the Boulevard endorsement, and I think their coffees-in-glass are beautiful (I put a photo of their latte in a jacketed glass here: Have also enjoyed their muesli and the comforting simplicity of the soft boiled egg with buttered toast cut into "toy soldiers"… but enough about breakfast, let me look at those truffles again…

  3. Sally says:

    Can’t wait to see the rest of the top rated. Not having a sweet tooth and being too stingy to fork out the ridiculous amount charged for ’cup-cakes’ (they were called fairy cakes in my day and didn’t have a layer of super-sweet icing the height of the Burj Khalifa on top of them) I am nevertheless rather drawn to those little truffle things. If push came to shove however, a croque monsieur would be my first choice any day. Would love to know what constitutes a really authentic one though – I have had the bechamel version – yum – but rather adore the cheese and ham sandwich type dipped in egg and fried. Triple yum.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Jenn – you deserve a STANDING OVATION for tipping me off about boulevard cafe, thank you thank you thank you and I wish you a lifetime of happiness and truffles for introducing me to the place!! Tried the link…but couldn’t get through?

      @Sally – an authentic Croque Monsieur…that’s a really good question, time for some research! Boulevard did have the one with the fried egg (not dipped though, they just place the egg up top) – the Croque Madame – and incidentally, that’s actually the one I had originally wanted to order. Not sure why I muttered Croque Monsieur instead of Madame to the server (maybe 7.30am stupor), and I only realized my slip of tongue when the server brought out my order [wha..? where da fried egg? oh. i asked for a ’monsieur.’ doops.]

      I can only imagine how exponentially yummier the madame version with a fried egg all runny over the gruyere could be…ah well, that leaves me an excellent reason to return…

  4. Lisa says:

    Arva, do you accept email subscriptions t oyour blog? I just tried to submit my email address and was informed that this was not enabled. Kindly send me a link if this is possible. Thank you.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Lisa – Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog – and for bringing it to my notice that the email subscription list is not working! I have just fixed it now and sent you a subscription request – do let me know if you’ve received it and if it goes through. Not sure how many other readers faced the same issue :(

      Thanks a ton!

  5. Rado says:

    I love the eureka moment.
    I am in the process of moving to Dubai and had to put a pause to my blog, your blog is making me look forward to my own eureka moments!
    Thank you for making me see Dubai with another eye, i was tires of seeing it with the frustrated eye of the parent who can’t get a school spot for both children in the same school:)

  6. InaFryingPan says:

    @Rado – Merci beaucoup! C’est stupéfiant que vous transférez à Dubai – bienvenue! J’ai visité votre site, et a aimé les poires de chocolat! Nous avons une énorme communauté de blogueurs culinaires ici, et nous aimerions que vous nous rejoigniez quand vous transférez à Dubai. Juste me partir un commentaire ou m’envoie un e-mail à quand vous atterrissez dans la ville!

    …Et bonne chance avec votre recherche pour les écoles! ;) [I’m sure it’s pretty obvious that I used cyber translate tools to regurgitate this in French…too rusty with my french grammar to do this on my own…so hope I have not said anything crazy sounding!]

  7. LeoLeo says:

    just stumbled onto your blog and must say as a food lover i absolutly love it!
    also those truffles are hands down the most delicious divine beautiful little bits of yummy goodness!
    can’t wait to see your other 5 yummilicous picks!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @LeoLeo – Thank you for the message! yes, if you’re in this city, get your hands on one of those truffles. NOW.

  8. parthans says:

    will you be adding Aappa Kadai’s Chicken Fried Curry to the list of best?


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