Jul 6, 2007

Review: Santino’s – Jawharat Al Shatti

Santino’s Bistro Italiano is an Italian restaurant located in Jawharat Al Shatti mall in Shatti Al Qurum. This is not a fast food take away outlet like the one found in the Food Court of City Centre (which I’ve never tried), but a dine-in restaurant. Santino’s is one my personal favourites in town, love their food, the staff are all Asian and are generally very friendly, but the place is relatively small and could get quite packed at peak hours, also there isn’t a toilet in the restaurant.

During my first visits to Santino’s we always had a problem with the starters, while they are good, they’re as big in quantity as some main courses in other places. The waiter’s were not very helpful in this department as we were never advised on how much we should order. They have a couple of really good calamari starters, my favourite is the Calamari Piccosi, a spicy calamari and beans dish served with two garlic breads. We share this among two. There are loads of different starters, unfortunately I did not take a copy of the menu and I cannot recall the Italian names of the dishes.

There are five different main course types in Santino’s: salads, rice meals, sandwiches, pizzas and pasta dishes. I never tried the salads or the rice meals, so I cannot tell you much about these two. Sandwiches at Santinos are served in very thick pizza-like bread, along with potato wedges and salad. You can select up to four fillings for your sandwich from a collection of 15 or so fillings. I only had this once long time ago and though it tasted good, but it was very messy and quite hard to eat because of the hard bread.

Pizzas at Santino’s are what I usually order, there are again a variety of beef, chicken, sea food, and vegetarian pizzas made on a thin base, the ones I remember having are Mia (chicken, pepper and mushrooms – I think), Margherita (cheese and tomato sauce), and Santino’s Special (beef, pepperoni, chicken, pepper, and loads of other stuff). All of which I recommend. Santino’s Pizza’s come in a standard size and a larger one to share among a group.

I recently tried having pasta at Santino’s and had a Penne Santino’s (pictured above), a rich chicken pasta with olives, red pepper, and spinach – which was good, but not as memorable as the other meals I had here. I am generally not a pasta person, that might explain. One of my friends had a Tagliatella Alfredo (pictured below), which he thought was good.

As usual, nobody experimented with their drinks and had only Mountain Dew, that is a habit I think we should stop. I previously tried their chocolate cake which was more like a chocolate mousse rather than a cake, but which we still enjoyed nonetheless.

Starters are Santino’s cost around RO 2, a main course about RO 3. A dinner for three (2 starters, 3 main courses, and 3 drinks) cost us around RO 15 – taxes included.

Santino’s is one of the of nicer little places in town, great food and good service. Anybody going there has to try to the Calamari Picossi!

Jun 27, 2007

Review: Meknes Restaurant – Al Khuwair

Meknes (proper Arabic pronunciation is Mik’naas) is a Moroccan cuisine restaurant located in Al Khuwair, it is two blocks after the Oman Mobile headquarters if you are coming from Muscat – its flashy sign cannot be missed.

Meknes is a proper restaurant suitable for business dinners and special events. It’s very well decorated and looks quite fancy. The place is bigger than what it looks from the outside as the upper floor spans across multiple units. The restaurant has a semi-separate sheesha joint on its other side, we did not see any smoke or smell any sheesha during our stay, but I do not know if that was because the sheesha place was well isolated or because they had no customers in it at that time. There isn’t a non-smoking section in the restaurant, but the place is very spacious and did not have many actual customers when we were there, so again, we do know how it would have looked like in a busy/bad day. There are a couple of cabinet-like rooms in which people could dine in if nobody else was already in there.

Meknes’s menu has loads and loads of funny names of Moroccan food, we were given the Arabic language menu and really couldn’t understand much of it. We asked the waiter to give us the skinny on what this menu says, for starters, there were about four types of salads, Moroccan soup (Hareera), a samosa mix, and a whole set of weird sweet starters (chicken and honey wrapped up in a Qatayif like dish?) – we did not feel very adventurous so we did not try that. I had a hareera soup that came with a thick layered flat bread (we call it Mardhoof bread at home), and it was awesome. We also tried their samosas, which really took some time to come, my friend liked a lot and thought that it was well worth the wait. It came boiling hot when it finally did, it nearly burned my tongue – I can’t deny that it was quite good, but not as memorable as the soup. (Which I badly wanted to have as I loved it the first time I tried the restaurant)

For main courses, Meknes had mixed grills, fish grilled on coal, cuscus with vegs and chicken, cuscus with vegs and meat, chicken with olives and lemon, chicken with nuts, and about 15 other dishes with funny names that made no sense to us (eg. بسطيلة – بايلا – طاجين – رفيسة). I had chicken with olives and lemon (image below) which came with three huge buns of sweet spongy bread. I do not know how to eat with that sort of bread, I tried tearing crumbs of the bread and eating the chicken with it, it was hard and I really couldn’t taste the flavour of the chicken because of the sweet bread. I eventually gave up and started using the cutlery to eat the chicken with the sauce and managed to actually enjoy the meal, the chicken was very tasteful and very well cooked. I enjoyed it, it was good, but as I person who likes spicy food, I did not think that it was mind blowing.

My friend had cuscus with vegetables and chicken, he thought it was very good. We thought that the quantity of the food was a lot for a single person, especially if you are going to have a three course meal.

Meknes also offers fresh juices, soft drinks, special Moroccan tea, and a coffee. They have a weird selection of desserts and sidelines that we did not try. Actually, we were very boring and only had the Omani survival drink, Mountain Dew.

Starters in Meknes cost from RO 0.8 to RO 1.5, meal courses cost RO 2.5 to Ro 3.5, there are special discounts for ordering larger dish for two or more people, drinks cost about RO 1 and desserts about the same. We paid around RO 12 for our meal.

The restaurant is currently running a special Business Lunch where you can have a three course meal for RO 3.250 (hareera soup, main course, and a dessert). You can call 2447 5497 for more information. (I was NOT paid to write this!)

A funny thing that happened was that they were shooting an Omani TV series in Meknes on the day that were there, it was hilarious, Omani super star Fakhriya Khamis was there, so we thought we’ll play paparazzi and take some photos, of course it is not as exciting as shooting Beyonce on a nudist beach.. or well, it actually could be on Omani standards.

Jun 27, 2007

To Tip or Not To Tip:That is the Question

Giving a tip at a restaurant is not really been part of the Omani culture, perhaps due to cultural aspects such as the fact that eating out as a family has not been traditionally common here in comparison to other countries or the fact that we do not have many fancy places to go eat at anyway.

Tipping is almost an obligation in some other cultures, it is very common in some countries to have restaurants that explicitly mention in their food menus that service charge is not included (although I really do not understand how they could charge us so much when service charge is NOT included, vegetables and meat are not that expensive) so that the customer has to pay/tip for the service. However, the majority of restaurants in Oman do charge a ‘service tax’ when you dine in, so that does not really matter much in Oman.

So what do you our readers do, at what circumstances do you tip? Do you tip only when you experience an extraordinary service? does it depend on how fancy the restaurant is? does the frequency at which you eat at the place matter? and finally – how much do you tip: is it a specific percentage of bill amount or is it just whatever change you have left in your wallet?

Jun 23, 2007

Guest Post – Review : Flavours Al Athaiba

This post has been submitted by Amjad Hayder, a high school student in Muscat, he keeps a blog that he updates regularly at http://amjad248.blogspot.com. Please feel free to share your recipes and reviews with the rest of the Omani Cuisine community by emailing us at contact@omanicuisine.com.

The other day my friends and I went to this new restaurant in Athaiba called Flavours. This is a new international cuisine restaurant in Muscat owned by PFI group. It is located off the the Sultan Qaboos Road next to the Mazda showroom in Al Athaiba.

We went there for lunch at around 2pm. The customers we saw were mainly employees from different nationalities having their lunch break probably coming to Flavours for its special buffet offer for lunch.

The atmosphere at Flavours is great, it is a spacious restaurant with two additional halls, one for families only and the other for ladies only. There is a billiard table and some internet facilities for anyone feeling like hanging out in Flavours.

Flavours serves different types of meat or chicken rice meals and sandwitches. Their menu has a variety of items for desserts such cream caramel and fruits. They also serve Baskin Robin’s ice cream.

The prices at Flavours are very reasonable. Their special rice and curry buffet is served for 2 riyals only! All their other menu items are also of a similar reasonable price as well.


(Photograph by Amjad)

I liked Flavour’s food and prices, but I did not like their waiters. The majority of their staff are Indian, they have one Omani woman and one Omani guy at the counter. I hope that you do not get me wrong, I have nothing against other nationalities, but I got really annoyed by the waiters who did not seem to feel like serving us. We were a group of ten and we stayed for a bit in Flavours, it was quite apparent to us that the waiters were irritated by our stay and one of them stood waiting for us to finish eating to collect the dishes from us.

Disregarding the attitude of the waiters, we had a great time at Flavours: great food, great atmosphere and reasonable prices. If you’re looking for these things, do not hesitate to have your lunch after work/college/school at Flavours Restaurant or even having a dinner there with your family or friends.

Jun 18, 2007

Guest Post: Vegetable Grilled Fish Dish

This post has been submitted by chef Mohammed Al Manthari – a Omani student in New Zealand. Please feel free to share your recipes and reviews with the rest of the Omani Cuisine community by emailing us at contact@omanicuisine.com.

Today’s recipe is rich with protein and minerals and tastes great with its seasonal spices and basil leaves. The locals of Oman are known for their many different fish dishes (Fish is the second largest export of the country after all!). I have chosen this recipe as it is one of the healthiest and most tasteful. A must-east for both grilled food fans and sea food fans!

The Ingredients are:

  • ½ Kg of Tuna (Gaithar) Fish cubes.
  • A selection of vegetables (any of all):
    • Courgettes
    • Mushrooms
    • Cauliflower,
    • Yellow, Green, Red Peppers
    • Egg plant
    • Lady fingers (Okra)
  • 2 crushed green chillies (amendable, 1 makes it mild).
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 tomatoes
  • Basil (a handful)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons fish curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon red chilli powder
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 cloves of crushed garlic

Before anything, marinate the fish cubes for an hour to 3 hours into bowel and add the green chillies, lemon, fish curry powder, salt, black pepper, turmeric, garlic and red chilli powder, then return the bowel in the fridge.

  1. Cut onions into small cubes.
  2. Heat up the pot and add 2-teaspoon oil (preferably, olive oil).
  3. Add the onions and let it fry until golden brown.
  4. then cut the tomatoes into smaller cubes and add them
  5. add the marinated fish.
  6. let it cook for 10 minutes.
  7. add the basil leaves
  8. then add all the vegetables and add a cup of warm water.
  9. let it all cook for another 20-30 minutes on medium heat.
  10. heat the oven and add the fish pieces only to grill for 10-15 minutes, while the rest of the vegetables are cooking in lower heat.

N.B: the spices are adjustable depending on your taste.

Hope you enjoy your vegetable fish dish.

May 30, 2007

Review: Kobe Sizzlers – Qurum Commercial Area

Kobe is the relatively fancy relatively new sizzler restaurant in the first block of shops next to the Zawawi car showroom in the Qurum commercial area. I do not know when exactly it opened, but the first time I go to it was sometime last month.

The first thing you notice about Kobe is that it has a serious theme/identity crisis, the restaurant table paper sheets say that Kobe is a place (or a thing – can’t remember) in Japan and the restaurant is nicely decorated with bamboo sticks, but all the food served is Indian. All the staff members are Indian. And occasionally between the Britney Spears songs and the Nancy Ajram songs a random Indian song would be played. We consider Kobe to be an Indian restaurant regardless of their confusing mention of Japan here and there.

Kobe Sizzlers, as the name suggests, serves mainly sizzlers, these are meet, chicken, or fish dishes grilled or fried and brought to you sizzling. All the sizzler dishes of Kobe come with cooked vegetables (spinach, carrots, tomato, flower, and green beans) and either chips, boiled rice, or mushed potatoes depending on your choice. The menu has a long list of sizzlers in all various forms, shapes and falvours, along with soups, some random little sandwiches (e.g. cheese chili sandwich), burgers, one pasta dish, and three fried rice dishes. On the drinks side, Kobe offers a selection of juices which we did not try, ice tea which a friend tried and thought that it was okay, and good old soda.

Kobe has several things messed up, but the major thing that they do have right is the food itself as it is really very good. I have already been to it three times, my favourite dish is a delicious schezwan sauce chicken sizzler which is rich in flavour and quite spicy but not to a crazy extent. We thought that the amount of food served was good. The sizzler meal costs on average RO 3.500, a rice meal costs about RO 2. The total we spent for dinner for four was about RO 15.

Dinner at Kobe was a pleasant experience, we wished that it would have a greater variety of appetisers, but that section of the menu had only soups. A point that we think is worth mentioning here is that the whole of the Kobe restaurant is engulfed with the sizzling smell of the food, we do not think that you would like to go for an important meeting after staying inside Kobe for an hour.

May 29, 2007
del_yahi

Champions Burgers

Prior to the launch of the Omani Cuisine, we attempted to make a burger from scratch, but the experiment failed miserably, we recently gave it another shot after doing some research and some unofficial experimentation at other venues, and as a result the Champions Burger was successfully born at the Omani Cuisine – coincidently AC Milan won the Champions League on the same day.

Ingredients (To make six burgers)

  • 600g of pure minced beef
  • Coriander (كزبرة) finely chopped
  • 2 small shallots (بصل أخضر), finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely crushed
  • 1 tbsp barbecue sauce
  • 2 tbsp Thai chili sauce
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • Nandos mixed spices crush
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 big onion sliced into rings
  • extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Method

  1. mix the beef well with the coriander, shallots and the flour in a bowl.
  2. add the garlic, barbecue sauce, 1/2 a spoon of the Thai chili sauce, the Nandos crush, salt and pepper and mix with the beef.
  3. divide the beef mix into six equal portions to make six burgers. (you can cook them directly or keep them in the fridge to cook later)
  4. heat some EVOO in a frying pan until it is screaming hot.
  5. fry the burgers, each side left for six minutes.

ExtraSpicy Cooked Onion to be served in the bun along with the burger.
Leave the burger on the side and fry the onion in a pot with a little of EVOO, wait until it turns golden and then add the rest of the Thai chili sauce and some salt and pepper.

May 14, 2007
del_yahi

[عيش ودجاج] Chicken & Rice

Rice in Arabic is called A’ruz, but in the majority of the Gulf states nobody calls it by its proper Arabic name and instead refer to it as Aish (3aish), which literally means “the state of living” or “life”.

Rice is a principal element in the Gulf diet and it has to be served for every-single-lunch-meal. Many nationals in the area will not consider a meal they eat around noon time without rice a ‘lunch meal’.

It is interesting to notice the distinction between the naming convention of rice based meals in Arabic and English. In English, the meal is called ‘something and rice’ while in Arabic Khaleeji dialect, the rice always comes first, it is Aish wa Laham (rice and meat), or Aish was Samak (rice and fish). Another interesting fact is the different usage of the word Aish in other Arabic states, such as the Mediterranean Arab states and Egypt, where Aish means bread and not rice, as bread is the principal element of of the majority of the meals served there.

Our dish today is a very basic ‘aish’ meal, check out the ingredients and method on how to make your own ‘aish’.

Ingredients

  • 2 mugs of rice (Uncle bens rice)
  • 400g of boneless chicken diced into small cubes
  • 2 medium onions sliced into short wide strips
  • 2 medium capsicums sliced into short wide strips
  • 2 medium tomatoes diced into small cubes
  • 2 clovers of garlic crushed
  • chili crushed
  • tomato paste
  • mixed chicken spices
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon

Method

Chicken

  1. Put the chicken in an oiled heated pot and stir until it turns white then add salt, pepper, and mixed chicken spices.
  2. Add the onion, capsicum, tomato, garlic, and chili to the mix and then stir and leave for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato paste and a mug of water. Mix and add the juice of the lemon.
  4. Lower the heat and leave for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. You can add more water to the chicken if all the water in the pot evaporates and the chicken is not yet cooked.

Rice

  1. Add only a quarter of a mug of rice to an oiled pot and stir until the rice turns brown.
  2. Add the rest of the rice to the pot and add 3 mugs of water. Add salt to it, stir well, cover and leave for 20 minutes on low heat.
  3. Remove the pot from the cooker and leave on the side for 5 minutes before serving.
May 11, 2007

Review: Hamburger Nation – Muscat City Centre

We went out today to try Hamburger Nation – the new burger restaurant in Muscat City Centre. The restaurant is located on the ground floor right below the escalator if you’re coming down from the horrible Emax.

Just as the name suggests, Hamburger Nation serves burgers and not much else. All their burgers are relatively massive in size and are served in sesame seed buns, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, and raw onion rings. Unlike some of the huge burgers served by other places, you can actually hold these in your hands and have a bite without creating a huge mess. I tried the Buddha Burga, which is basically a Thai spiced chicken breast burger, I thought that it was pretty good. Their 2-pages menu also has some beef, lamb, prawn, and some veggie ones as well.

The burgers do not come with anything, you have to order the drink and whatever sideline you wish to have separately. We did not feel adventurous and had regular chips – which was good. On the drinks side, they have milkshakes, soda, and some bottled organic juices.

The staff of the restaurants are all Asian and were very friendly. Burger Nation is your average noisy mall-restaurant, but the place still feels cozy even though it was a little bit tight in space.

The average price for a burger sandwich here costs RO 3, sidelines range in price from RO 1 to RO 1.8, drinks from RO 0.7 to RO 1.5, milkshakes from RO 1.5 to 2.5, and deserts from RO 1.7 to RO 3.0. So the average whole meal with a desert could cost RO 6 to RO 8 per person.

Overall, it was pleasant experience, the burgers were delicious and the service was really good. There isn’t much variety though, it is Burger Nation afterall, the quantity of the chips that we got was a bit questionable, and the 700bz soda was only for one bottle, not a refillable glass. This makes us wonder if the money we paid was really worth the food we got, especially when you realise that it was pretty close to what it would have cost us to eat at Chili’s.

May 10, 2007
del_yahi

Boring Chicken Sandwitch


This was an experiment for making something different this week, the original idea was to make a club sandwich, but we ended up with the result you see above. The boring chicken sandwich was saved by the creamy sauce we added to it. This is a simple snack that you can make, check out the ingredients and method below.

Ingredients (4 sandwitches)

  • 400g of chicken breasts sliced into small strips
  • 1 medium sized onion minced finely
  • 1 red capsicum sliced into thin strips
  • 2 garlic clovers
  • 2 green chillies
  • Nandos crushed spices mix
  • butter 1.5 tbsp
  • half a mug of milk
  • 1.5 tbsp of flour
  • salt and pepper
  • brown toasted bread

Method

  1. In a small pot over low heat melt the butter.
  2. Add the flour immediatly after all the butter melts – make sure to stir the mix while adding.
  3. Add the milk gradually while stirring to ensure that the mix blends properly.
  4. Add half a mug of water to mix and keep on stirring.
  5. Add salt and pepper and stir.
  6. keep stirring. (Now you understand why this is boring) Stir from time to time for a period of 10 minutes. You should get a thick white cream. You can adjust the viscosity of the cream by adding more water. Once done leave covered on the side.
  7. Crush the garlic clovers with the chillies and the Nandos spices mix.
  8. Melt some butter on a fraying pan.
  9. Fry the minced onion and capsicum slices on the pan for four minutes.
  10. Add the chicken to the mix and fry while stirring until the chicken turns white.
  11. Add the crushed spices mix with one tbsp of vinegar to the chicken mix on the pan.
  12. Add half a mug of water, cover the pan and leave for 5 minutes.
  13. Remove the cover and wait for all the water to evaporate before adding the cream we made at the beginning.
  14. Stir the mix until cream is absorbed by the chicken and the mix is creamy.
  15. Take out and serve with toast as sandwitches.