A birthday and two stories - Catalan at Rosewood, Abu Dhabi

When you celebrate a birthday or special occasion in a restaurant, the emotion of the evening can be so intense that the risk is there that one can look at the whole dining experience through, what is the cliche? Rose tinted glasses. And when it is a father's daughter who is the celebrant, it is even more so. So, can I be trusted to provide a fair assessment of the food? Or the service? Or the whole evening?

I had no intention of writing about the evening. In fact, I told Mitsuki, my daughter, that I would not be writing that night. However, as our two servers for the evening, Lorena and Eric, my serving staff from a previous visit (goo.gl/466ZkV ), started guiding us through the menu, I realized that it would be an evening where the pen, or keyboard, would not be motionless.


Cucumber with a hint of apple gazpacho 
Slow cooked eggs
Lorena has had an adventure. A young girl who rejected the coming of age ceremony in Mexico known as the quinceanera. She showed a desire for things different at a young age and found herself in America at one point. But as she talks about my beef tartar with oyster salad and describes the egg that covers it to surprise one with a crispness that beautifully clashes with my beef, my thoughts come back to my plate. She mentions the French oysters that provide a surprisingly welcoming sea taste to my beef as I take a scoop of the two together. As I have my last bit of the tartar, I find myself drifting away again with Lorena as she talks about her experiences that have taken her to Romania and even China. It is China that arrests me most. Shenzhen to be precise. She talked about how the 9 months there, while challenging, shaped whom she is becoming. Young, but philosophical.

Sea cucumber on a bed of peas
As Eric makes sure that my daughter is ok, I decide to breach the guest waiter divide by probing beyond the "So, how long have you been in Abu Dhabi?" A question leads him to fill me in on on what lead him to be  a waiter in Abu Dhabi, but first I need him to describe my next dish, the sea cucumber on peas, and he does so naturally. Nothing rehearsed. The peas are flavoursome, having been cooked in stock. Amazingly, they have a beautiful form that belies the process that has brought them to my table. Yes, sea cucumber is an expensive delicacy. We all know that. However, I am more focused on the taste and texture. Yum. Chewy, even a bit crunchy dare I say,  a cross between calamari and black mushroom fungus, and with the soft but not mushy peas they create a lovely juxtaposition.

But, as I realized earlier, while food remains the centre piece of the evening, this evening is also about the people at Catalan, and I listen to Eric. He left his home and went to South Africa, as the 'big' brother, in search of the African dream which was a better life for his siblings back home. With various waiting jobs in South Africa giving him barely enough money to send home, he persevered and path after path eventually lead him to Abu Dhabi and a chance of happiness for those back home. Sacrifice;  Eric, with a small physique, but a huge capacity for engaging people. That's one of his stories.
My half portion of tenderloin.
The beef tenderloin is all about the food again. I opt for half a portion and am pleased. The presentation highlights Chef Antonio's artistic flare as he presents a plate with Canadian tenderloin, some foie gras emulsion, sublimely creamed gnocchi and vegetable of the Summer - a single stem of asparagus. The old dictum, the essence of beauty is simplicity, is profoundly displayed here, with a tenderloin perfectly cooked. Taste - tremendous.

As guests we forget that our waiters and waitresses have lives outside of their jobs. We romanticize what they do. We never imagine that they go home after a long hard day, and just crash on the bed and fight the alarm the next morning; the alarm that beckons them to another 10 hour day. No, we don't want to imagine that because then the illusion we have is shattered. When we go to a fine dining restaurant, we don't want reality.

The passion fruit soup poured around the yogurt ice cream.
Chocolate and walnut cake
For dessert, Chef Antonio prepared two tasting portions : Passion fruit sauce with yogurt ice cream and Chocolate and walnut cake. Both desserts are truly delicious. With the first, it is all theatre, as the passion fruit soup is poured around the ice cream. But this is just the subplot in this piece. The berry spheres are a delight that will leave you confounded, wondering, 'How does he do that?' It pops in your mouth to reveal a tangy berry taste  complemented by the the passion fruit and yoghurt ice cream - all tang here. Finally, the Chocolate and walnut cake was striking in its presentation. It did not prepare me  though for the taste explosion that awaited me: orange cream, mango and whisky ice cream, worked wonderfully well with Chef Antonio's version of a brownie. Decadent.



As the evening wound up, I reflected that Lorena and Eric had the balance I write about often: Engaging but not obtrusive. Knowledgeable but not arrogant. In sharing, when prompted, about one's life, a waiter is saying, 'Stop mythologizing me. I am human. The smile you see here is part of complexities that exist in me'. Eric and Lorena did exactly these things. Also, Chef Antonio's wonderful creations which celebrated the Catalonian coastline spoke for themselves, and I recommend you go simply to try his dishes. I recommend too that you go to Catalan simply to have Manager Jordi share his passion for wines in an effortless, natural and intoxicating way that makes you want to go to the vineyards where the grapes were harvested. But those dishes beautifully paired with some fine wines are two thirds of the experience that makes Catalan such a captivating dining destination. People like Eric and Lorena with their stories, completed the evening. Thus ended another magical evening. Another birthday. But not the stories. They will continue. What will you hear on your next visit to Catalan?

The lowdown

Catalan
Rosewood Abu Dhabi
02 813 5573

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