Archive for Urban Reviews

What should I eat today in Amman?

What should I have for dinner today in Amman? My least favorite question. You see, one of my biggest problems in life is that I never know where to eat. My friends never know either. It’s always an annoying game of what do you want — no, what do you want. It is REALLY ANNOYING.

So… Ladies and gentlemen… Behold! A little tool that can make the decision for you. Just click on the wheel and enjoy.

All options are my personal food picks, with several mentions for my top 2 places: Luigi’s (affordable, consistent, and superfast) and Il Pizzaiolo (the BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD). Yes, that’s playing with luck, I know, but it’s MY WHEEL. Other options included have very specific suggestions, like the kani salad at Sushi Studio (cause everything else there isn’t very good, and I want your tummy to be happy). Most of these places can feed you well for under 7JDs.

If you have any suggestions, I am happy to add them if I like them too.

Enjoy!



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Food Box: Amazing Fusion Food at Amazing Prices

I LOVE it when a restaurant goes from “just okay” to “oh, my God this amazing”.

The first time I tried Food Box, I really enjoyed it. It was nice and simple food, but I was far more impressed with the cool packaging than with the food itself.

So when I walked into the new Food Box Abdoun branch, I was expecting the experience to be pleasant, but you know, just that. After all, the average item costs less than 4JDs, and anything good in this city is damn expensive.

Then we sat down and the chef started preparing the dishes.

HOLY CRAP. It was the best food I’ve had in ages, and I am not exaggerating. The vegetables were so fresh and full, and I could taste the good ingredients.

food box jordan pasta

The first thing we tried was red penne pasta, which is such a difficult dish to perfect in it’s simplicity. I’m more pesto than tomato with my pasta, but I enjoyed this plate very much. The tomato sauce tasted fresh and tangy with the basil, and the penne was perfectly al dente.

food box jordan meat noodles food box jordan chicken

Next on the menu was squid ink pasta with beef and chicken (separately, of course). Both platters were rich with freshly-chopped vegetables, and the squid ink pasta tasted quite distinct. Interesting for sure, but this was the dish I enjoyed least, because everything else was just amazing.

food box jordan fish

The chef served us this delicious fish platter with garlic rice. I have no idea what it’s called on the menu, but OHMYGOD. It was so damn delicious I was craving it already an hour later. I’m not sure what the sauce is, but it just tasted so unique and rich. I especially loved the strange velvety texture of the batter.

This tiny platter tasted like a fusion of Chinese, Cajun, and English fish and chips. If you like sea food, you must try it with the garlic rice on the side. The presentation was great too.

food box jordan ravioli

Finally and last on the list was another item I loved. I honestly can’t decide what I enjoyed more, the fish or this delicious, freshly-made ravioli.

You see, I LOVE spinach ravioli, but I HATE it when the spinach loses its texture and becomes a lump of greenish, mis-shaped something. That’s usually the case with spinach ravioli in Jordan, because it’s frozen. Spinach is a beautiful plant, but it has to be fresh to be beautiful. I mean, how disgusting are frozen spinach safaye7 (Arabic pastries)? They just lose the texture.

This is what makes Food Box’s ravioli amazing. They make it themselves and ohmygod… every bite was amazing. Look, even though they served us massive amounts of food, not a single bite of the ravioli remained. We even scraped the sauce. Actually, I want it now.

food box jordan after lunch

Yes. So I guess I finally found a new food place to fall in love with. I hope it’s always this amazing :)

You can try it out by visiting their Abdoun branch next to Falafel Al-Osra (Hammoudeh DVD area).

food box jordan gucci

food box jordan door



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Review: Food Box Co.

Yesterday, the guys over at Food Box Co. sent me some things to try out. It was quite a pleasant experience.

I always loved the noodle-box concept, because it’s simple, quick, and easy-to-eat in an office environment. Food Box Co. delivers very well on that front… the branding is crisp, the die-cut of the boxes is absolutely gorgeous, and the experience is fuss-free and delicious at the same time.

My favorite item from the meals I tried was the spicy Chinese rice with peanuts and vegetables. I’m even already craving it; strongly recommended if you like spicy food.

To try Food Box Co., you can find them on the First Circle, or contact them at 079-979-8967.



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[UPDATED] PF Changs Amman

Update, May 7, 2014:
I was contacted by the Digital Marketing Manager at PF Changs for a dinner at TAJ this week, and I’m pleased to say that the arrogant manager mentioned below does not work at PF Changs anymore. Customer service has also improved a lot, the waiters were very nice and helpful.
It’s always great when people read reviews and fix things accordingly! Hattip to AlShaya for being customer service pros.

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Avoid PFChangs in Amman. Food is burnt, has no flavor, and the waiters are arrogant that we just don’t know how it should taste. Plus, it’s insanely overpriced. Avoid at all costs, and go local.

Case in hand… Seven people, five of which are ravaging hungry boys who would eat anything. Mongolian beef so inedible that aside from being tasted by seven, it got taken away only half-eaten. Waiter and manager feedback: you just don’t know how it should taste. you pesants, it is supposed to be burnt and too salty, but we can replace it if you really, really want, but you just don’t know.

image

Go local. Recommended Chinese: Shanghai in Jabal Amman, Abu Khalil in Jabal Amman, Noodasia in Abdoun.



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Urban Review: Azkadenya, Arabic Restaurant in Amman

The other day we had lunch at Azkadenya, an Eat restaurant that describes itself as “a modern/retro Arabic restaurant that serves the traditional dishes of the good old days but with the modern day twist.”

Given its location on Mecca Street, I automatically assumed that Azkadenya will be as bland and characterless as every other place in the area. You know, an overpriced, cookie cutter, “upscale” junk food-serving “restaurant” with uncomfortable chairs, disastrous service, and horrible acoustics.

But I was so pleasantly surprised when I walked into the restaurant. If Azkadenya has anything going for it at all, it’s a WHOLE lot of soul.

As a far as personal taste is concerned, I am not a fan of the Rana Salam-style “Arab pop art” theme. It’s been overdone, though not in Amman. But it isn’t the theme that blew me away. Reiterating Basem Aggad, I have yet to see a consumer experience in town that is as integrated as that of Azkadenya.

Everything fits perfectly, the place is a mix of rough and delicate, from the exposed concrete ceilings to the decorative mashrabeyeh-like boxes that cover the ventilation shafts. The cutlery is beautifully designed to include Arabic sayings, and the place mats are vintage Arab ads printed on cheap newspaper paper. Even the sugar sachets are designed, and I was taken by such happy surprise when my plate told me “Sahtein o afyeh” after I finished my food.

Check out their napkins:

And the waiters’ outfits:

The food, you ask. Yes, I have to admit that I was so smitten by their attention to detail when it came to branding that I almost didn’t care about the food. Yet, my experience was excellent with the food too.

We were only four, so we didn’t order much; cheese man2ousheh, sayadeyeh (fish and rice), seneyet zahra bi theeneh (cauliflower in tahini), and hendbeh (some plant). The seneyet zahra was to die for, probably best I ever had. The sayadeyeh was also excellent, definitely something I might crave soon. The hendbeh, unfortunately, wasn’t edible, and the cheese man2ousheh was slightly bland.

The prices are high, given the portions. The service was quick and efficient.

Overall, Azkadenya is a fantastic addition to Eat’s portfolio. I am usually not a huge fan of Eat Restaurant Group. Their Italian restaurants (Casereccio and Bruschetta) are overpriced and average tasting. Their fastfood options (Shawermama and Urban Grill) are bland. Their “shisha” place, Lemon, is cliche in that horrible Ammani way that makes me want to gag. For the most part, they have absolutely no character.

Yet, credit has to be given where credit is due; the restaurant group has amazing attention to detail, the food quality (taste aside) is always superb, and they’re unbelievably professional.

I do hope that they attempt to carry over some of Azkadenya’s charm to their other eateries.

You can reach Azkadenya at (06) 554-9391.



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Just what is it that makes today’s Beirut so different, so appealing?

http://billtrue.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/jwmth1.jpg
Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?
by English artist Richard Hamilton, 1956


22-11-2011 – Beirut

It’s been half a dozen times or so that I’ve set foot in Beirut since my first visit in 2006.

It has always been Hamra, the university soul of the Western part of the capital, with the faux-Bohemian street dwellers in their rebellious garb lounging the sidewalks.

Oh, Beirut, the rebel. This city is rebellious in every sense. It’s rebellious in its politics, it’s rebellious in its peace. It’s rebellious in its openness, it’s rebellious in its fundamentalism. Nothing seems to matter. Everything seems to matter.

I walk into my four-star hotel, and request a smoking room, like I usually do. The receptionist, a Palestinian with a Lebanese watheeqa called Mohammad — as I discovered from a 15 minute conversations with him about the advantages of online recruitment — laughed at me. “Smokers are welcome anywhere here in Beirut! The rooms are all yours!” he said.

I smiled. I’m not used to being welcomed much as a smoker these days, especially since I recently came back from the non-smoking capital of the Arab world, Dubai.

Mohammad is both entertaining and friendly as he checks me into the charming Mayflower Hotel. The hotel is an old one, having first opened its rooms to travelers in 1957. It has the beautiful charm of a vintage picture book; the wooden detailing, the warm marble floors, the outdated furniture that reminds me of the love I feel when I walk into my grandmother’s house.

Behind Mohammad on the large wall of the reception area is a giant tapestry of keys on over sized keychains that resemble mills from a distance. As he checks me in, I get excited abot the prospect of using a room with a key (I only had that experience once in Damascus as a teenager), but my excitement is shut down when Mohammad hands me a plastic card. Obviously, the keys are there for display, a remnant from a past when all doors had to be opened with a metal instrument that was used to manually operate a lock.

It matters not, though, because the ancient lifts more than make up for the plastic. There’s an old copper ashtray on a stand in the corner, and I feel like I’ve taken a time machine to the days when elevators had to opened like a room, and when smoking in a confined space of 1 by 2 meters was a perfectly normal thing to do. The typography on the control panel is brilliant, and I stare at the round buttons with the floor numbers with amusement.

Ah, the charm of the old!

My room itself is as gorgeous as the experience so far. The OCD in me immediately starts inspecting sheets, furniture, and towels for stains, but I found none. The rooms had been rennovated recently, as you could tell from the wall closet and television, but the wicker furniture is really old. The faded tungsten lights cloak everything with sepia undertones. There’s a huge balcony with two white plastic chairs propped in the corner, where I’m currently sitting and scribbling my thoughts while sipping from an Almaza can and smoking a cigarette.

I’m so in love with the hotel room that I get caught in the emotion of it all.

Beirut. Even the world is melodic, I think to myself, although I am not hopelessly in love with this city. Like a true Ammani, I am tempted by its crazy charm, but I can’t handle the craziness at large doses.

I smile to myself in joyous euphoria as I sit outside at 11:00 o’clock on a balcony overlooking Hamra. I love this city, with all its craziness.

There’s something fresh about the air. It’s warm, in comparison to hilly Amman. The noise pollution is welcomed, as I know that I don’t have to deal with it every day. I’m scribbling furiously on cheaply printed stationary with gold embossing and a Bic pen.

I could sit here for hours.

Life is sometimes about these little timeouts. There little moments where you really have nothing but ink — look, ma, no wi-fi! A few times a year, even a digital junkie like myself needs to spend the night sitting alone on a cheap, white, plastic chair, drinking Almaza and breathing the sea-scented air of Beirut to truly grasp the joy of living.

- End -

Mayflower Hotel, Beirut

Mayflower Hotel, Beirut

Mayflower Hotel, Beirut

Mayflower Hotel, Beirut

Mayflower Hotel, Beirut

Mayflower Hotel, Beirut



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