Back in the Big Mango at last. It was a tough trip and I’m glad to be home. My immediate mission was to catch up with the friends and foods that I missed, and this past week I did so with a vengeance.
Naturally, the first order of business was to take her royal self out to lunch. We eat out a lot, and it’s not always easy to think of a place that will bring a new culinary experience; so we went for comfort food at one of our favorite places in Cairo Blackstone Bistro. In fact, we went for the ultimate comfort food, pizza.
My friends have listened to me moan endlessly about the lack of quality pizza in Cairo; and I once wrote an article called “Dude, Where’s My Sauce?” wherein I tried to understand the truly weird custom of under-saucing pizzas and then sending them out with a handful of ketchup packets. This mystifies me. I think it is some sort of backroom deal. The cooks get a cut from the ketchup companies for making pizzas so dry that unsuspecting restaurant owners are forced to buy quantities of packets from the suppliers.
But there have been improvements with the appearance of places like Pizza Mia in Zamalek and the Pizza Bar at Fairmont Heliopolis. And Blackstone Bistro did not disappoint. Indeed, it was a revelation. They have always done great bread there, which showed in the thin, golden brown crust. Plus there was plenty of garlicky tomato sauce, double the usual amount of pepperoni, and with a salad and soft drinks it came to EGP 120. My wallet and I were both satisfied.
The following morning, one of my other hippie princesses, the six-year-old, wanted to go out for breakfast. Her initial idea was to have pigeons and sharkaseya at Abu Sid. Got to admire her for her culinary adventuresomeness and total lack of timing. I had to explain to her that Abu Sid is not open for pigeon at 8:30 am, and luckily she settled for toast, eggs and bacon at Lucille’s. I do not agree with the Time reporter who claimed that Lucille’s makes the best hamburger in the world. They’re good, but best in the world? How many has he tried in his lifetime? Two? Still, they do a damn good breakfast. My daughter gave it her highest rating: four thumbs up.
The following night we grown-ups, in the mood for something far eastern, took a friend to Asia Bar in Zamalek. I have always had good experiences there. The lounge-like setting, soft lighting, Nile view, and chilled music make for a spa-like experience: and the fish dishes are excellent. The beef? Not so much. The sauces are exquisite—often very spicy if you’re into that sort of thing—but the meat is atrociously overcooked. The wait staff was excellent too, although I was disappointed in the kitchen when, after a dish that we had specifically been told was mild came with a richly peppered sauce. When we asked for a new one, all the chef did was dump out the sauce and re-plate it. A restaurant of this caliber should re-think that kind of thing—as in think about how to keep their customers coming back, especially at EGP 1000 for three people.
The next night, with other friends, it was Korean in Maadi, at Gaya, which turned out to be the highlight of the week. I order off menu here. The place is always packed with Koreans and under such circumstances I always try to eat what the locals are eating. I simply asked the kitchen manager for dinner for six, which worked out beautifully as it always does. Shrimp and veggie tempura, steamed dumplings, barbecued ribs, bimbimbap (a rich and saucy rice dish), spicy kimchi soup served boiling at the table: good, home-cooked food. Also a deal at EGP 800 for six people with drinks. This place is authentic, fresh, fun and healthy.
There were other snacks in between: doner kebab from Ali Baba, steak tartare at Aperitivo, a jalapeno cheese dog from Top Dawgs, chocolate truffles at Left Bank. Maybe next week I should do some cooking, but for now, yeah, it’s great to be home.