On Thursday (the first day of the Saudi weekend), Mr. Mostafa and I decided that we needed a date night, and also that we were in the mood for French food. There are several French restaurants in Riyadh (of course, some of the food in French restaurants here does have a Middle Eastern flair to it), but we ended up at Appetit Kitchen.
I loved the beautiful outdoor seating area, which faces the bustling Tahlia Street. But unfortunately, when we first arrived, the restaurant was closed in anticipation of maghrib (the sunset prayer time).
As Mr. Mostafa perused the menu, the athan sounded. So we left for awhile, until the restaurant reopened.
When we got back, it was night time.
I absolutely loved the decor in this restaurant! The entryway was gorgeous, with the beautiful walls on one side…
And on the other side, the wall was exposed brick with various French newspapers hanging from it.
When we first got into the restaurant, I found it beautiful but very bright–not exactly romantic or date night-y. But that was okay, because it meant I could take decent pictures!
Every table had a shelf of French paperbacks behind it, giving the whole place the feel of a library in a French country house. I’m pretty sure that if I had the chance to be anywhere in the world, a library in a French country house would be pretty high on that list.
Oh, the chandeliers!
I also loved the way each of the tables had a tomato and a lemon on them. Don’t know why, I just did. I’m quirky like that, I guess.
Yes, all-in-all, the place was just beautiful.
And as luck would have it, shortly after the waiter took our orders, the lights were dimmed and another waiter came around to light a candle on each table, giving the restaurant the perfect evening atmosphere.
The only thing that was missing was music. In Riyadh, many (I would go so far as to suggest most) restaurants don’t play music. Riyadh is a very conservative city, and many conservative Muslims consider music to be haram. So not a lot of restaurants or stores play music. And as a Westerner, I didn’t realize how odd it would feel to me not to have music playing in the background in every public place I went…until I got here.
But luckily, I wasn’t the only one feeling the lack of music. Saleh said, “It would be so perfect if they just had some music playing.”
“I was just thinking that!” I said.
“You can get some French music on your phone, can’t you?” he said.
So I pulled up some Charles Trenet on YouTube and put the phone in the middle of the table. As our waiter walked by, he laughed and said, “Oh, you brought your own music!”
Saleh laughed, too, and said, “Yes, we need music!”
Our waiter nodded and said, “We used to play music! But there was an issue with the muttawa, so…” He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “What’re you gonna do?”
Now, on to the important information…the food! We both got delicious drinks (a mojito–virgin, of course–for him, and watermelon juice for me) and bread, of course, which was yummy, especially with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We ordered a bowl of onion soup as an appetizer to share, and what was very cool about this bowl of soup was that it was baked in a ceramic bowl with a layer of bread dough covering it, so that when it arrived at our table, we had to open the bread to get to the soup. (Gosh, I wish I knew more about cooking so that I could describe this in culinary terms!) I liked the soup (although it had an awful lot of onion chunks for my taste; I think I would have liked it better if the ratio of broth to chunks been more on the brothy side), but Saleh wasn’t a fan at all.
He was, however, a fan of the crispy rosemary potatoes that came with his grilled chicken, which he also loved. In fact, he remains so obsessed with those crispy potatoes that he has been asking me to find a recipe so I can make them at home.
Meanwhile, I dug into my grilled salmon (perfection) and mashed potatoes. What can I say? Absolutely delicious!
For dessert, we shared a chocolate tartlette with vanilla ice cream. It would have been even more awesome if the serving of ice cream that came with the tartlette had been a little bigger, but the tartlette itself was incredible. It was like a souffle, but in a tart shell. Amazing!
I feel very snooty and very food critic-y having written all of that (I mean, come on, I just used the word “tartlette” three times in one paragraph), but hey, c’est la vie, c’est un travail de Romain, and all that jazz, right?
On Friday, the weather was absolutely gorgeous (as it generally is around here this time of year–the past month has been mostly days of sun and 75 degrees Fahrenheit), so we decided that we needed to do a little walking. So we drove around in search of a good park. I remembered that when my mom and I had gone to the Souq al Zel with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, we had passed a huge green park that could be seen from the street. My mother-in-law had told me that it was called Salam Park. I mentioned this to Saleh. He asked a taxi driver for directions while we were stopped at a traffic light, and within a few minutes we found it.
Outside of the park entrance, there were many vendors selling rugs for spreading in the park, folding chairs, toys for the kids, snacks, bottled water and juices. Saleh bought us each a clear baggie of popcorn and a bottle of water from a vendor next to the gate, bought our tickets to enter the park (5 riyals each, or about $1.33), and we set out to explore!
I was really amazed to see all the green. We live more on the northern side of Riyadh, where the predominant color is most definitely beige, so it really felt great to see all the grass and trees.
The park looked quite well-maintained, with lots of benches and trash cans.
Everywhere we looked, there were families sitting on the grass having picnics. Of course, despite all the trash cans, there was still quite a lot of little pieces of litter floating around on the grass, but hey, I’ve come to expect that here. I was just glad that when Saleh bought me a strawberry ice cream bar, I encountered multiple not-overflowing trash cans along the walking path in which to toss the wrapper and the stick.
And there was a lake! A big, manmade lake in which there were little paddleboats for kids to ride in.
There were also big, beautiful bridges across the lake.
And big fountains in the middle of it.
After a bit of walking, Saleh and I sat down on the rocks next to the lake and watched the people crossing the big bridge and snacked on our popcorn.
After awhile, a man with fishing poles came along and set up shop on the bridge. You can rent a pole from him and fish in the lake. Fishing in Riyadh!
After watching the bridge-walkers for awhile, we kept going. I just couldn’t get over all the green! I loved it so much!
There were also multiple playgrounds within the park, with modern, maintained equipment. It was so nice to see all the kids running around, having a good time, with mommies and daddies pushing kids on swings and sitting on the grass in groups near the playgrounds while their kids had a great time on the slides and swings and jungle gyms. It all looked so, what seemed to me, normal, just a lovely Saudi version of a picnic in the park scene you might see in any other country in the world. I could see Baby Simsim running around on the playground while Saleh chased him or her and I chased them both with my camera and laughed at their antics. I could see my kids having a childhood a little bit like I had, playing raucously in a grassy park, even in the middle of the desert.
It was a relief, a relief from concerns I didn’t even know existed until they dissipated.
And, of course, one uniquely Saudi park attribute is the prayer area, which includes an area next to it where people can make wudhu before they pray.
Saleh and I fell in love with this park, and we can’t wait to go back. We discussed maybe bringing a kabsa and having a picnic there sometime soon, and we also talked about bringing Baby Simsim when he or she is old enough to play. We wondered if we would be able to bring Andy to the park. I know most Saudis aren’t fans of dogs, but it’s outdoors, and Andy would just love to walk around and explore, especially on the grass.
See? He’s a very polite Saudi pup. He even knows how to eat kabsa.
When we got home from the park, the boys and I sat outside and ate a tray of kabsa…and then we all took a nap.
It was a pretty perfect weekend.