A few nights ago, Mr. Mostafa called me and said, “Would you like to go on a date with me?”
Of course, I wanted to. We hadn’t been on a date in forever, not since the last time we tried it. Parenthood, it seems, had effectively put the kibosh on our dating life. So as excited as I was at the prospect of an evening of good food and adult conversation without having to worry about Lavender flinging cracker crumbs all over the restaurant floor as “Old McDonald Had A Farm” played on an iPhone somewhere in the middle of it all, I was hesitant to try it again, lest it spiral into the disaster that was our attempt to see Last Vegas.
But Mr. Mostafa had received a special invitation to experience Nozomi, a new Japanese restaurant, originally launched in London, which is just opening in Riyadh. On the night of our reservation, the restaurant actually hadn’t opened yet, and the menu was still in development. But we decided we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give it a try.
On the night of our date, I savored getting ready–drying my hair, putting on my makeup. In honor of the occasion, I borrowed my mother-in-law’s fanciest abaya and sprayed on some Chanel 22, which I adore but tend to save for special occasions (it’s one of my absolute favorite scents, an appreciation handed down to me by my momma). Mr. Mostafa styled his shmagh impeccably and put on his best Mont Blanc cufflinks.
We were ready.
We kissed Lavender, who seemed to be totally indifferent to us since she was hanging out with her grandmother and auntie, and we headed out the door to visit Nozomi, which is located in the ground floor of a new building on Dabab Street.
It has a pretty, well-designed exterior, very modern.
Once inside, what I first noticed were the awesome decorations that adorned the ceiling over the reservation desk.
These were also above the tables along the left wall of the restaurant. I don’t know why, but I love them.
Here’s our table…before the feast ensued.
Our waiter, who attended to us throughout the entire meal, welcomed us to Nozomi and explained that we were welcome to look at the menu and choose our dishes, or we could let him choose for us.
We decided to live dangerously and leave it up to him. He asked us a few questions–such as “What kind of meat do you like? Chicken, steak?” and “Do you like sushi?”–and then left to the kitchen.
One thing I can absolutely say for Nozomi is that the service is excellent. One of the more common (First World) problems in Riyadh is that the service in restaurants has the potential to be pretty bad. You can order a croissant for breakfast and you’ll have to remind the waiter of your order three times before it will make it to the table, even when you’re the only patrons in the restaurant. Not so at Nozomi. Our waiters were just wonderful–friendly, attentive, and helpful. My water glass was never less than half full.
The first thing our waiter brought us was a bowl of spiced edamame, which was delicious. Mr. Mostafa had never tried edamame. I had, but I had certainly never had edamame cooked so perfectly! As we snacked on the edamame, we also tried two of the Nozomi cocktails–Mr. Mostafa’s was mostly citrus and mine was primarily berries. Both were divine.
After that, our waiter started bringing out plates and plates of food. We were immediately impressed.
The maki was delicious! See the bowl in the background, to the left? That’s (our second bowl of) the spiced edamame that we were so crazy about. And in the background on the right is what was left of our California roll, which was brought out before this dish. It was literally the best California roll I’ve ever had in my life. (Sorry, Sushi Yoshi. I love you, and we’re still involved. But Nozomi’s California roll beats yours.)
And then…then came a very new experience for both Mr. Mostafa and me.
Foie gras. Now, if you’re not familiar with what foie gras is and why it’s controversial, you can Google it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I knew what foie gras was, but I had never tried it. Mr. Mostafa had never heard of it, nor tried it. So we both gave it a go. I’m sure that if foie gras is your thing, Nozomi’s is top notch. But neither of us really appreciated it. Something about the texture. Still, at least now we can say we’ve tried beautifully prepared foie gras!
The plates just kept coming and coming, and we were amazed by the spread. Then our waiter brought out our first main dish.
What…? We had no clue that our first table full of dishes was just the appetizers. But based on the deliciousness of the appetizers, we were happy to dig into the main dishes! And of course, we weren’t disappointed.
One thing you should know about Nozomi is that all of the dishes are meant to be shared. So in theory, you could order one particular thing and eat it on your own, but the concept is that you order in collaboration with the other people at your table, and you all try everything. I have to say, it’s a pretty fantastic way to eat (not to mention, it also fits nicely into culturally Saudi eating habits, as anyone who has sat around a community tibsi piled high with kabsa can attest).
But anyway, on to the food!
Lamb ribs. Cooked just impeccably, and paired with a great sauce.
Fish and chips! I guess since Nozomi is originally a London-based restaurant, the menu does have some English flavors. The fish was good, but not really spectacular. The chips, though…wow. Saleh and I were both bowled over by the perfect texture and seasoning of those potatoes. They were so good that Saleh called our waiter over just to ask if, in the future, it would be possible to make a big order of just the chips. Our waiter assured us that yes, the chips alone would be on the final menu.
This is beef bulgogi. See that bowl of green stuff right there? I mean, like, really, really green? It’s potatoes. Green onion mashed potatoes. And let me tell you…it’s mashed potato perfection.
But the best part of this dish was not the potatoes. No, the best part was…well, the beef bulgogi. Cooked just right. Tender. Juicy. And the flavors were set off by the flakes of sea salt sprinkled over the beef. Oh, it was just heavenly.
I didn’t even take pictures of all the dishes we were brought; these were just a few. At the end of the meal, our waiter asked us if we would like a light dessert. Of course, why would we say no?
While Mr. Mostafa and I were waiting for our dessert, we discussed the food and the ambiance and the decor, all of which were wonderful. Nozomi feels different than other restaurants in Riyadh for one crucial reason–it has music playing, which (as I think I’ve mentioned earlier) is unusual for a restaurant in Riyadh, so as not to draw the ire of the muttawa (many conservative Muslims consider music to be haram). So a restaurant that has music playing is a rare find here. Saleh had some questions about that and other things, so we asked to speak to the manager. He came to our table within a minute.
The manager is from Spain (according to Mr. Mostafa), and he was a very nice guy. We told him how much we loved the food, and we asked if they intended to keep the music. He assured us that yes, it was their goal to keep the music on as much as possible in order to maintain the ambiance, although of course, they were willing to adjust the music as necessary to make the patrons comfortable.
“Would you like me to turn it down?” he asked us.
“No, no!” we laughed, assuring him that it was one of the things we appreciated most about Nozomi.
We also asked him if there would be partitions available once the restaurant opened officially; at that moment, there were none set up, even though there were a few other families eating. Of course, we don’t mind partitions–it is Riyadh, after all, and sometimes they come in handy, especially with a little one. But we had to admit that the family section’s lack of partitions–and small, closed-off rooms–really made it feel like we were not only on a real date, but also on a vacation outside of Saudi Arabia.
“Yes, we have them,” the manager said, nodding. He pointed toward the front of the room, where we could see partitions lined up, ready for use. They matched the square pattern of the lamp in the left side of the photo. He told us that they designed the partitions to fit into the decor as smoothly as possible. He was so nice. Heck, everyone was!
As we chatted with the manager, our waiter brought us a dish with three scoops of homemade ice cream–one coconut, one strawberry, and one chocolate. “I’ll let you enjoy your ice cream,” the manager said with a smile, and then we did just that.
In case you couldn’t tell, we had a fantastic time at Nozomi. We so needed a real date, and we were thrilled with how wonderful this one was! When we got home, Lavender was sleepy, calm, and happy to see us.
Perfect night. Thanks, Nozomi.