Feb 12, 2013

The Next Level of South East Asian Cuisine

The St. Regis Hotel is synonymous with elegance and prestige, and when I was informed there is a South East Asian style restaurant at this gorgeous host venue, I was curious to see how well they could execute this casual cuisine in such a high end establishment. Upon entering, I was already impressed with the long walkway surrounded by reflection pools and fountains, to the light and airy feel of the restaurant.  With the decor resembling many elegant high-end Japanese restaurants I've been to all over the world, I thought to myself, there aren't too many upscale Thai/Indonesian/Malaysian restaurants around, but why?

After visiting Sontaya, my perception of South East Asian cuisine has changed.  This restaurant was not only aesthetically gorgeous, but the food was out of this world! The menu consisted of a variety of dishes from traditional Thai to modern interpretations of Indonesian plus much much more.  The service was spectacular and the ambiance was top notch.  My guest and I walked out of the restaurant feeling good and having enjoyed a beautiful evening out.....   


First to arrive at the table after the warm towel service, were a selection of prawn crackers with a chicken and prawn red curry dipping sauce.  This was a complimentary starter to prepare us for the feast that we were about to indulge in.  A genuine gesture on behalf of the restaurant, and since I was famished, it was the perfect way to take the edge off.

Now this meal was a little unusual for me because my guest had a seafood allergy.  I normally order a couple of fish dishes when I eat out, but this time around that wasn't an option.  That being the case, I was actually happy to find several alternatives on the menu.  Pictured below is one of the fabulous vegetarian items, deep fried taro and sweet corn with a sweet chilli sauce.  The portion size on this appetizer dish was generous, and ideal for a group of four, but somehow my guest and I managed to polish the plate clean. 
This next dish was the most refined grilled beef salad I've ever had! Thinly sliced tenderloin topped off with a beautiful brunoise of pickled carrots, fresh mangoes, peppers, crispy onions, and a chilli sauce, you won't let even a morsel of this dish go to waste.  Because it was a salad, the tenderloin was served warm, which is common with many Asian style beef salads.  A truly memorable dish and one that i am already craving for my next visit to Sontaya.   
The in-tune wait staff was eager to bring us this mint and lime palate cleanser after our first course. The refreshing and cooling shot was exactly what we needed to prepare us for the mains..... 
Nasi Goreng is a traditional Indonesian style fried rice, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasi_goreng) usually made with leftover rice from the day before, flavored with sweet soy, shallot, garlic, tamarind, and chilli.  There are some versions made with salted dried fish as well.  This one was served with a side of chicken satay and topped with a perfect egg, sunny side up.  I took the liberty of mixing all of the ingredients together and served it to my guest and myself, upon first bite, it was a flavor explosion!  The creaminess of the yolk coated the delicate tendrils of rice and helped to balance the punchy spices infused into the core of this authentic rice delicacy.
This last dish came highly recommended by the wait staff, a Massaman short rib beef curry. Massaman is probably one of the most famous of Thai curries, it usually contains coconut milk, roasted peanuts, potatoes, bay leaves, cardamom pods, cinnamon, star anise, palm sugar, fish sauce, chili, and tamarind sauce.  The dish is served with rice and sometimes with pickled ginger or "achat" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massaman_curry) It is a lovely medley of savoury and sweet flavors and paired with the slow braised beef short ribs that simply melted in your mouth, this really took Thai to the next level!  This is the kind of dish I dream about eating, with so many dimensions of flavor, you really can't go wrong. 

After such a flavorful feast of South Asian delights, I wasn't sure about taking anything else on.  Besides, I am usually not fond of Asian style desserts, but something told me that these desserts would be different.  With items such as Jasmine Panna Cotta, and Kabosu Creme Brulee, my curiosities were piqued.  I ended up ordering the Pineapple Passionatta, a delicate white chocolate mousse infused with a delicate hint of pineapple and served with  a toasted coconut crust along with pineapple and kiwi jelly.  The light texture of the mousse paired with the refreshing fruit were a great closure for this incredibly memorable meal.  I can honestly say there are only a handful of restaurants that I truly crave, this one is going to the top of that list.
Sontaya is located at the St. Regis on Saadiyat Island.  It's a one of a kind venue located in paradise!  For more information on the restaurant please visit the website: http://www.sontayaabudhabi.com/

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