Dubai has now become the international destination for indoor wonders, but the Atlantis, Palm Jumeriah, the Burj Dubai (tallest building in the world), the seven star Burj Al-Arab, and all the other more recent developments don’t seem to come as close to the excitement that people seem to have at seeing modern Dubai’s first wonder, the indoor ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates. This from skiers and non-skiers alike, people who have lived in snow and people who have never even seen real snow, let alone the machine-generated kind.
If you’re not going to ski, then you just want to look. And the best view is at Karam Beirut, the Lebanese restaurant overlooking the whole expanse of the ski slope. You get the feeling you are at an Alpine lodge, despite the Arab music and decidedly Middle Eastern menu and an outdoor temperature in the car it took you to get here at about 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
I’ve only been to Karam’s twice, once with my friend Rachel and her colleague Michael, appropriately enough both working for another fantasy maker, Disney, and the second time last week with my friends Rola and Ashraf, a reporter just having left the less fantastical reality of Gaza and Iraq. We all know each other and more importantly Middle Eastern food, and Karam is probably the best, and not just for the view. It is a chain out of Beirut and its grilled meats are just fine. But in my opinion, you judge an Arabic restaurant by the quality and variety of its mezze (appetizers), and that’s where Karam really shines. If offers many options not traditionally served at restaurants outside the Levant, like hindbi (dandelion greens), shanklish (preserved yogurt), and more than one kind of kibbeh, including a raw kibbeh that Rachel declared the best ever (I don’t do raw beef, but I’d trust her word). The place has a heavy leaning towards fresh zataar (wild thyme), and the zataar salad and the zaatar with white cheese are my favorites.
Service is as unpredictable as Lebanon, but hey, if the shish kebab is late, there’s always Arabic music to hum to and the skiers –and an eclectic mix of citizens of the world-to watch.