I’m going to go on a slight tangent here, but please stay with me. I think that no matter what is being sold, the company, organization, or person doing the selling has an obligation to determine who their target demographic is. In the instance of my books, for example, I recognize my ideal reader is most likely an American woman between 36-60. For meals this year that have been truly memorable, I think this is a similar case. For whatever reason, Hubs and I were the ideal guests of both Test Kitchen and Librije’s Zusje. Both restaurants hit everything we enjoy in a venue – from service to wine to food to ambiance. Thus, in the case of Sass Cafe, I don’t think we are the intended audience. I believe we were too old and have different tastes than what was presented. For example, photos of the venue show beautiful people with a decidedly limited focus on food. That’s not to say that every restaurant shouldn’t have something to offer a potential guest, it’s more that this was never going to be a good fit.
If the venue would like to attract couples like Hubs and myself (and by no means should they feel inclined to, plenty of diners are already enjoying the restaurant), here is a short list of things I would fix:
- Among my instant pet peeves and ‘please don’t ever do this’ at a restaurant is a pre-poured glass of wine (cheapest price? In the neighborhood of AED80+). Guests should always be able to see what it is being poured. This is in direct contrast to Asado, where I dined a week previously. The server brought out the bottle wine for each glass that was poured, as almost everyone else in the world does.
- Also like Asado, there’s ‘mood lighting, ‘ and then there’s ‘I can’t actually read the menu.’ I get that ambiance is a thing, but when kitchens work hard on their food, plates deserve to be seen. Diners should not be distracted by trying to focus on what is listed on the menu.
- Seating. As we dined early (no, not apologizing for an 8 PM reservation), we had the place entirely to ourselves for the first hour. As other diners began to filter in, they were seated directly to our left and right. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve been to Sass, but it is a massive space. I personally find it irritating that in an empty restaurant other tables couldn’t have been used. For those in the industry, I would love to know why this practice exists. While it was fun to eavesdrop on the tables next to us (yes, we were seated that close), I didn’t appreciate the decision, and more than anything it made me want to leave sooner, rather than linger for an additional drink.
- A menu that fits. Sass plays up a very French vibe, but in reality, the menu isn’t overtly French (although the items listed in the menu are in French, go figure). For example, I don’t recall ceviche being particularly French, nor the three kinds of tartare. Pasta is Italian and the rest of the menu? While they do list ‘offering a Mediterranean culinary journey’ and remind guests to ‘indulge in great Mediterranean cuisine from Southern France,’ the lack of focus makes it difficult to decide as to what direction the meal should take.
- Originality. See above. For example, in the area, there are restaurants that clearly define what they are and what they offer (Roberto’s for Italian or Le Cirque for French both stand out). While I do appreciate Burrata and tartare among other dishes, they are so ubiquitous as to not even make a dent in the market. In other words, if I had to define a signature dish on this menu, it would be difficult to choose one.
- A hard look at pricing. Look, I’m obviously prepared to pay for quality when quality is given (see, tasting menus). However, a ‘cafe’ in Al Fattan Currency House does not justify the cheapest bottle of wine as nearly AED400 or cocktails over AED80. Nor does a 250g piece of Wagyu feel correctly priced at AED300.
- Please don’t take away my bread accouterments unless I ask you to. #stillbitter
Would I go back? Sorry gang, there is just nothing original enough here to warrant a return. I found the pricing to be too high to be justified and, as mentioned, with a lack of direction and unoriginal food, this is simply not my cup of tea.
What’s your take on this part of the city? Do you have a go to venue in the area?
A to Za’atar was a guest of Sass Cafe. Opinions are my own, just ask my husband.