Last week I was on vacation in the Caribbean, hence my silent blog. (Sorry, but I need a break while on vacation, unlike my prolific colleague James Suckling).
The Caribbean offers sunny weather, on most days. Gorgeous blue-green water. And, in my experience, limited wine lists with overpriced bottles. That’s been the curse of vacation spots in the Caribbean for a long time—and Nancy and I have avoided vacationing down there because of that.
But now, with two small children in the mix, long flights and connections to get to our favorite spots such as Cabo San Lucas are no longer palatable. Instead, we took the easy three-hour flight down to the Turks & Caicos last week, and as it turns out, we were lucky enough to avoid what seemed like the worst week of winter weather here in New York so far.
In exchange for easy travel, I was planning to forgo wine altogether, having a bottle of Barbancourt rum pre-ordered to our condo-style apartment in The Palms resort. And knowing Caribbean service can be, shall we say, laid-back in style, I was expecting to meander through a week’s worth of ho-hum dining. But I considered it a small price to pay for a tan in February. What I found, however, was that some things met my expectations, while others exceeded them.
Our first night, we ate at Parallel 23, the restaurant in our resort. It was just what I expected food-wise, with standard renditions of grouper, mahi-mahi, lobster, etc. Solid but not inspired. The wine list, though, was a half step up from what I expected, with a decent selection. We settled for a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé, which was almost at the right temperature.
On our second night, we ventured out to Coyaba, which I picked after leafing through the local restaurant guide. It stood out for its menu, which seemed to have a little more flair than most. Nancy and I were pleasantly surprised—the lobster bisque, rich and smoky with a shot of rum and Scotch Bonnet peppers, was delightful, even on a warm evening. And the grilled lobster tails were perfectly done. The wine list was more extensive, and we were able to find a solid premier cru Chablis from La Chablisienne for $60, so no complaints there.
We try not to get stuck in one dinner place when we vacation, so we continued to try new places each night. Tuesday night was Anacoana at the Grace Bay Club. Had this been our first dinner out, we might not have gone out again—it was the typical Caribbean dining experience. Our appetizer showed up about two minutes after we placed our order, but we then spent 45 minutes waiting for our entrées. I had mahi mahi in papillotte and Nancy had the filet of red snapper. Both pieces of fish were solid, but the rice and vegetables that came with them were dull and flavorless. The wine list wasn’t all bad, though—a lineup of wines from Oriel, and some good Pinots were the highlights. We had to tackle a waitress for the check near the end, though, when it seemed like the entire service staff had disappeared. We weren’t the only couple wondering what the overtime rate was for the babysitter...
Wednesday evening took us to Magnolia Wine Bar & Restaurant, a beautiful spot overlooking the marina. Oddly, the menu was light on fish (a rack of lamb or steak just doesn't interest me when I'm in the Caribbean), though the seared tuna in pepper and sesame crust was solid. The wine list showed care, with wine labels and short descriptions, and a Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc hit the spot at a friendly $45. Once again, though, service was off, with the appetizer plopped down before the menus had barely been cleared and the entrées brought in a flash right after the appetizers. We were done in less than 40 minutes and had to kill time back at our resort’s bar, since the sitter was still getting our kids asleep!
On Thursday night, we tried Coco Bistro. It’s a beautiful setting as well, atop a hill in a coconut grove. A well-prepared Caesar salad and some crab-filled wontons got our mouths watering, and so we decided to spring for a bottle of Krug and some lobster. The waitress brought a bottle of Duval-Leroy. When I pointed out to her that it wasn’t the Krug, it caused a few minutes of confusion as she took it back. Turns out the Krug was sold out, so I switched gears to the ‘98 Dom Pérignon instead. It was served at the right temperature and was the perfect match for our lobster tails, which were rich and meaty, with a delightful hint of smoke. The local lobster is different from the creamier Maine lobster we’re used to up here, and it takes to grilling well. The lobster has to be the steal of a deal down there too—the typical lobster entrée carries no price premium over other entrées, and Nancy got two large tails, while I got one large tail and two small ones. It turned out to be out best meal of the trip.
For our last night, we made a return visit to Coyaba, where a Petaluma Clare Valley Riesling worked well with Nancy’s curried lobster and my lobster thermidor (let me know if you see the theme that developed...)
All in all, I was pleased with the dinners we had there—wine lists aren’t as devoid of choice as they were in the past. And with some digging, there are some good values. The quality of fish and the lobster in particular, is high, though typically side dishes can be lackluster. Take the service with a grain of salt, or a fruity cocktail with a paper umbrella in it, and you’ll have a good time. Especially if you’re there when there’s an ice storm back home.