Sunset Grille (St. Thomas) – Great Potential

Up and down a winding road to this off the beaten path bar-restaurant at the Secret Harbour Resort serving some pretty good food. It is divided into two areas, a bar with tables and a separate dining room overlooking the water. We decided on the restaurant side and the eight of us were seated at a very quiet table.

For my starter I decided on the Conch Chowder. It was a true chowder with lots of vegetables nestled in a broth. It was delicious. The broth was light (bacon would have really elevated the broth) with a good amount of flavor. There was a scant amount of conch and it was more a vegetable chowder than a conch chowder, but it was still delicious.

I chose the Seared tuna for my entrée. The sesame crusted tuna log was sliced and fanned over juliennes of three peppers, green, yellow and red. A smidgen of edamame puree and a finger full of mango gastrique joined the tuna on the plate. A separate plate of soy, wasabi, pickled ginger and rice was part of the presentation, sorta a do-it-yourself sushi. The tuna was perfectly prepared to rare, maybe very rare, which was perfect for me. It was rich in flavor, but was screaming for a complementary flavor. A little wasabi and ginger plus a dip in the soy created a delightful combination. I am not sure why the chef included the mango and edamame, first because it was less than a ¼ teaspoon of each and second, it was a completely different profile than plate #2. But the one bite that included the mango and tuna was outstanding, and a larger portion of both in lieu of the soy-wasabi plate would have created a delightful presentation.

For dessert we decided to share an order of pineapple upside down cake and an order of cinnamon bread pudding. I thought both were good, not great. If you are looking for a powerful end, then order the pineapple and if you are a big fan of cinnamon, the latter.

Service was spotty. During the order process our server was spot on then he was the invisible man. Several times we needed to go to wine bucket and bring the bottle back and pour our own wine. Since we were 8 people the 20% was already in the bill so there was no incentive for anything other than minimal service.

Overall it was a fun night with very good food. Would I return? Absolutely, it is St. Thomas not NYC and for the island it was a wonderful location with pretty good food.

Old Stone Farmhouse (St. Thomas) – Major Disappointment

Several years ago we journeyed to the Old Stone Farmhouse for a memorable meal. The food was delicious and the surroundings beautiful and after dinner we enjoyed a small combo in the courtyard. We wanted to return. The drive to the restaurant from the East End is a bit harrowing on a dark, winding road, and the turn onto the driveway needs complete concentration, but when you enter the building it is well worth the last quarter-mile.

Since our last visit, the chef and the management have changed, and neither was for the better. The highlights of the latest meal were the building and the server, who was outstanding throughout the meal. We arrived at 730 on a Saturday and by 815 we were the only table still in attendance, a bad omen and it was strange that with three separate rooms ours was the only one occupied.

The menu is divided into three sections with appetizers, salads and entrees. To start, the table ordered a couple of flatbreads, with toppings that change daily. The toppings that the chef was using on our visit included beef, jalapeño peppers, onions plus other vegetables, topped with an Asian hoisin-style sauce. The combination was not to my liking. It felt as if the kitchen decided to chopped the remnants of the ingredients from other dishes and piled onto the flatbread. It was a mish-mash of flavors.

For my appetizer I ordered the Local Fish Crudo (it was Mahi Mahi on our visit) served with sweet chili aioli, pickled jalapeño, radish, and watermelon. The plate was an wooden mini-artist’s paint palate. The cubed Mahi was spread across the upper edge, topped with a few thin slices of jalapeño pepper and thinly sliced radishes. At first glance I did not see the fresh fish under the two other toppings. Alongside the fish were small cubes of watermelon. The fish was very fresh, and very lightly marinated, barely a hint of citrus was evident. The peppers added a little spice and the watermelon a touch of sweetness. It was a basic combination of some regular components; good but nothing special.

I ordered the Grilled Pork Chop for my entrée. It was served with a smoky garlic polenta, pickled peaches, roasted vegetables with a drizzle of a bourbon peach reduction. It should more accurately as a large pork filet, the bone was removed and it was cut into four thick slices, and served atop the other components. I ate one of the end pieces first, my first impression was that it was a bit over-seasoned with salt and pepper. As I moved to one of the interior slices I saw that one half of the slice was medium and the other half raw, I was not about to eat raw pork. I spoke with the manager and the server and she immediately removed it. When it returned the two interior slices were now well-done and the other end slice was still half cooked, half raw, the kitchen did nothing to correct that slice. I was not amused and it was removed from both the table and the bill. I would classify the kitchen’s attempt to repair their mistake a complete failure on their part and the manager never returned nor offered his apologies.

Others enjoyed their entrees, which including the scallops, duck, Mahi Mahi and the special of the evening the Bolognese.

For dessert I ordered the black cherry cheesecake. It was an individual serving with the berries both embedded in the cake and a couple of squirts of sauce on the plate. It was creamy and very good.

Overall it was an incredibly disappointing visit to the Old Stone Farmhouse. The flatbread was horrible and the crudo was not to my liking. But the fact that the kitchen saw the pork was half raw after slicing it and still served it and then compounded this mistake by knowingly overcooking two of the three pieces on its re-fire and again serving the original slice of half raw pork is completely and totally unacceptable. While the manager was quick to remove the offending plate, he had zero follow-up. When it was sent back a second time, he should have come to the table. We were literally the only occupied table in the entire restaurant.

Mistakes happen and how a restaurant handles that situation is important. Serving raw pork was strike 1, returning the dish with well-done and raw was strike 2 and the manager lack of attentiveness was strike 3. The one star that is earned by the restaurant on this visit was the server, the only professional on site the entire evening.

Pirate’s Bite (Norman Island) – Great Place for Lunch

 

After a less than enjoyable lunch on the Willy T last year (no we were not expecting much) we decided to return to Pirate’s Bit this year for lunch. After docking the boat we wandered over to the newly rebuilt building and grabbed a table overlooking the water.

There were several large boats docking and we ordered quickly to stay ahead of these impending large orders. Even with our haste, the wait for the food to arrive was over 30 minutes, just a head’s up that you can easily plan for two rounds of drinks prior to the food’s arrival.

I ordered the grilled pork sandwich. It was served on a baguette and was delicious. It was accompanied by a spicy sauce and slaw, that added a nice crunch to the sandwich. French fries accompanied the sandwich and they were perfectly fried.

Service was excellent.

 

Overall it was a wonderful lunch on the beach on Norman Island on our way to the Soggy Dollar.

 

 

Oceana (St. Thomas) – Still Outstanding

Oceana SnapperEach year when we visit St. Thomas we schedule our special dinner at Oceana. Located within an historic building on a southern point in Frenchtown, Oceana blends the beauty of the building with incredible food. According to the website, the estate was settled in the 1670s and in 1894 converted to the Russian Embassy.

Drink orders were taken and delivered and the bread service commenced. I was a little disappointed in the butter. They were butter pats individually wrapped in the gold foil, a la a NJ diner. At these prices it was a major flaw in the dinner and management should be ashamed of itself for this decision.

For my appetizer I ordered the KURABUTA PORK BELLY AND DIVER SCALLOP, described as “Molasses Braised Pork Belly, Brown Butter Seared Scallop, Baby Spinach, Crispy Parsnip and a Spicy Tomato Jam.” It arrived on a long rectangular plate with the scallop and belly occupying the ends, respectively, and were separated by a dollop of spicy roasted tomato gastrique. I decided to work from the lighter side and started with the scallop. It was delicious, perfectly seared on both sides and when lightly dipped in the tomato jam created a wonderful combination. I was less enthralled with the cube of pork belly. The meat was flaccid and flavorless and there was barely a hint of the molasses. Dipping in the sauce made it barely passable, nowhere close to its plate counterpart. It was completely out of character with the preparations I have enjoyed over the years.

The special entree for the evening was a surf and surf, freshly caught red snapper plus seared gulf shrimp, served with purple potato mash and butter beans. The snapper was excellent, beautifully seasoned and prepared, with a touch of crispiness on the exterior while moist and juicy on the interior. They worked perfectly with the potatoes and beans that added a touch of earthiness. The issue with the shrimp was that they were sitting next to the snapper. They were very good, maybe a little under-seasoned, but the snapper was just outstanding.

Others ordered a variety of entrees and one needs a special mention, not for the centerpiece but the accompaniments. The garlic shrimp were served with “Asiago Grits” and a “Local Season Pepper Gastrique.” The grits were outstanding and the sauce was spectacular. The sweet and spicy balance was divine; this was one of the best gastrique I have ever tasted.

I ordered a trio of ice cream for dessert. Be advised that the amount of the trio is probably half in total of a regular order of ice cream. The three flavors were chocolate, apple-cinnamon, and almond. The chocolate was a light chocolate. My favorite was the apple cinnamon which was delightful.

Service was exceptional, spot on and not invasive.

Overall it was a wonderful dinner. Many restaurants back in the US can learn excellent food and service from Oceana.

Waterfront Bistro (St. John) – Great Flavors & Service

Waterfront Bistro (St John)For our swan song dinner in St. Thomas we decided to take the ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay in St. John and dine at Waterfront Bistro. The 15-minute ride is $7 per person each way. The restaurant is located a short 5-minute walk from the dock and offers a nice view of the water from most of the tables.

After we were seated our server asked for the drink orders. We brought a bottle of Champagne and two bottles of wine with us since the restaurant offers a BYOB option with a $20 corkage per bottle. The server, Amanda, opened and poured the Champagne and throughout the entire evening was the epitome of great service. Major kudos to her.

For my appetizer I ordered the Shrimp Ceviche, served with tomato, onion, lime, cilantro, avocado, and served alongside fried blue corn tortilla chips. The ceviche was a combination of all of the ingredients mixed together and served as a mound on the plate. The chips sat in a swath of wasabi. The flavors were bold, almost too bold, and a little different than I expected for a ceviche. After each bite I appreciated the boldness of the flavor combination, but missed the delicateness of the shrimp. This was not a citrus/fish-focused interpretation.

My choice of entrée was the Crispy Duck Breast & Leg Confit, that was accompanied by true wild and basmati rice, Vietnamese scented ‘pho’ broth, and tamarind glazed baby bok choy. A duck breast was sliced and fanned over the rice and bok choy with the “pho” broth slowly poured over the dish when served. The breast was cooked to medium, a little more than ordered, but the meat was delicious. The broth was divine and was the polar opposite of my appetizer, it showed a delicate touch with the star anise. The rice was all basmati, all white with no wild rice evident. It was very good and would have benefitted from the earthiness of the wild rice, too bad it was missing. The bok choy was a great accompaniment to the duck and broth.

Overall, I really enjoyed our visit to the Waterfront Bistro.

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Water Grill (NYC) – Great Food & Atmosphere

We were looking for a new restaurant for the family to try in the Union Square area and after some research decided on the Blue Water Grill. There were reservations available, the on-line menu contained items that would work for everyone and the interior photos looked like the restaurant offered a high-vibe atmosphere.

The restaurant occupies a building that formerly housed a bank, the first floor is somewhat narrow, with the bar in the front with both stools and tables, a large dining area behind, plus a balcony in the rear that contains 40-50 seats. There is a separate restaurant on the lower level with live jazz, the same menu, and a separate reservation is required. We arrived for our 730 reservation and were asked to give them a few minute since the table was not quite ready. After a five minute wait we were escorted to a great table on the second floor balcony overlooking the first floor, which we preferred since the noise level was more moderate, allowing for conversation.

Our server immediately approached and asked for our water preference and let us get settled in. Upon her return she asked for our wine or cocktail orders and we chose two dirty Tito martinis and a diet Coke.

The menu is very focused on seafood. The entire top half describes raw bar items, plus sushi, sashimi and maki rolls. There is one soup (changes daily), two salads and other small plates, plus about fifteen larger selections, again mainly seafood focused.

I ordered the Mini Fish Tacos with red cabbage slaw and Hass avocado ($12.00) for my appetizer and the Brown Butter Roasted Grouper (the on-line menu states Halibut) with Szechuan peppers, wheat berry, Tuscan kale and chimichurri ($30.00) for my entrée. The three others at the table ordered the Greenmarket Salad, served with caramelized pecans, radishes, green apple, and finished with shallot vinaigrette ($13.00) and for their entrée they each order the Crispy Skin Faroe Island Salmon, with baby bok choy, tatsoi and miso yuzu emulsion ($29.00).

The tacos arrived on a 6-inch square cedar plank, yes they were mini. The tortilla was whole grain with a small piece of fish, avocado, slaw, a thin slice of jalapeño pepper and a sprig of cilantro. There was great flavor in the tacos, the slaw and fish were nicely balanced and the pepper was a complement to the other ingredients. The three salads that my family ordered were large, filled with a plethora of ingredients and they agreed it was a great salad.

The entrées were delicious. The wheat berry salad was blended with a vinegar based sauce, plus a bit of butter, both were delightful complements to the fish. The Tuscan kale was sautéed and was a great addition as well. The biggest drawback to the dish was the fish pieces that were chosen, they were two scraps, instead of a single larger filet. The “fish sticks” were irregular in shape causing areas to be perfectly cooked, while other sections were over cooked. I could not taste any of the Szechuan pepper (this may have been a good thing) and the small dollop of Chimichurri lightly covered one of my fish sticks, and its vinegar could be tasted in the wheat berry. The salmon were each a nice sized filet with the crispy skin as described and my family loved the combination of flavors.

For dessert we shared a Flourless Chocolate Layer Cake with candied kumquats and orange gelato ($11.00). It was excellent, with the addition of some chocolate crunchies throughout and the gelato was incredibly creamy, and mild in its orange flavor, allowing the cake to remain the centerpiece of the dish.

Our server was very friendly, did not rush us during the ordering phase and was very efficient in receiving the orders. Unfortunately, while all of the tables around us received bread, we were never offered bread, and we needed to ask for it after our appetizers were served. More disturbing was the timing of the courses. We were barely finished with the appetizers when the entrees arrived, there was no pause between the courses, plate off, plate on, a major timing mistake by the staff and kitchen.

Overall, the evening at Blue Water was a great time with family and food. The chef combined great, complementary flavors that were delicious. I do resent the pieces of grouper the kitchen selected for my entrée, trimmings should be discarded served in a $30 dish and the lack of downtime between courses, but otherwise, Blue Water was one best evenings in several years.

Flakowitz vs. Bagel Twin – Clear Winner is Flakowitz

Each visit to Florida entails several visits to Flakowitz, and I have grown quite fond of their novey, creamed herring and bagels. This year when we arrived my MIL informed us she ran out of time and went to Bagel Twin for round #1. I was not as fond of the selections, but let me just describe the differences, since this cuisine is very much subjective and incredibly subject to very forceful opinions.

Novey – I found the novey from BT much saltier and the slicer was less than careful. The slices were long (some approached close to12”) and the thickness ranged from medium to way too thick. I prefer thinner slices about 6” so a simple fold-over covers a bagel half.

Herring in cream sauce – Two points. The herring was more pungent at BT and the texture was firmer. The tail end of each filet was very tough. The cream sauce from BT is also much thinner and less flavorful that Flakowitz. The onions from Flakowitz are also a little sweeter. To fully enjoy the full flavor of the Flakowitz herring it needs to sit in the container for 24 hours for the flavors to meld, BT required at least 48 hours.

Cream Cheese – I give a push to the difference. The Flakowitz is a little easier to spread, but both were excellent.

Bagels – Even though the name is Bagel Twin, I prefer the bagels at Flakowitz. I actually prefer the bagels at the place on the northwest corner of Jog and Boynton Beach Boulevard.

Given my choice, I would definitely choose Flakowitz over Bagel Twin.