Oceania’s ‘Marina’ features fine dining five ways

Grand dining room on Oceania's Marina
Experienced cruisers expect a Grand Dining Room—and that’s exactly what Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) calls its spacious and glittering Continental dining venue. It has the requisite fine linens and crystal chandeliers. A full armada of water and wine glasses gleam on the tables. The menu borrows a little from Italy and a lot from France. It includes a few Jacques Pepin signature bistro dishes (steak-frites, roast chicken, poached salmon). Or diners can go fancier with lobster bisque and venison medallions. The menu even proffers spa-inspired “healthy living choices,” such as steamed artichokes, chicken consommé, and simple roasted fish. In short, there’s a little something for everyone in a very pleasant and lively room with excellent service. Although the GDR is larger than most other restaurants on board the Marina, it is only one of many fine dining choices.

Jacques aboard Oceania Marina

Dinner with a French accent at Jacques

Although he consults to the entire Oceania dining program, Jacques Pepin’s personal stamp is most pronounced in the restaurant that bears his name. Jacques serves what might be called the greatest hits of French cuisine, from baked escargots with garlic butter or foie gras terrine with candied black cherries to bouillabaisse or baked onion soup topped with stringy Gruyère. The classic preparation of Dover sole makes superb dinner theater—the waiter fillets it tableside before serving. The dessert menu is a delectable class in French pronunciation: baba au rhum, pot de crème, mousse au chocolat, tarte au pommes, and—of course—crème brûlée a la lavande.

Photographing the lobster at Toscana on Oceania Marina

Mangiare come un italiano at Toscana

The menu at Toscana is nominally Tuscan, but the kitchen balances the Tuscan grill with a choice of no less than ten pastas. They are all beautifully executed in generous portions, making them suitable as secondi instead of primi. The risottos (asparagus or lobster) arrive with the rice slightly soupy and al dente. (Bravo!) The grilled veal chop with wild mushrooms is a quintessential representation of the Tuscan countryside. One of the most popular dishes at Toscana (besides the incredible breads) is the lobster fra diavolo served over fresh tagliolini. Presentation is so striking that even in the romantically low light, it’s hard to resist taking a photo (above).

Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

Polo Grill celebrates American steakhouse

The steakhouse is possibly North America’s greatest contribution to the worldwide constellation of restaurant types. Polo Grill is arguably better than many steakhouses found back on land. It serves generously cut and perfectly cooked beef, veal, and lamb. (Three people at our table one night ordered filet mignon—one medium rare, one medium, and one medium well. They arrived at the table exactly cooked, which is no mean feat since meat keeps cooking between kitchen and table.) Polo also has the full range of rich salads—Caesar prepared at the table among them.

Beet appetizer at Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

But Polo truly excels in the attention paid to sides and appetizers. The napoleon of roasted beet layered with garlic goat cheese and dressed with a Champagne and truffle vinaigrette (above) was a work of art that tasted as good as it looked. Side dishes even included lobster mac and cheese. Huge porterhouse steaks are a big hit at Polo, but it seemed like every table had at least one person wearing a bib and a satisfied smile while tucking into an entire steamed Maine lobster.

Red Ginger dining room on Oceania Marina

Red Ginger conjures flavors of East Asia

All the specialty restaurants can be booked by advance reservation, and some passengers make those reservations when they buy their cruise tickets. As a result, Red Ginger is one of the hardest reservations to score aboard the Marina. With glittering gold walls, a proliferation of shiny lacquer, and the dramatic spot lighting, it is also perhaps the most glam of the shipboard dining rooms. The sharing plate of appetizers called “Skewers, Sushi, and Tempura” sets the pan-Asian tone for the menu. It’s easy to mix a Southeast Asian spicy duck and watermelon salad with a second starter of Japanese tuna tataki, as shown below.

Red Ginger plates on Oceania Marina

The main courses at Red Ginger are similarly international. They range from rib-eye beef prepared as Korean bulgogi to a roasted rack of lamb rubbed with seven spices. The lobster that’s such a big hit in Polo, Toscana, and even Jacques, makes a cameo at Red Ginger as lobster pad Thai. The tamarind and lime make it sweet and tart at the same time—an excellent way to treat the rich flavor of lobster. One of the culinary classes focuses on Red Ginger favorites. The lobster pad Thai recipe below is exactly as it’s taught.

Lobster pad Thai at Red Ginger on Oceania Marina

LOBSTER PAD THAI


Serves 2

Ingredients

For sauce

1/4 cup tamarind juice
2 tablespoons each palm sugar, fish sauce, nam prik pao (Thai chili-garlic paste), and creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ginger juice

For pad Thai

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger juice
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced on diagonal
1/4 cup leeks, thinly sliced on diagonal
1 cup lobster pieces
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups rice noodles, softened
1/2 cup bean sprouts
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 lime wedges
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts

Directions

Whisk together all the sauce ingredients until smooth. If needed, thin with warm water. Reserve.

Line up the ingredients in order, with 1/2 cup of the prepared sauce between the eggs and the noodles.

In a wok over high, heat the peanut oil. When the oil is hot, begin adding the garlic, ginger, scallions and leeks to the wok in sequence. Use two spatulas and continuously toss to cook evenly and keep ingredients from burning at high heat. Slide the vegetables up the sides of the wok and sear the lobster. Slide the lobster up the sides of the wok and add the egg to scramble.

When the egg is just cooked, bring back the vegetables and lobster and add the ½ cup of the sauce, noodles and bean sprouts. Using the spatulas, gently toss the ingredients to cover them with sauce, adding more if needed, being careful not to break the noodles. When heated through, divide among two serving dishes. Finish with the sesame oil, lime wedges and peanuts.

24

03 2017

Jumping ship for a taste of the port

Ana Svoboda shows ginger at Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum, part of an Oceania shore excursion
When Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) culinary director Kathryn Kelly designs the culinary shore excursions for Marina and her sister ships, she asks herself one essential question. “Where would I like to go if I had one day in this port?” she says. In Europe, the answer might be a visit to a winery or a three-star restaurant. In the western Caribbean, culinary expeditions are more likely to focus on local foods and foodways.

Arboretum looks to future of Roatán food


We joined Kelly for the “Honduran Farm & Ocean to Table Experience.” This shore excursion on the island of Roatán starts at the Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum (blueharbortropicalarboretum.com). The plantings on this 160-acre property represent most of the economically significant plants of the growing zone, including several species of fruit trees. Walking through the grounds, general manager Ana Svoboda (above with ginger) points out familiar fruits like guava and mango and less familiar cacao, mangosteen, and custard apple. (Red cacao and coffee are among the key crops in Honduras, but coffee grows poorly at low altitude, so it’s not part of the arboretum.)

Lettuce at Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum's hydroponic farm

While the plantings represent Roatán’s botanical past, the facility’s extensive hydroponic farm is an investment in the future. Roatán is part of the MesoAmerican Reef system, second only to the Great Barrier Reef, so fresh water is at a premium. Hydroponics uses only 10 percent of the water required for conventional farming.

The farm focuses on high-value lettuce, other salad greens, and herbs. Annual production is 70-80,000 heads of lettuce alone. By growing in waist-height “rows,” the farm maximizes its succession crops. It harvests every 53 days. The organic produce—Blue Harbor uses organic fertilizers and no pesticides—is sold to local restaurants and supermarkets, and some to nearby islands. The facility also sells cashews and citrus fruits from the arboretum groves.

Chef Samuel on Oceania shore excursion in Honduras

Going big on shrimp for cooking


Roatán is known for its succulent pink shrimp. The large, sweet, and almost iridescent species played a starring role in the cooking demonstration given by Chef Samuel, a quiet mountain of a man, on Big French Key. The chef bought them from fishermen setting their nets about 70 miles south. To show the versatility of the shrimp, he prepared them three ways.

He first made cocktail shrimp with an accompanying sauce. He prepared the shrimp by peeling away the shell, leaving just the tip of the tail. He cut down the groove in the back and removed and discarded the “vein,” or alimentary tract. He heated salted water to a boil, cut a large lime in half and squeezed half for its juice. He added both halves of the fruit to the water to cut the fishy flavor and aroma. The shrimp simmered just three minutes. The cocktail sauce was equally simple. He sautéed diced tomato, minced garlic, chopped onion, and parsley. When the mixture was cool, he added a small Scotch bonnet pepper and puréed in a blender.

Chef Samuel with homemade grater on Oceania shore excursion
His second preparation was garlic shrimp. In very hot oil in a frying pan, he quickly cooked some minced garlic to flavor the oil. The shrimp—again, shell off except for the tip of the tail—cooked up in just a minute or two.

As a final preparation, Chef Samuel made coconut shrimp. They were truly heavenly, in part because he grated a fresh coconut using a distinctive island-style grater. It consists of a large can punctured with nails to make sharp bumps, as shown in the photo above. It made quick work of the coconut. Chef Samuel dipped the shrimp in beer and milk-based tempura batter, rolled them in coconut shards, and deep-fried them in 375°F oil until golden brown. Wow!

Coconut shrim in Honduras on Oceania shore excursion

Since most of us don’t have a deep fryer at home, Chef Kathryn Kelly has come up with this pan-fried version.

CHEF KELLY’S COCONUT SHRIMP


Serves 2

Ingredients

1/2 cup chickpea flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
1/4 cup dry shredded coconut
6 to 8 jumbo shrimp (10 to 12 count), deveined, whole with tail on
Sunflower or peanut oil, for frying
Lime wedges

Directions

Set out three small, shallow aluminum trays. Pour the flour in the first tray, the beaten eggs in the second, and the bread crumbs and coconut flakes in the third. Dry the shrimp with paper towels.

Dredge a shrimp in the flour. Gently shake off any excess. Dip the shrimp in the egg, turning the shrimp so it is completely coated. Dip the shrimp in the bread crumb and coconut mix, turning and pressing gently so it is completely coated. Repeat with the other shrimp. Allow the coated shrimp to rest and set for 15 minutes.

Line a plate with paper towels. Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Oil depth should be half the thickness of the shrimp. When the oil is hot (365°F to 375°F), carefully place the shrimp in the pan and fry until the bottom halves are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully turn the shrimp and fry until the other halves are golden brown, about 3 to 4 more minutes. Transfer the shrimp to the towel-lined plate to drain. Serve with chili garlic sauce (easily found at the grocery store), lime wedges on the side, and enjoy!

21

03 2017

When life gives you lemons, make limoncello cakes

Kathryn Kelly leads Oceania cooking class
“Acid is as important to a chef as a knife,” executive chef Kathryn Kelly (above) tells her culinary class aboard the Marina. “Use acid instead of salt to bring out the flavors in food.”

Kelly is such a believer in gastronomic acids that she builds an entire cooking class around the signature tart fruit of the Mediterranean: the lemon. She calls the class “Amore—Love of Lemons,” and it’s a zinger. In two hours, up to twenty-two students learn to make egg-lemon soup, limoncello, preserved lemons, fennel salad with preserved lemon, lemon risotto, chicken scallopine al limone, drunken limoncello cakes, and lemon-basil gelato.

When Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) decided to make food the centerpiece of their voyages, the founders knew they needed more than good fine-dining restaurants. In this age where every experience needs a DIY component to make it seem authentic, they committed to a full-fledged on-board cooking program. And they found just the right person to run it. Kelly was teaching at the Culinary Institute of America in 2010 when Oceania Cruises wooed her to serve as culinary enrichment director.

She designs and often leads culinary shore excursions as well as the cooking classes. When the ship is at sea, the center usually offers two classes per day. When it is docked, there’s usually only a single class. Since passengers can sign up for classes when they book their cruises, many classes are fully booked before the ship ever leaves port.

Cooking class aboard Oceania cruise

Intensive classroom experience


The state-of-the-art culinary education center has eleven combination prep and cooking stations, each of which will accommodate two students. The instructor—Kelly or another chef—demonstrates dishes at the front of the room where overhead mirrors and video screens allow every student to see what’s going on. Typically the teacher runs through a recipe, then sends the students back to their stations to execute.

Kelly notes that the popularity of the lemon class is exceeded only by the “Fish Master Class.” It teaches students how to handle six different fish and shellfish and prepare a striking dish with each. “A lot of people hesitate to cook fish at home,” Kelly says. “This class gives them the techniques and the confidence.”

The lemon class is full of bonuses—like a quick lesson in proper pan-frying technique when making the chicken scallopine with lemon and capers. “You want the oil just half the thickness of the meat. When you flip it over, no part gets double cooked and you don’t get a brown line down the middle.”

Or, when cooking risotto, she has every student bite down on a grain of rice at the eight and one-half minute mark. It provides a sensory memory of the point where the risotto is exactly half done. (Done properly, her risotto recipe cooks exactly seventeen minutes.)

The rustic little cakes for dessert are a special treat. She cautions that the thick dough should be placed roughly into the ramekins. “That way it cooks up with lots of holes and crannies to soak up the limoncello!”

Cook tests cakes in Oceania culinary class

DRUNKEN LIMONCELLO CAKES


Kelly says that she adapted this cake from her great aunt’s recipe. Any liqueur or liquor will suffice to make the soaking syrup, but limoncello is lighter and fresher than most.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Limoncello Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup limoncello

Cakes

1 tablespoon plus 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup almond meal
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine semolina
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon

Directions

For Limoncello Syrup

In a small saucepan over medium, melt the sugar in the water. When cool, add the limoncello. Divide the simple syrup into four small soaking bowls, large enough to hold small cakes but not much larger.

For Cakes

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter four 6-ounce ramekins using 1 tablespoon of the butter. Cut parchment paper lifts (1-by-8-inch strips) and place two in each ramekin in a crisscross pattern.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond meal, flour, semolina and baking powder. In another medium bowl, mix the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, egg, vanilla, sugar and lemon zest. With a spatula, fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture and blend into a thick batter. Spoon one-quarter of the batter into each of the ramekins and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until thoroughly cooked (instant read thermometer registers 210°F in the center).

Soak the Cakes
Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool slightly for 3 minutes. While they are still warm, but not hot, lift the cakes from the ramekins and place in the small bowls with the limoncello syrup mixture. Allow the cakes to soak up the syrup for 15 to 30 minutes.

To Serve
Lift the cakes from the bowls and place on small plates. Top with gelato. (Kelly makes lemon-basil gelato for hers.) Here’s how it looks:
cakes and gelato in Oceania cooking class

18

03 2017

Cruising with an appetite on Oceania Marina

Oceania Marina at dock in Key West
Despite an industry-wide upgrade to shipboard dining in recent years, few cruise lines dare to make the culinary experience a brand signature. But Oceania (oceaniacruises.com)—the middle sister in the Norwegian-Oceania-Regent family—has embraced the plate. We sailed the western Caribbean aboard Oceania’s Marina in February and can report that it was a tasty trip.

Oceania Marina galley
The Marina‘s galleys were designed before the rest of the ship. With a capacity for 1,250 passengers, she has the largest number of square feet of galley space per passenger of any comparably sized vessel afloat. That translates into a massive central galley and smaller galleys for each of the individual restaurants and for cabin service. Marina was originally planned at 54,000 gross tonnes, but the finished galleys pushed her over 60,000.

Master chef Frank Garanger aboard Oceania Marina
During our sailing, Marina had more than 140 cooks aboard. Jacques Pepin, the former personal chef of Charles de Gaulle, is the gastronomic godfather of the Oceania line, and contributed to the line’s culinary vision. Two chefs who are members of the prestigious Maîtres Cuisiniers de France (MCF) oversee the galleys directly. One of them, Frank Garanger (above), explained the organization. “We hire young cooks from all over the world and bring them up in the system of the classical kitchen,” he said. “It’s the same system you’d find in any five-star restaurant in Europe.”

Master chef Laurent Trias aboard Oceania Marina
Laurent Trias, also an MCF, showed us the library of more than 2,000 recipes. Binders fill shelf after shelf. Each recipe includes detailed directions and photo of how the finished dish should be plated. We did some quick math and realized that the galleys were producing about 25,000 individual meals each week.

Great taste cooked to order

bread basket at Toscano aboard Oceania Marina

Twenty-five cooks deal entirely with pastry, and the bread ovens aboard Marina would be the envy of many a bakery ashore. Working almost entirely with French flour, the bakers create all the baguettes, rustic loaves, beignets, croissants, muffins, and even bagels served morning, noon, and night at the various shipboard restaurants. (That’s the bread basket at Toscana pictured above.) Maybe getting to see the bakery skewed our perception, but we found breads and pastries uniformly superb throughout our voyage.

Dining room at Jacques aboard Oceania Marina

Even the offerings in the buffet restaurant (Terrace Cafe) are a cut above most cruise food. But Marina also has six fine-dining restaurants, including Jacques (pictured above), featuring the food of Jacques Pepin. Restaurant themes range from Italian to French country and steakhouse to pan-Asian. Only one—a wine and food tasting restaurant—carries a surcharge, though all require reservations. We’ll be writing about some of the options in a later post.

Fortunately, gastronomy is a participatory sport aboard Marina. The ship’s culinary center is a state-of-the-art culinary classroom for a hands-on cooking school at sea. Port excursions also include some culinary expeditions—foraging for local foods, visiting local restaurants, trying local dishes. (More to come on those subjects, too.)

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14

03 2017

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano re-emphasizes terroir

bottle top of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Judging by the wines from the nine producers who visited Boston, Montepulciano winemakers have returned to native Tuscan blending grapes. DOCG rules permit up to 30 percent non-Sangiovese grapes in Vino Nobile. In truth, more than half the wines I tasted were more than 90 percent Sangiovese. And those producers blending in other grapes have largely stopped using Merlot. Instead, they opt for Canaiolo (which softens the acidity of Sangiovese), Colorino (which provides color and structure), and Mammolo (which gives a velvety violet note).

Since each producer presented three to five wines between the technical tasting and a dinner, my full tasting notes would be overkill here. Suffice it to say that Montepulciano superstars Boscarelli (poderiboscarelli.com), Dei (cantinedei.com), and Poliziano (www.carlettipoliziano.com)—along with Antinori-owned La Braccesca—continue to define modern Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Each presented a Rosso di Montepulciano with the spicy, fresh strawberry notes of young, unoaked Sangiovese, a voluptuous Vino Nobile with overtones of prunes and mulberries, and a muscular Riserva that added tobacco and leather notes to the full fruit.

But two less heralded producers surprised me with wines that showed greater fruit concentration and sharply defined flavor profiles that seemed to vault them into another category altogether.

Looking over Montemercurio vineyards to Montepulciano

Montemercurio fulfills founder’s vision

Operated by three young Anselmi brothers (aged 28, 30, and 33), Montemercurio (montemercurio.com) sits in the northern sector of the region. The aerial view above looks back toward town over the winery’s vineyards. It is the model of romantic Tuscan wine country. The first three hectares of vineyards were planted by grandfather Damo in the early 1960s, and they represent a field blend of mostly Sangiovese with some other Tuscan grapes (including a bit of Barbera). Another seven hectares have been added in the decades since, including some vineyards of white varietals for making Vin Santo.

Damo Anselmi passed on after the harvest in 2006. The family established the winery the following year and named its flagship wine after the founder. It is treated as an elite wine from the outset. The oldest vineyards are hand-picked, and destemmed and sorted by hand before being placed in small open vats for spontaneous fermentation. The skins remain for a minimum of 18 days to a maximum of 28 days, depending on the harvest. Racked off the skins, the wine is transferred to 1,000 liter Slavonian oak casks for two years. It is coarsely filtered but not clarified before bottling. It continues to age at least a year in bottle before release.

At about $50 per bottle, this wine is a steal. The nose explodes with intense blackberry and blackcurrant aromas and just a hint of violets. More full-bodied than many Sangiovese wines, it has a luscious structure with fully ripe tannins. Open early to let it breathe, and set out a plate of roast boar.

Starting last fall, Montemercurio also makes a stupendous olive oil—grassy and brassy with just a touch of bitterness like a good southern Spanish oil.

Salcheto sets sustainability benchmark

Those clouds lying on the dormant winter vineyards of Salcheto (salcheto.it) provide the blanket of moisture that the tuff-clay soil holds for the growing season. For the rest of the year, the climate is dry and well-ventilated. Salcheto adds no sulfites during vinification and the entire operation has been biodynamic since 2009. (It is not Demeter-certified, but is one of a dozen Montepulciano producers certified as organic.) Salcheto takes sustainability two important steps further. It generates all its own power for the winer, and recycles and manages its own water supply.

Salcheto is relatively young. It was founded in 1984 and produced its first wine in 1990. Since 2003, it has been consolidated under the multinational Lavinia corporation but is still operated by former owner Michele Manelli, who has made the wines since 1997. The capital injection helped create a strikingly elegant winery and turned the 13th century farmhouse on the estate into a nine-bedroom B&B.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Salco from SalchetoAll that is just window dressing. The real story is the wine. Salcheto’s basic red, a Rosso di Montepulciano called “Obvius,” is a big, brash young wine. It is saucy and tart and full of fruit. Salcheto boasts that it is made with fruit and nothing else—no added yeasts or even water. It’s fermented in steel and sold after months in the bottle. It shows what biodynamic farming can accomplish with the grape—and it commands a high price for Rosso, about $13.

Salco sets a high standard

Salcheto tends to over-ripen its Sangiovese, even partially drying part of the harvest. They don’t take the practice to an extreme, so the wines have none of the cooked grape caramel of Amarone, for example. But the flavors, sugars, and acidity are all concentrated in the Vino Nobile wines. My favorite is made with grapes selected from the Salco vineyard, which is planted in an early-ripening clone. (The vines are tied up with willow branches. “Salice” in Italian, the willow is “Salco” in the local dialect.) Listing around $35 but projecting a cellar life of 12-15 years, this is a must for any serious lover of Sangiovese. The nose is full of fresh herbs, mint, and wildflowers. The taste is full-bodied fruit with overtones of blueberries and black raspberries. The finish is smooth and elegant.

Reassessing rich reds of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Vineyards surround hill town of Montepulciano in Tuscany
Less oak, more Sangiovese. In a nutshell, that’s the good news about the latest releases of Vino Nobile di Montepulchiano. Having just celebrated the 50th birthday of the D.O.C., the wine makers of Vino Nobile are converging toward a distinctive modern style. Nine leading producers visited Boston on a tour just ahead of ProWein in Dusseldorf and Vinitaly in Verona. Following on the heels of glowing coverage in Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, it was a chance for the small region to shine without the distraction of comparisons to Tuscany’s other major Sangiovese areas: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and even Morellino di Scansano.

Sangiovese grapes in Montepulciano in Tuscany
Traditionally known in the Montalcino area as Prugnolo Gentile, the Sangiovese grape is almost ideally suited to the clay and sandy soils of the hills around the beautiful medieval Tuscan city. (Montepulciano played a supporting role in the films Under the Tuscan Sun and The English Patient.) Typically planted in tiers following the contours of the slopes, the vineyards sit at 250 to 650 meters above sea level.

Montepulciano embraces Sangiovese roots


The Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (consorziovinonobile.it) has always permitted the addition of other grapes, including many minor white varieties once used to stretch the crop. And like so much of the world, Montepulciano embraced international varietals and new oak barrels in a big way in the 1980s. That trend has turned. In recent years, growers have embraced traditional red blending grapes (Canaiolo and Mammolo) in place of white varietals, and have replanted vineyards with more Sangiovese than ever. Slavonian oak is more prominent than French of American, and most producers use very little new oak.

“We finally realized that good Cabernet and good Merlot grow lots of places,” explained Silvia Loriga of the consortium. “But no one can grow Sangiovese like Montepulciano.”

(Photos courtesy Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano)

What to buy in a Nassau grocery store

Nassau grocery store shelf
Bayside Food Store (242-323-2911) is located on Frederick Street, just steps from the souvenir shops and high-end jewelry stores on Bay Street. It’s the largest supermarket in downtown Nassau. Locals stream in to pick up take-away lunches and shop for the fixings for dinner. The store has a few shelves devoted to products that represent the taste of the islands. For visitors who have come to love Bahamian hot spices and sweet tropical fruits, it’s a good place to purchase a few items to bring back home. Best of all, most of the products are seasonings that pump up the flavors of a dish without a lot of effort by the cook. A couple of local companies offer a broad array of products.

D’Vanya’s Spices

D'Vanya's Bahamian Jerk Sauce in Nassau

Nassau-based D’Vanya’s Spices (dvanyas.com) began manufacturing about 15 years ago. Their Original Bahamian Hot Pepper Sauce is made with a combination of sweet bell peppers and hot chili peppers. Add it to a dish while cooking for a kick of heat, or place it on the table as a condiment. For those who prefer a bit of sweetness with their burn, D’Vanya’s Tamarind Hot Sauce mellows out the peppers with the sweet seasonal fruit.

D’Vanya’s Bahamian Jerk Sauce is a local version of the spicy sauce usually associated with Jamaica but also popular in the Bahamas. It makes a good marinade for chicken that’s going on a smoky grill. D’Vanya’s Mango and Guava Glazes add color and taste to foods. With their starch base, they help create a sweet glaze on meats or fish as they cook in the pan. Some Bahamians also use them as topping on ice cream. D’Vanya’s Tamarind, Cinnamon Papaya, and Pineapple Jams bring back island breakfast flavors when spread on toast or English muffins.

Pasión Tea and Coffee Company

Bahamian sea salt in Nassau

Bahamian-born Julie Hoffer’s first passion was fine teas, which is why her company is called Pasión Tea and Coffee Company (www.pasionteas.com). But she has branched out to incorporate many of the flavors of the islands into her products.

Pasión’s Plantation Hill line includes Bahamas Island Jerk Seasoning, a complex blend of hot peppers, allspice, thyme, nutmeg, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, brown sugar, and paprika. It can be rubbed on chicken, pork or fish. Then marinate the meat or fish in lime and olive oil for at least 30 minutes before grilling. The company’s Bahamian Sea Salt is made by evaporating seawater on some of the Southern Bahamian islands. With a clean salinity and a texture between a coarse crystal salt and a flyaway flake, it makes a good finishing salt on grilled fish.

Pasión produces several rum teas—including Pineapple Rum Tea—that combine tropical fruits, black tea, and the scent of rum. The company’s line of fruit teas includes both herbal and black tea combinations. Simple Orange herbal tea complements the aroma of orange with apples, rosehips, and hibiscus. Island Peach, a black tea, concentrates solely on the luscious flavor of ripe peaches.

Making guava duff at home

If you want to try making the Bahamian dessert called guava duff at home, be sure to pick up a couple of cans of Guava Shells. Chef Elijah Bowe of Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant (www.graycliff.com) shared his recipe for the local dessert favorite.


guava duff at Graycliff in Nassau

BAHAMIAN GUAVA DUFF WITH RUM SAUCE


Makes 4 logs

Ingredients

5 pounds flour
1 pound sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons baking powder
1 egg
7 cups milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cans guava shells

Directions

Combine dry ingredients. Mix liquids in a separate bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in liquid ingredients. Incorporate and lightly knead dough. Dough should be soft but not too sticky.

Cut dough into 4 to 5 pieces and roll out with a rolling pin, not too thin. Pour off liquid from the guava shells and spread shells evenly on top of dough. Roll up dough and spread milk on the end to stick together and seal the roll. Wrap loosely in foil so the dough can expand but thoroughly so no water can get in the foil.

Place in pan of boiling water and steam for 1 hour.

Slice and serve with Rum Sauce.

RUM SAUCE

Ingredients

2 ounces sugar
8 ounces butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can guava shells
Dark Rum

Directions

Mix sugar and butter. Add sweet milk. Puree guava shells and juice from can and add to mixture. Add Dark Rum to taste.

03

03 2017

Graycliff anchors the ages in Nassau

Executive chef Elijah Bowe of Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas
Houses lead big lives in the Bahamas. Graycliff (www.graycliff.com), for example, was built in Nassau in 1740 by notorious pirate John Howard Graysmith. During the American Revolution, the U.S. Navy used the house for its headquarters and garrison. In 1844, Graycliff became Nassau’s first inn. Over the years, it’s been owned by British nobility and by a woman close to gangster Al Capone. Its latest chapter began in 1973 when the Garzaroli family from Italy purchased the property.

cigar roller at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

Today, visitors can spend the night in one of 18 guest rooms decorated in old world style. They can also watch master cigar rollers from Cuba or buy sweet confections at the on-site chocolatier. Those who choose to dine in the sunlit dining rooms can also tour the 250,000-bottle wine cellar in the former prison in the basement. It’s said to be the third largest private wine collection in the world.

wine cellar at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

The dining room menu deftly blends the Italian heritage of the Gazarolis with the local cuisine of executive chef Elijah Bowe, pictured at the top of the post. He grew up in a small fishing village on the west end of Grand Bahama. “Growing up, we always had fresh seafood,” Bowe recalls. “At night with the full moon, we would go out and catch shrimp. We could walk out in waist-deep water and pick conch out of the water.”

Bowe studied in Florida and New Orleans and cut his teeth in the kitchens of an earlier incarnation of the Atlantis resort. He has been at Graycliff for 15 years and is adamant about using fresh fish, often from fishermen who bring their catch to the kitchen door. He also buys as much produce as possible from local growers. His resulting menus infuse continental cuisine with Bahamian flavors.

A recent lunch menu offered traditional pasta all’Amatriciana, curried Mahi Mahi with mango and papaya relish, smothered Bahamian grouper, and New Zealand rack of lamb. Bowe also crafts masterful versions of the island classics of conch chowder (finished at the table with sherry) and guava duff. The latter is a jellyroll-like concoction of diced guava rolled into a dough and then boiled or steamed. It’s often served with a rum sauce for dessert.

Bowe often offers cooking classes through the Graycliff Culinary Academy. He shared his recipe for Graycliff Bahamian Conch Chowder. The “secret” ingredient is Bowe’s version of sherry infused with thyme and fiery-hot Scotch bonnet chile peppers.

conch chowder as served at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

GRAYCLIFF BAHAMIAN CONCH CHOWDER


Makes 2 quarts

Ingredients

1 pound fresh conch
whole milk
4 tablespoons salted butter
1 1/2 cloves garlic, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 12-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, juices reserved
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
water
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 dried bay leaves
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup peeled and diced Idaho or russet potato
1 tablespoon peppered sherry (see recipe below), plus more for serving
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

Place conch in a small bowl and pour over enough milk to cover by 1/2 inch. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove conch from milk and pound using a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy pan until conch is tender, about 2-3 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt salted butter. Add conch and cook until it just becomes firm, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add onion and celery, and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add yellow, red, and green peppers and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it begins to darken in color, about 8 minutes. Add whole tomatoes and juice; cook until the mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

Add wine to deglaze, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until the wine is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in 5 cups of water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.

Add thyme, bay leaves, carrots, and potatoes. Return to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, skimming any foam that rises to the surface, until carrots and potatoes are tender, 10 to 20 minutes, adding more water if necessary.

Stir in peppered sherry and unsalted butter. Serve immediately with additional peppered sherry, if desired. Store in the refrigerator, in a covered container, for up to 3 days or up to 2 months in the freezer.

PEPPERED SHERRY

Makes 3 1/4 cups

1 750ml bottle dry sherry
6-8 Scotch bonnet chile peppers, halved lengthwise
2 sprigs fresh thyme

In a large container, combine sherry, chiles, and thyme. Store covered at room temperature for at least 2 weeks and up to 2 months.

27

02 2017

John Watling’s Distillery revives Bahamian rum

John Watling Distillery in Nassau, Bahamas
Pepin Argamasilla, co-owner of John Watling’s Distillery (johnwatlings.com), comes from a family of Canadian master blenders. Yet he has his own unique way of testing each product. “I call it the hangover test,” he says. “I drink a 250 ml. bottle and see if I wake up with a hangover. I do it with everything I launch.”

Pepin Argamasilla, co-owner of John Watling's Distillery in Nassau, BahamasArgamasilla (right) and his partners opened John Watling’s Distillery in 2013 to draw on their expertise from big manufacturing to create a micro-distillery with a true Bahamian spirit. They named their operation after the colorful 17th century pirate John Watling, whose treasure may still be buried on the Bahamian island of San Salvador. And they based their operation in the storied Buena Vista estate in downtown Nassau. The property perches on a hill above the harbor and was built in 1789 for a representative of King George III. By the mid-20th century, the graceful old estate had become a hotel and restaurant popular with celebrities. It even popped up briefly in the 2006 film “Casino Royale,” the first to feature Daniel Craig as James Bond.

The property was sold to Argamasilla and company in 2010 and underwent an extensive restoration to return it to its gracious “old Bahamas” look and feel. At the same time, production facilities were built behind the main house. Free tours of the property (daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.) include the production facilities as well as the store and tasting bar in the main house.

Art of aging


John Watling uses only hand-cut sugar cane molasses. “We ferment and distill on other British Caribbean islands,” says Argamasilla. “Then we bring it here for aging and blending. This is where the art happens.”

rum at John Watling's Distillery in Nassau, BahamasJohn Watling currently makes Pale Rum (aged 2 years), Amber Rum (aged 3 years), and Buena Vista Rum (aged 5 years). The rums are aged in white oak whiskey barrels from Jack Daniels. “We want the product to breathe through the pores of the wood, to oxidize and become smoother,” says Argamasilla. Aging and bottling are done by hand and women on South Andros and Cat Island weave the sisal plait that adorns each bottle.

Argamasilla is convinced that rum is about to experience a resurgence similar to that enjoyed by other spirits such as bourbon. “It’s beginning,” he says. “The United States has a negative connotation of rum left over from Prohibition and college rum and cokes.”

Proof in the glass


The tasting bar is one of the best places to dispel those negative images. In addition to three rums, visitors might sample such experiments as a four-year-old rum with raisins or vodka infused with guava shells. Rum, of course, is a great mixer. Not surprisingly, the bar has an extensive cocktail menu. I passed up a Mojito and a Goombay Smash to try the Rum Dum. This island classic was first concocted by legendary mixologist Wilfred Sands for members of the exclusive Lyford Cay Club. Sands put the drink on the map when he won an award at a 1971 culinary competition.

Sands was lured out of retirement to head the mixology program at John Watling. The distillery, after all, has brought rum back to the Bahamas after the closing of the last distillery in 2009. The simple Rum Dum highlights the rich qualities of the rum, without masking it with other flavors. Mixologist Shawn Sturrup (above right) crafted my drink and Argamasilla shared the secret of the Rum Dum.

“Once you’ve floated the amber rum on top,” he said, “don’t mix it in. As you drink, the layers of flavor evolve.”

Here is Wilfrid Sands’ recipe:

JOHN WATLING’S RUM DUM


John Watling's Rum Dum1 1/4 ounces Pale rum
1 ounce egg white
1 1/4 ounces lemon juice
A splash of simple syrup or a teaspoon of sugar
1/2 ounce Amber rum

In a cocktail shaker, mix the Pale rum, the white of an egg, lemon juice, and simple syrup or sugar. Shake vigorously and pour into a short glass full of ice. Gently top it off with an Amber rum floater.

24

02 2017

77° West establishes New World flavors at Atlantis

main dining room at 77° West
Patti and I had barely sat down at 77° West when a server delivered a bowl of tortilla chips and four salsas to sample while we studied the menu. The combination of pico de gallo, roasted tomatoes, roasted tomatillos, and guacamole telegraphed the kitchen’s culinary bent.

empanadas at 77° WestThe chefs at 77° West, the newest fine dining option at Atlantis (atlantisbahamas.com), work in an open kitchen to create dishes that fuse South American and Caribbean flavors and cuisines. My meal felt like a whirlwind tour through South America. For example, I couldn’t resist the empanadas starters. The flaky turnovers are among my fast-food standbys when I’m in Spanish-speaking countries. The chefs at 77° West elevated this staple of hand-held cuisine by filling the flaky crust with duck, cotija cheese, and chorizo. A pineapple and avocado crema was the perfect accompaniment.

moqueca at 77° WestMoqueca is one of Brazil’s best-known dishes. The chefs at 77° West build on the base of the Bahian moqueca, which shows up at casual fish shacks and fine dining restaurants alike. This version placed an oven roasted grouper fillet atop the signature stew of coconut milk, onion, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and palm oil. A bed of coconut rice helped trap all the flavorful broth. This moqueca was a perfect synthesis of Portuguese and African culinary influences.

I grew to love dulce de leche during a visit to Buenos Aires where cooks use this mixture of caramelized sugar and milk in almost anything sweet. 77° West offers an elegant dulce de leche cheesecake with a thick topping of tres leche cream and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. It made a rich and delicious ending to the meal. The following recipe, developed once I got home, is simpler but preserves the signature flavors and creamy texture. The photo, however, shows the restaurant’s beautiful presentation.

INDIVIDUAL DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKES


Serves 6dulce de leche cheesecake at 77° West at Atlantis

Ingredients

3/8 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon flour
13.4 ounce can dulce de leche (Nestle La Lechera is good)
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel finishing salt

Directions

Set oven to 325°F.

Mix graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and salt in bowl. Add melted butter and mix thoroughly. Divide into 6 paper (or silicon) muffin liners and press down to compress. Set aside.

In large bowl, place cream cheese and sugar. Beat until well blended. Mix in vanilla and egg whites and beat until very smooth. Spoon into muffin liners (about 3 tablespoons each).

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

While cheesecake is cooking, prepare the topping. Heat dulce de leche gently in small pan until warm. Stir in egg yolks until smooth. Slowly bring mixture to a simmer, stirring all the while. Remove from heat.

When individual cakes cool enough to shrink slightly in the liners, reheat the dulce de leche and spoon over the top of the cakes. Smooth surface. Continue to cool on rack. When room temperature, sprinkle with fleur de sel and refrigerate until served.

20

02 2017