Best Dessert That Isn't A Dessert, But Darn Well Should Be
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, the Great Deluge of 2011 descended upon Anguilla, turning all that had been bright and sunny and delightful into a wet, grey, sopping pile of sludge. When faced with the prospect of no beach time, we did the next best thing: We planned for a three-course lunch with plenty of booze, with a quick stop beforehand to see if anything could be done about the ungodly weather.
Off we went to Jacala, which is pronounced "Jacques-a-LA," not "Ja-CALL-ah,"as I'd been calling it, because I am a hick. Je suis desolee. Et aussi une barbare.
What with the gale-force winds, pelting rain, and old ladies in pointy hats flying by on bicycles, we arrived pretty much soaked to the gills, and I excused myself to go to the ladies room to dry myself off with some paper towels. Before I could do so, however, the hostess brought me a large, fluffy beach towel to dry off with, at which point I decided that I loved this place almost as much as I love my bed.
We started off with two frozen mojitos, and then ordered the two dishes that everyone recommends at Jacques-a-la, the grilled watermelon and goat cheese salad, and the chilled cucumber soup with spicy tomato sorbet.
I am not going to lie: I did not like the tomato sorbet. I LOVED the tomato sorbet. I loved it so much that I cannot for the life of me understand why it is not sold by the half-gallon so that you can take it home and eat it right out of the container with a spoon and not have to share it with your dining companion, who will invariably want to taste it as soon as they see your eyes roll back in your head. At the very least, it should be offered in a large bowl for dessert alongside the chocolate cake and tiramisu and other stuff that normal people like to have after a meal.
For our entrees, Angel ordered the risotto special with mussels. Jacques explained that the mussels are prepared mariniere style with white wine, garlic, and tomatoes, and then the same flavorful cooking liquid is used to make the risotto. That was all Angel needed to hear. Well, that and the sound of me kicking him under the table as a signal to order it or else.
I went with the lobster club, which broke the cardinal rule of Italian cooking by adding cheese to seafood. I guess it's a good thing this place is French, then, because the sharp cheese took the sandwich from really good to ooh la la.
For dessert we decided to share something called the Coffee Gourmand, which consists of a miniature chocolat pot de creme, a tiny creme brulee, a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream, and a shot of espresso. All of this was pretty good, considering that it was not the tomato sorbet.
Finally, Jacques arrived with two shots of liquor, one with lemon, chili pepper, and vanilla for Angel, and one with orange and lemon for me. Shots after lunch pretty much sealed the deal on a return trip to Jacques-a-la for me, but if the tomato sorbet comes off the menu, the deal is off.
After lunch we swam out to our car and headed back to Ferryboat. No way am I leaving the house again, I told Angel. I'm pretty sure there were some crumbs left in the bottom of those Pringles cans we threw out yesterday -- we can have those for dinner!
But what about Mango's? Angel asked. We have reservations, and they have that German potato salad with bacon that you like, he reminded me. BACON! Normally I wouldn't dream of leaving the house during a Category 12 monsoon, but for BACON? For that, I might even leave the house without makeup.
Best Reason to Always Carry Some Emergency Bacon In Your Purse
And so it came to pass that on the evening of the Great Deluge, we headed over to Mango's for some bacon dinner. This is one of our favorite spots on the island, location-wise, and I had fond memories of both the potato salad and the Cruzan Rum Barbequed Chicken that came with it. (By now you are probably noticing a pattern: I never order an entree based on what the protein is, unless we are talking beef. I order by how delicious the carb on the side sounds. Often I will eat my carb and Angel's, and in exchange I will give him the lion's share of whatever protein came with my dish. This kind of teamwork is how you stay married to a mirror image of yourself who has every annoying trait that you already possess.)
We started with a couple of cocktails, then sat back and watched the massive waves of Barnes Bay crash onto the shore. I decided to have the Painkiller, which was quite apt considering that I'd missed an entire day of sunning and swimming and was ready to beat the crap out of anyone who dared utter the words "Oh, the showers pass in ten minutes!" to me ever again.
I started with the lobster cake, while Angel had the thick, rich conch chowder with celery, leeks, onions, and potatoes. Here is yet another dish whose rightful place is on both the appetizer menu and the dessert menu. If bread can double as an opener (with butter) and a dessert (bread pudding), I ask you: Why not conch chowder?
For our entrees, I naturally went with the German potato salad with a side of barbequed chicken, while Angel decided on the fish special, a grilled snapper with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, and artichokes.
The last time I had this potato salad, the potatoes were roasted and then tossed with some sort of balsamic vinegar and bacon concoction that was so delicious that all these years later, I still remember it. But this time around, the potatoes were somewhat bland and were covered with chewy pieces of tough, overcooked bacon jerky. You know the bacon is bad when someone leaves behind a whole plate of it, particularly when that someone is me. Bacon is just not one of those things that gets left lying around.
Luckily the chicken was fantastic, as was Angel's fish, and we decided to stick around for dessert, a tiny slice of airy key lime and lemon pie.
But don't think for a minute that I wouldn't have rather had some bacon and a tub of tomato sorbet.
Best House-Crashing Story . . . Since My Last House-Crashing Story
On Monday afternoon we decided to stop by Blue Waters Apartments on Shoal Bay West, in hopes that they might have a vacant apartment that we could take a look at. Since we like to change up our accommodations on each trip, we've been considering them for our next stay, having heard good things about how private and spacious the apartments are.
So we pull up in front of the office and Angel goes to knock on the door while I decide to take a look around. I wander up a lovely, shaded path and already I like the vibe of this place: I've entered a large patio area with a grill, table and chairs, and a large hot tub, all of which are shaded by a gorgeous pergola covered in flowers and vines. A friendly-looking man is grilling dinner while a dog stands by in case anything falls his way. I smile and begin petting the dog and ask if any of the units might be available for viewing, but the man indicates that he doesn't work here, though the office will reopen in the morning and he's sure they could show us around. I ask him if he likes it here, and he responds, "Well, sure -- I've lived here for 30 years!" I'm surprised to hear this -- I didn't know that Blue Waters apartments were available for private ownership -- but I don't want to get ahead of myself without even having seen one, so, gesturing to our surroundings, I instead say, "Well, this place is beautiful -- I'd really love to stay here!"
At which point the man points to the building next door and says, "Yes, Blue Waters is very nice. It's that building right down there."
Ohhhhh. Now I get it. Still, when a stranger wanders onto your property and interrupts your dinner and starts playing with your dog and asks if she can move in, shouldn't you at least offer her a little something . . . like a map?
Best Reason to Bring a Flea Collar to Anguilla (No, It Wasn't for Angel)
The next morning we decided to drive over to the Anguilla Animal Rescue Foundation, known by the acronym AARF, to drop off some flea collars and leashes that I'd brought from the States. Well, at least that was our stated purpose. My real purpose was to spend the morning snuggling puppies and kittens and lamenting the fact that 10 puppies in a NYC apartment is probably the code-violation equivalent of one alligator.
Elsewhere around the island, there are plenty of other animals for your snuggling, and possible kid-napping, pleasure.
They're not baring their teeth at me, they're smiling.
This guy is cute, too, but it would be too tempting to take him home and make hamburgers out of him, so in Anguilla he stays.
Just when you thought puppies and baby goats were the cutest thing around, along came this adorable little thing:
Little girls with big brown eyes and caramel skin always make us think, Wow, maybe we should have had a kid -- look how gorgeous she'd be! But who are we kidding? Our kids would have hair like Diana Ross circa 1975 and teeth the size of tombstones, and we both know it.
After our visit to AARF, it was off to Rendezvous Bay for some soak time.
When most people go to the beach, they stretch out on a lounge chair under an umbrella, crack open a good book, sip a few cocktails, and occasionally take a dip in the water to cool off. And if I'm anywhere besides Anguilla, I do the same. But in Anguilla, the water is so blue, so warm, so clear that we dispense with all that and simply . . . soak.
We pick a spot where we can both touch bottom, then submerge ourselves up to our necks and stand around, marveling at the umpteen shades of blue, occasionally spotting jumping fish or a stingray, and chatting about everything and nothing. We swim a little, we float a little, and of course we each serve as both judge and participant in the E.C. Handstand Championships. But for the most part we just soak ourselves in the clear, warm water until pruney, towel off, reapply sunscreen, and repeat.
Afterwards, we drove around a bit to take in the sights. You know, like Squawk's Peep in Bar.
Best Way to Finish Our Visit, But Not Our Plates (Or, How I Finally Admitted Defeat)
About five years ago, Angel and I took a long-overdue trip to Paris. We devoured everything the city had to offer, trying everything and refusing nothing, dining at Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine and neighborhood bistros with equal abandon. One afternoon we decided to have lunch at Le Pamphlet in the Marais, a sophisticated spot that specializes in dishes from the Basque region of France. I remember this because the waitresses there were so impressed with Angel for ordering, and actually finishing, the blood pudding -- along with virtually everything else on the menu -- that they teasingly referred to him as a gourmand. Angel mistook the word to mean that he had a gourmet palate, and I didn't have the heart to tell him that they'd actually called him a glutton.
Later, we learned that while the word gourmand has traditionally meant glutton, increasingly it is used to refer to a connoisseur of good food, to someone who takes great pleasure in their food. Unlike self-proclaimed foodies, who eschew foods they deem beneath them and seemingly eat only to impress others with their oh-so-discerning palates, gourmands are different. They don't just like food, they love food, and they want you to love it, too. Indeed, some gourmands go so far as to take pictures of their food and write elaborate blog posts about it and prattle on endlessly about it on travel forums. Or so I hear.
One of the most hospitable, passionate, and knowledgable gourmands you will ever meet is the charming Abbi at Dolce Vita. Dolce Vita means "the sweet life," and nowhere is that more true than at this new beachside standout on Sandy Ground.
This was our favorite meal of this trip, thanks in no small part to Abbi. Abbi is so proud of how fantastic Dolce Vita's food is, so passionate about where the ingredients come from and how they are prepared, so eager to make your meal perfect, that he cannot help but describe, say, the restaurant's stellar veal chop or fresh fish, then disappear into the kitchen, only to return with the raw chop or just-caught fish on a plate so you, too, can take a moment to admire it.
At first, every dish sounded so labor-intensive and over-the-top fantastic that I wasn't sure that anything could live up to Abbi's descriptions. In addition, he'd told us that one of the dishes was finished with a 25-year-old balsamic, a bottle of which, he said, was also sitting right on our table. Given that most Italian restaurants won't even trust you with a mere thimble full of their precious Parmigiano-Reggiano, the idea of someone leaving a $35 bottle of vinegar on the table seemed dubious at best.
And then we poured it. And it was thick, sweet, syrupy, and most definitely not your run-of-the-mill balsamic vinegar. We knew then, the way you know when you taste those johnny cakes at Veya, that we were in for something special.
Soon the bottle of wine that we'd ordered arrived, and even though it was just a mid-priced bottle of Nero d'Avola, you'd have thought we ordered the 1961 Chateau Petrus, given the care and attention Abbi took in opening and pouring it. He even brought out a couple of enormous balloon glasses that were literally bigger than my head. With a soft rain drumming on the roof, a warm, candle-lit table inside, and the lights from a handful of sailboats twinkling in the background, I wasn't even too worried about that enormous wine glass getting suctioned to my face.
We decided to begin with the pumpkin tortelli, a special that Abbi described in exquisite detail. Although I was listening intently, all I can tell you now is that it involved something like a team of Oompah-Loompahs toiling in shifts to ensure that every last pumpkin seed was extracted by hand, 12 hours spent wringing out the pumpkin pulp drop-by-drop into a miniature beaker, two certified mustardologists candying apples and other fruits for the mostarda, and hours of painstaking work hand-stretching the pasta and cutting it into perfect little triangles using a protractor. You need only look at it, drenched as it is in an insanely rich butter and sage sauce, to know that no matter how many people slipped on the pumpkin seeds that surely littered the kitchen floor before all was said and done, it was still worth it.
For my entree, I desperately wanted to order the lasagna, but since I'd already had, um, quite a bit to eat for lunch that day at Ferryboat, I figured I'd better take it easy, so I went with the gnocchi. Angel decided on the veal chop, having already seen it in all its naked glory.
As soon as our entrees arrived, Abbi immediately came over to check on us, heaping mounds of real Parmigiano-Reggiano onto my gnocchi, happily reminding me of the time at Luna Rosa when I was served more Parmigiano than I could actually finish. Trust me, when you find someone who isn't stingy with the cheese, you'll follow them anywhere.
We had no sooner gotten started on the gnocchi, the veal chop, and the sinfully rich, creamy mashed potatoes that accompanied the veal, when Abbi came by and, in a near-perfect imitation of me at every almost every restaurant I've ever been in, said, "You know, you really have to try this!". . . and placed a large bowl of duck pappardelle on the table alongside our entrees.
The duck, as best I can remember, is flown in from France thrice weekly and cooked for 10 hours with a bottle of red wine until it falls off the bone. Chocolate, nutmeg, cloves, and some other spices are added, then the sauce is simmered for 2 more hours. Then it is tossed with freshly hand-stretched pappardelle and brought to your table and then you die of happiness, The End.
It is no accident that the word "pappardelle" comes from the Italian word pappare, which means "to gobble up." And gobble we did: Angel and I ate almost every bite of that duck, and of everything else, too. But everything was so delicious that we just couldn't help ourselves. And good thing, too, because Abbi personally checked our plates when our waitress brought them back into the kitchen, to make sure we'd finished everything. Doesn't he know that I'm not only a member of the Clean Plate Club, I'm also the President?
You'd think that I might finally be stuffed by now, and for once, you'd be right. Unable to eat another bite, I had reluctantly passed on dessert when Abbi showed up with this.
Assuring us that the Grand Marnier would help with digestion, he first rolled each tumbler over the open flame to heat it, then transferred the Grand Marnier back and forth between the glasses to slowly warm it up.
When it reached the desired temperature, he gently poured it over the juicy orange wedges waiting in the bottom of our snifters, careful not to extinguish the glowing flame.
The heated liqueur was strong, warm, and the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
And you know what? After a cheeseburger, half an order of chicken marsala, pumpkin tortelli in a butter and sage sauce, a bowl of gnocchi, half a wheel of parmigiano, as many forks full of mashed potatoes as I could steal when Angel wasn't looking, and a bonus bowl of duck pappardelle . . . somehow, inexplicably, I actually did feel a little less full.
Anguilla. It really is a magical place.
Want more Anguilla? Click here for my 6-part trip report!