I have returned from my week on the gorgeous island of Aruba. The week was spent in great company, relishing the sun, the heat, the pools, the beach, sunsets, and of course the food of the island. I like to think that we experienced a full cross section of dining during our stay there.
Our first night we ate at a small Italian place close to our hotel named Casa Tua. This was our first experience with the "island" form of customer service. While they were incredibly friendly, they were also incredibly slow. Once were seated, 20 minutes past the quoted wait time, our waitress was also slow to bring our drinks and to take our orders. However, the meal was delicious. We had decided to have a beer and pizza night and so we began with Balashi beer, which tasted light, while being very full bodied. I sort of fell in love with it and am now wishing Id hit up the duty free store before leaving! D and I began with tomato, basil and mozzarella salad. The tomatoes were good, which can be difficult when you're dealing with imports. Normally when I make this salad at home I dress it with olive oil, garlic, and ground pepper. I tend to enjoy the added flavor this gives to the dish. Casa Tua did not dress theirs, but there was goodness in their simplicity. I followed this salad with a simple mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil pizza. Its difficult to make this pizza poorly. They did not fail. All in all the meal was simple and clean, and honestly hit the spot after a day of travelling. Even more so, we dined outside which was the highlight of most of my meals on the island.
Monday night we headed to Amazonia Churrascaria which is a Brazilian BBQ place. I have heard of Brazilian dining before, the idea of skewered meat sliced at you table of numerous different varieties, but I had not gotten to experience before. I can say this much- it is definitely an experience, and you must starve yourself for a full day ahead of time. They have 16 different types of meat that they appear at your table with, from Fillet Mignon to ribs to chicken wrapped in bacon to lamb. Each piece is hot from the grill and cooked to its perfect state of being done. The Fillet was fantastic. It was cooked to medium on the inside, but each piece that they sliced also included enough of the flamed crisped outside to give the idea of a full piece of steak. I found the chicken dishes to be flavorless, and the rib that I had contained no meat whatsoever, but basically just fat. I enjoyed the majority of meats, and the salad bar that you start with was fantastic. There were many options of vegetables to add to your salad to ensure you were getting the nutrients that you just don't get from meat alone. And it was large enough to make a meal of just the salad bar alone, for those travelling with vegetarians.
The next night we dined at Salt and Pepper, a small Mediterranean place not far from Casa Tua. We started with marinated olives and a tapenade. Both were tasty, though we found that the olives were not as flavorful as we might have hoped. My entree was a pan seared tuna served with a seafood, spinach and cream sauce. The tuna was cooked very well. It was still slightly pink inside, just as it should be. The cream sauce left something to be desired, and the seafood that was in it, well I'm not entirely sure what type it was. However, overall it was presented well and the tuna itself was quite good.
The next night we dined at Hostaria Da Vittorio, an Italian place across the street from Amazonia. The attention to detail was what really impressed me about Hostaria. Two of the members of my party ordered a red snapper special. In many places they would have cooked the snapper as fillets, plated it in the kitchen, and served it, here they cooked two fish whole, seasoned at the discretion of the patron, and then de-boned and reconstructed the fish at the table. This gave a rustic, authentic feel to the dish whereby you had the impression that the fish had been caught earlier that same day. My dinner that evening was on the lighter side, a chicken breast that had been pounded out to a thin fillet and then grilled, served atop a salad of radicchio and arugula. The smokey flavor from the grill mixed well with the pepper of the salad and all in all made for a pleasant dish.
Our final big dinner of the week was at an Argentinian steak house called El Gaucho in the heart of Oranjestad. This was absolutely the crowning finish to a week of good eating. We had heard reviews of this place even before arriving in Aruba, and then they were echoed by our cab driver from the airport. It definitely lived up to the hype. I ordered their 12 oz tenderloin steak, medium, and chose sides of balsamic grilled vegetables, smashed potatoes, and steamed broccoli. I have honestly never had a better steak. It was cooked to the perfect shade of pink on the inside, and was flavored just enough to bring out the natural flavors. The truly fun part about their serving was before the entrees arrived, they put a trio of sauces on the table for dipping. The first was spicy marinated onions, the second was a garlic salsa verde, and the third was a traditional, though slightly thin steak sauce. These were the perfect accompaniments to the steak, though it didn't need them. Depending on your taste each one hit your pallet differently and just enhanced the experience. I haven't had time to research the authenticity of these yet, but I wondered about their origin. The side dishes were also good, but absolutely out shined by the steak- to be honest- I don't think I can even really review them-my concentration was just not on them.
So those were the culinary highlights of my trip to Aruba. It is a culturally diverse island, a melting pot of different countries, and that was well represented in its food.
As a side note, I spent much of the week reading and contemplating the book Heat by Bill Buford. For anyone who is interested in food, especially Italian cooking, this is absolutely a must read. It is extremely well written and inspired many dishes in me. Honestly, I finished four other books during the week, which I read only so that I didn't have to finish Heat- its just that good that I don't ever want to finish it. Thank you, M, for giving it to me a very well appreciated Christmas gift.