April 29, 2013
Mango Reef (Turks & Caicos)

Our last dinner was at the beach-side dock of Mango Reef restaurant. It’s located at an enormous complex of buildings that don’t say “quaint beach vacation” in any way. The restaurant itself, though, looks out onto the ocean and along the shore, and you can forget the buildings behind you.

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Out of all the dinner locations, this was the most casual, suited for large groups and small children – of which we didn’t see much at the other restaurants. Since it was our last night, I wanted my meal to be as local as possible. Conch ceviche salad was the obvious starter choice and I was first surprised at the portion size and secondly extremely pleased at the refined textures and flavors in this salad – not what I was expecting from such a casual setting.

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Simply grilled spiny lobster was also an obvious choice. Back up north, we don’t get spiny lobsters, which are smaller and sweeter than the clawed Maine lobsters. Although the vegetables on the plate were bland and boring, this was a lobster that one would see at any fine dining restaurant in New York. It was prepared so expertly that the lobster meat would melt in your mouth. It was seriously lobster-y tasting and also took on that distinct grill flavor.

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After the superior quality of the seafood, my key lime pie dessert was disappointing. It wasn’t bad, and, yes, I did eat the entire thing, but it didn’t hit my criteria for an ideal key lime pie. I wish it had been more tart and the lime flavor more pronounced. The graham cracker crust was also a little soggy and not firm and crisp, and it didn’t need the extra sauce on top.

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I walked away from the restaurant, though, still fully satisfied, and a little sad that we had to leave the next day. I still could have stayed for at least another week, have eaten double my weight in seafood and have enjoyed more rum and fresh fruit.

 

Mango Reef :: The Alexandra Resort :: Providenciales, Turks & Caicos :: mangoreef.com

April 28, 2013
Somewhere… (Turks & Caicos)

On our last day in the Turks & Caicos we wanted to be a little more adventurous for lunch. We had been eating lunch at the Gansevoort every day, so to change things up, we walked 15 minutes down the beach to Somewhere… Café and Lounge. We sat on the second story deck to have a view of the ocean and beach below.

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Somewhere… serves cheap cocktails and casual food with a noticeable emphasis on pulled pork and Mexican influenced cuisine. On the restaurant’s web site they call themselves a “laid-back hip oasis,” which I think is a fitting description. We started with some chips and guacamole while waiting for the main meal.

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Although the pulled pork sandwich looked delicious, I was still on a fish kick, so it was the red snapped tacos for me. I have a great appreciation for grilled fish tacos, which are rarer than those with fried fish. The perfectly flakey fish was seasoned to be semi-spicy and took on that grilled taste, which is the essence of hot weather cooking. The salsa was cool and refreshing, especially since we were sitting in the sun. Although these were less refined than the Gansevoort’s fish tacos, there is still something about a simple, messy tacos with all the usual fixings.

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After lunch, we sauntered back down the beach for the last few hours of sun we’d get before returning home.

Somewhere… :: Coral Gardens Resort :: Providenciales, Turks & Caicos :: somewherecafeandlounge.com

April 27, 2013
Coco Bistro (Turks & Caicos)

Ever since our first visit to Coco Bistro, it has been the first restaurant we booked on every return visit to the Turks & Caicos. It’s just that good and continues to be that good after several years of going there. When we sat down at our table nestled in a grove of palm trees, we noted how spiffy the building and deck looked and how tidy and professional the place was. When we first started going to Coco Bistro, it was more rustic, the ground was sandy, but the restaurant cat still roamed between tables and the quality of the food has remained precisely the same…if not better…

I was enticed by the idea of soft, cold avocado wrapped with lobster in a crispy fried spring roll. In most dishes the cold ingredient is usually the crispy one, but here the crispy outside was steaming hot and cold relief was found after the first bite of sweet lobster and cool, creamy avocado. It was served with a sweet and citrus Thai mango salad and sweet chili sauce.

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I also tried the conch two ways, the first of which was sweet and sour conch with pineapple and the second a ceviche with lemon and hot pepper. Both had that spicy-sweet combination that pairs so well with seafood. Also, conch is quite a fun food to eat. It’s always in little pieces – you could call it “popcorn conch.”

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Red snapper is my favorite fish and has been ever since I went to Puerto Rico some 10+ years ago and had my first bite, which was served with a spicy red sauce. I can’t remember any of the other foods I ate on that trip except for that one dish. So since red snapper was the special, I couldn’t have anything else. It was just perfect, cooked simply, full of flavor and the salsa was just the right amount of flavor to accompany it. The wasabi mashed potato fritter was also an obvious win.

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This was another fish dish at our table. How beautiful.

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Now here was the only disappointment of the night…I always order the same dessert, which Coco Bistro’s “famous” coconut pie. I loved it so much the first time that I asked the chef for the recipe, and I have made it countless times since then. This was the first time, though, that I truly believe my version is better. In my recipe, I increased the amount of rum for a better bitter-sweet balance and I bake the pie until the coconut on top gets a little crispy. Coco Bistro’s version was void of any rum flavor and it was consistently soft throughout. It was still a tasty dessert, but I’ve had better.

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My favorite dessert of the night was the plate of banana fritters with caramel sauce. Just like the lobster-avocado spring rolls, the fitters had those satisfying textural contrasts, and caramel and banana is a tried and true combination.

I still can’t wait to go back to Coco Bistro again. The restaurant still has the most skillfully executed fish dishes, and my new go-to dessert definitely will be those banana fritters.

Coco Bistro :: Grace Bay Road :: Providenciales, Turks & Caicos :: cocobistro.tc

April 26, 2013
Grace’s Cottage (Turks & Caicos)

This was my second visit to Grace’s Cottage, but the last time I was there was 5+ years ago. Grace’s was the most formal restaurant of the bunch with cushy seats and white tablecloths. The service here also started slow, and from reading Yelp, it didn’t seem abnormal, but it picked up and our waitress was attentive and polite. Anyways, a little tired of sweet tropical drinks and thinking back to my Las Terrenas, DR trip last year, I ordered a cheap Presidente beer. Presidente is eternally associated with beaches, fun and relaxation for me (kind of sounds like a beer commercial in the making!).

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There was a special menu that night featuring local/Caribbean cuisine. Lucky me – because I really wanted to keep my meals as local as possible and jerk chicken was on the menu! The spicy vegetable soup to start slightly above average and wouldn’t have been that flavorful without the spice. That particular spice blend, though, was quite good.

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Others had the conch fritters, which is probably the most local protein I can think of. I tried a little morsel of these, but the Gansevoort’s ceviche highlighted the conch much better.

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The jerk chicken, however, was everything that I wanted it to be. It was juicy and was packed with the most concentrated flavor of chicken and spices. I wanted double the portion, almost asked for some, and then remembered that this vacation is about balance. Also, rice doesn’t tend to excite me but this rice was mixed with black-eyed peas and a hint of spice. It was subtle with that difficult-to-pinpoint subtle flavor that makes you want to keep eating it (kind of like my experiences with good pad thai).

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My banana cake was light in texture and banana flavor, which made it a pleasant ending to the meal, but it was not as good as the bread pudding that was brought to the table.

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That jerk chicken with rice is what will keep bringing me back to Grace’s Cottage, and I’ll stay for the bread pudding.

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Grace’s Cottage :: Point Grace, Grace Bay :: Providenciales, Turks & Caicos :: pointgrace.com/facilities-spa/restaurant

April 26, 2013
Coyaba (Turks & Caicos)

Coyaba was our first dinner destination in the Turks & Caicos, and that meant that I had to order fish. Actually, I ordered fish at every meal except for one jerk chicken occasion. At Coyaba, you either sit outside on a patio or inside, which is an airy semi-wall-less space, in your best all-white outfit, while you smoke Cuban cigars, which are only display right as you walk in the door.

With a glass of prosecco to start, we perused the menu that was an interesting combination of simple and island-style cuisine and fancy European (think truffles). I wanted to keep my meal as Turks as possible, so the fish croquettes fit the bill. These were a little on the dry side but the sauce was excellent.

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Simply grilled swordfish with blackening spices served with rice and vegetables instantly satisfied my craving for something fresh and fishy. The swordfish combined with the spices and lemon couldn’t have said “vacation” more.

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Dessert wasn’t on my mind, but when I saw the sticky toffee pudding I had to try it. There’s something about a cake that has soaked up some sort of sweet liquid – chocolate-soaked angel food cake, tres leches, fruit-soaked vanilla cakes, and sticky toffee pudding. I love them all. Coyaba’s version was, hands down, the best sticky toffee pudding I’ve tried. The extra nuts and dried fruits, which I have never seen served on top of the dessert before, were an excellent contrast to the soft and sweet cake. It was warm, flavorful, comforting and elegant. It reminded me of rum raisin bread pudding, but it was better.

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Although the meal started slow with both food and service, after my swordfish was brought to the table, everything got better. I had other fish dishes on the trip that were just as good, but the sticky toffee pudding won the prize this time around for best vacation dessert.

 

Coyaba :: Grace Bay Road, Caribbean Paradise Inn :: Providenciales, Turks & Caicos :: coyabarestaurant.com

April 18, 2013
Gansevoort (Turks & Caicos)

I recently returned from the seafood paradise of the Turks & Caicos, where I ate my weight’s worth in fish and fruit, sipped on alternative versions of classic beachy drinks, lounged on the beach and worked through Exhale boot camp every day in attempt to reverse it all. At least I tried to maintain some balance!

We arrived at our ocean-view hotel room with a plate of fruit waiting for us. This was the first of many plates of fruit that I would consume several times a day.

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Immediately, we headed to the beach to read, lounge, get some sun (and all the freckles that come with it) and to enjoy some cocktails.

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The liquor of the Turks & Caicos, which is also close to the Dominican Republic, is rum. Thus I started my mission to try as many unique rum drinks as possible (in moderation, of course). My first of the vacation was rum punch, heavy on the rum. When I googled “traditional rum drinks of the Turks & Caicos,” punch came up, which made my decision for me.

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We had absolutely no desire to leave the beach, except when our stomachs started to remind us that fresh seafood was awaiting us for lunch. Conch is native to the Turks & Caicos, and it’s worth trying if it’s prepared right because conch can be very, very chewy and tough if it’s not. The Gansevoort’s conch ceviche was tender and the additions of onions, bell peppers and lime lifted the flavors for a refreshing seafood salad.

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I have a weakness for fish tacos. Every since C.C. took me to her native Los Angeles and introduced me to Wahoos and Rubio’s, I haven’t been able to get enough. Hot battered fish with crispy cabbage and sweet mango relish wrapped in a warm tortilla already sounds good, but when eaten on the beach, it becomes just a little bit better.

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One day when we were sitting at lunch, we saw a member of the staff walk by with a couple green coconuts. Our waitress either picked up on our longing stares or overheard us talking about how neat it would be to crack one open and drink the coconut water and eat the coconut meat because, shortly after, she brought over one of them with a hole cut open and two straws. It wasn’t on the menu, and they didn’t even charge for it, and I could see we were getting jealous looks from the other tables. Everything about the coconut was fresh – from the water to the gelatinous meat.

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Each night, we enjoyed the sunset by the beach sipping on rum cocktails. The R&B had dark rum, coconut rum, banana liqueur and pineapple juice. This was my favorite drink of the whole trip because it had the ideal balance of bitter liquors and sweet, fruity ingredients.

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On another night, I had a mojito with coconut rum, a splash of dark rum and pineapple muddled in the bottom with mint. I enjoyed the mojito, but the dark, rich flavors of the R&B still stood out.

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Gansevoort Turks + Caicos :: Grace Bay Beach :: Providenciales, Turks and Caicos :: gansevoortturksandcaicos.com

April 17, 2013
Fred’s at Barneys

Fred’s inside Barney’s is a restaurant that I would call “So New York” when it’s packed for ladies’ lunches and brunches. I have enjoyed that scene a couple of times and have dined on their signature chopped salads and extra long French fries. At dinner time, however, the restaurant transforms into a dimly lit (excuse the pictures), elegant space, filled with an older crowd of very trendy women.

Looking around the room, fish seemed to be the thing to order. After my chopped salad appetizer, I was brought the bouillabaisse. Although unexpected, the lack of broth here was a pleasing surprise considering that the fish was cooked so well as not to need any masking accompaniments. The little amount of broth in the bottom of the dish added a salty, savory quality that enhanced the flavors.

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After we finished up our mother-daughter gossip over seafood and white wine, I ordered the opera cake for dessert, craving something simple, cake-like and with at least a little bit of chocolate. The opera cake filled all those needs.

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The food, per usual, was enjoyable at Fred’s, but if you have to go once, brunch or lunch is the better time to go. That’s when the restaurant takes on its usual scene, and you can have the full experience of large chopped salads, extra large French fries and an encyclopedia’s worth of gossip.

 

Fred’s New York :: 660 Madison Ave :: New York, NY :: barneys.com

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April 16, 2013
Baked by Melissa…for Brunch

The flavor of the month is French toast, and there’s also chocolate chip pancake. Having not had a very filling breakfast, I headed to Baked by Melissa for some more. Tiny cupcakes sound like a great idea for breakfast, especially on a Sunday when I’m too lazy to go to brunch anyways.

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We walked to the Baked by Melissa store on Broadway, bought a little box and sat in the median at the intersection enjoying cupcakes in the first hints of Spring sunshine. Both breakfast cupcakes were accurate representations of the real thing, and the chocolate chip pancake was my clear favorite (although that’s not always true for the real thing – I love challah French toast and chocolate chip pancakes equally).

Baked by Melissa :: Multiple Locations :: New York, NY :: bakedbymelissa.com

April 16, 2013
Smoked Salmon Brunch

You try to leave the city behind you when you escape for the weekend, but New York managed to find its way into my Sunday brunch. How was I supposed to use leftover matzah? I loaded it up with avocado, cream cheese and smoked salmon, with lots of fresh ground pepper.

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We had two types of salmon, and I created the most delicious matzah smørrebrød with some of my favorite salty, tart, fatty, peppery ingredients.

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The only thing that would have made it perfect – and a little over the top – is a fried egg.

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April 16, 2013
Community Table (Litchfield, CT)

Community Table is my favorite restaurant in Connecticut, and it ranks close to the top of my general list of best places to eat. It’s also perfectly suited to the bucolic setting of Northwest Connecticut, located along Route 202, which passes by horse farms, farm stands and lakes. Community Table focuses on local ingredients from New England, including as many as possible from Northwestern Connecticut itself.

The restaurant has several two- to four-person tables and one larger community table. We were seated at one end of the community table, next to the restaurant’s owner and the sheep farmer who provided the lamb on the menu. Unfortunately, we were planning to make lamb for dinner the next evening, so we didn’t order it.

The décor is, what I would call, “modern rustic,” which means it’s a sparse, modern space with natural influences, such as the organic shapes of all the wood pieces in the dining room. They even have furry coverings for some of the seats and blankets by the door in case you want to sit on the screened-in porch.

Steaming hot, freshly baked bread was brought to the table with the crustiest of crusts and soft, warm insides. It was served with creamy butter. I enjoyed an Ommegang Hennepin beer, which was light, reminded me of Spring, and seemed more suitable to the environment at the moment than a glass of wine.

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My appetizer of Rhode Island oysters with American sturgeon caviar, salsify, baby leeks, spinach and cream was a beautiful dish of black, white and green and it tasted as light and “airy” as it looked. Each element was soft in texture and almost weightless in my mouth, but each packed a significant amount of flavor.

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I can’t think of a meat dish that I have liked more in recent history than the rabbit, crawfish, carrots, leeks, kale and baby onions entrée. Although I wasn’t sure about the surf-and-turf aspect of the dish initially, the flavors on the plate were beautifully composed. I loved the ratio of meat to vegetables, which was about fifty-fifty. What brought everything together was that gravy; I was licking it off the plate when everything else was finished.

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We ordered three desserts around the table, and I chose the strawberry rhubarb soufflé, which in pie form is one of my favorite desserts. This was my favorite dessert amongst them all because it has that pleasant, light texture and its flavor was exactly that of the actual ingredients.

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The carrot cake-cheesecake hybrid combines two of my favorite desserts, and it put both together very well. I think my high standards and significant experience with the two desserts, though, made me especially critical – I wish that the cheesecake had been more tart and cream cheesy, and I love a carrot cake with lots of “bits” in it, and this one was a little too blended.

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I can’t resist when I see local New England cheeses on a menu. I guess it makes me nostalgic about my last two years in Cambridge, visiting Formaggio Kitchen on a weekly basis. The variety of cheeses, breads, crisps and condiments were brought out on a large wooden board, and we all had fun mixing and matching the different combinations. The cheeses were irresistible, of course.

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After all that cheese, we ended our meal on a sweet note with nuts and chocolate.

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Although not in or very close to a major city (about 1 hour and 45 minutes from NYC), Community Table is a destination to travel to. The food is more than worth it, and Litchfield County has a lot to offer for a quick weekend trip.

 

Community Table :: 223 Litchfield Turnpike :: Washington, CT :: communitytablect.com

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