Archive for October, 2004

The Ocean Club on Paradise Island

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

The cooler days of October are beautiful, but the chilly mornings signal that the frost of winter is quickly approaching. It is time to plan ahead for a winter getaway that will warm your body and soothe your soul. One of my favorite spots is The Ocean Club on Paradise Island in The Bahamas. The weather is consistently good, the beaches are beautiful, and the resort is luxurious.

Paradise Island is part of Nassau, the capital city of The Bahamas. Fortunately it has not been adversely affected by the hurricanes this fall. Nassau is particularly attractive to those living in the northeastern United States because it can be reached by a short direct flight, less than 3 hours from N.Y.C. Paradise Island is only a half hour drive from the Nassau airport allowing you to reach the resort by lunchtime. The island is only 685 acres, and is known for white sand beaches and emerald green water. The Ocean Club is a spectacular tranquil oasis on Paradise Island.

Rooms with an Ocean View

Rooms with an Ocean View

The second you arrive at The Ocean Club the pampering begins. You are greeted with a glass of champagne and a cold, lavender scented washcloth to help you decompress from your flight. After a few minutes, you are whisked off to your room, advised of all the services available, and introduced to your butler that will help you with any needs. There are 106 rooms at The Ocean Club, but the layout of the grounds makes it feel very private. Most of these rooms enjoy an ocean front view, which is spectacular. They are large, open and airy, 16 of which are suites. The rooms have white walls, sheer fabrics, and a puffy white comforter giving the room a relaxed, elegant Island feel. The bath is a combination of stone and marble with warm pastel wall colors, again achieving an understated elegance. The private balcony is a real highlight. It is simple with white lattice railings, a chaise lounge, and a set of table and chairs. A perfect spot to enjoy your morning coffee. The view, however, is what makes this balcony special. Palm trees sway in the wind, the white beach seems to go for miles, and the Caribbean Sea sparkles.

The beach is a critical component to an island vacation, and this beach is breathtaking. The sand is pearl white and as soft as flour. The water is a radiant turquoise that glistens like a precious gem. It almost displays a playfulness as you see schools of small fish swim by. The rolling waves are gentle, continuous small curls of foam. The light breeze off the water provides a pleasant antidote to the blazing afternoon sun. Ahh, this must be nirvana. The beach runs about ¾ mile in either direction from The Ocean Club. The beach to the right is rather secluded, and ends at a small coral reef, which is ideal for snorkeling. Walking to the left, on the other hand, will provide plenty of entertainment. Along the beach you will first encounter complimentary sailboats and paddleboats. A bit further up the shoreline will be the jet skis and banana boats. These are located right before the Atlantis Hotel, which is owned by the same group as the Ocean Club, although they are very different hotels. The Atlantis is huge, 2,000 rooms, multiple swimming pools, a shark tank and a casino – akin to a carnival by the beach.

Pool and Gardens

Pool and Gardens

In addition to this beautiful beach, there are two lovely pools. The main pool overlooks gorgeous gardens that are impeccably maintained. These lush terraced gardens are filled with vibrant flowers and fabulous sculptures. A small terrace restaurant is located adjacent to the pool for lunch or an afternoon snack. The other pool is for families with smaller children, and it has several shallow wading pools. The Ocean Club’s focus is not on motor sports, but toward relaxation and rejuvenation. Their spa is one of the finest in the Caribbean with eight Balinese – style private treatment villas with open-air gardens. Treatments range from simple facials to all day therapies.

Although the spa is a major focus of the resort, The Ocean Club wants every guest’s needs to be met. A well-equipped fitness center with the latest Cybex and Nautilus equipment is available for those wanting to workout. Hobiecat sailing, snorkeling, aqua bikes, kayaking, and bicycling are all complimentary. The concierge can also arrange more exotic trips such as: bone fishing, scuba diving, or all day boating excursions.

Dune Restaurant and Bar

Dune Restaurant and Bar

The design of the resort is extraordinary. The rooms are laid out for privacy, but also take advantage of the magnificent ocean views. The pools and spa are intertwined with beautiful gardens. And the new Dune Restaurant is centrally located with the Dune Bar perched over the sand dunes. The Dune Bar has unobstructed views of the beach, and is the place to be during sunset.

The new Dune Restaurant and Bar was completed in 2001. The executive chef is Jean George Vongerichten, and the food is French/Asian cuisine with Bahamian influences. Although the food is exquisite, the dining experience is very casual. As you might expect, fresh seafood is the focus. One day for lunch I ate a conch seviche that was so fresh it just melted away. A lobster sandwich with Thai seasonings was another example of fresh seafood perfectly prepared. So sit at the bar and enjoy a Mojito with a platter of sushi, or dine inside the restaurant and have a delicious three-course dinner – the choice is yours, and either way will be great.

I find the food in the Bahamas and the Caribbean to be just ok, so I was pleasantly surprised by the terrific food at The Ocean Club. The beach, the water, the views, the sunsets, the service, and the food made this place very special. I hope to return soon, and I hope you get to experience The Ocean Club too.

Per Se – Twelve Steps to Heaven

Thursday, October 21st, 2004

Earlier this year Thomas Keller, the famed chef from The French Laundry in Napa Valley, opened Per Se in the new Time Warner Center in N.Y.C. The restaurant opened with much fanfare, and I am happy to report that it exceeded my expectations. Per Se is not a restaurant for dinner, it is a destination for a culinary experience.

The restaurant is chic and elegant with beautiful views of Central Park. It is quite small, and rather formal with white tablecloths, custom china, and the finest crystal. The wait staff is very well trained and attentive, but I am happy to say they’re not intrusive or without personality.

Per Se is a mecca for food. Before you even look at the menu, you are poured a glass of Champagne. The chef then sends out two “tastes” to awaken your palate. The first is a baked cheese puff that is so light it could float. Then you are served a tiny cone filled with crème fraiche and topped with salmon. The waiter then describes several tasting menus, with five courses being the smallest. We opted to let the chef decide, and we also gave the sommelier free reign to pair wines with each course. There were a total of twelve courses, fourteen if you count the two initial tastes, and the food was spectacular. What made it even more interesting is that although my wife and I were eating the same dishes, they were often prepared in two very different ways.

The simple dishes like the celery or winter squash soups excelled because they exploded with flavor. Although all twelve courses were each outstanding, two were truly special because of the unique food pairings. The first, called “Oysters and Pearls” , had two oysters the size of peas, that are cultivated specifically for Chef Keller, in a sabayon topped with Iranian Ossetra caviar. The other dish, “Macaroni n’ Cheese”, was a Nova Scotia Lobster tail with a creamy lobster broth served on a mascarpone – enriched orzo. Did I tell you I was in heaven?

What made this meal enter the stratosphere were the wine pairings. The wines were not extremely expensive, just well chosen. A few of the more unique pairings were: sake with caviar, sherry with the truffle dishes, late harvest viognier with foie gras, and sagrantino passito (red dessert wine) with chocolate.

Did we eat and drink too much? Absolutely. But this meal was amazing. I will remember this dining experience for the rest of my life. If you like food and wine half as much as I do, and have a special occasion to celebrate, then you must go to Per Se.

Peppers – Add a Little Zip to Your Meal

Wednesday, October 20th, 2004
Hot Peppers

Hot Peppers

The reds, oranges, yellows, browns, and greens are so vibrant this time of year. These were the colors of the peppers on display at my local farmer’s market. The bell pepper, pablano, Thai chili, scotch bonnet, and habanero are just a few of the varieties available (listed in order of increasing zip). There is an exciting world of pepper possibilities that reaches far beyond that green bell pepper we all grew up with. Why not add yellow and red bell peppers to a salad or an omelet? Pablano peppers would be a great addition to a chicken stir-fry. How about using Thai chili peppers with sautéed shrimp? And for the truly adventuresome, make a jerk chicken, which incorporates scotch bonnet peppers. Peppers are fun, colorful and tasty – try something new.

Worth Seeking Out……

Tuesday, October 19th, 2004
  • Web sites are a great resource for information as well as products. A few of my favorites are: www.nimanranch.com for high quality meats shipped fresh not frozen, www.penzys.com for herbs and spices, www.epicurious.com & www.foodtv.com for recipes, and for cheese www.murrayscheese.com.
  • Fresh ingredients have the best flavor, and garlic is no exception. Try to avoid the jars of minced garlic and peeled garlic cloves, they are too old. I prefer the freshest heads of garlic available, those where the cloves are hard to pry away from the head. It may take a couple minutes to mince your own garlic, but the freshness and flavor are worth the effort.
  • D’Artagnan makes a frozen demi glace that is ideal for stews or braised dishes. It is a concentrated duck and veal stock that will add richness and a depth of flavor to your dishes. Available at www.dartagnan.com and at specialty stores.

Wine of the Month: Vina Sastre Roble ’03 ($15) Ribera del Duero

Monday, October 18th, 2004

Vina Sastre is a family run winery in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain. This wine is produced from 100% Tempranillo grapes from their estate vineyards. Although I find many wines made with the tempranillo grape to be light and fruity, this wine is rich and elegant. Vina Sastre Roble has a deep red color with aromas of dark berries. It is a medium bodied wine that is very well balanced with flavors of cherries and cedar. The wine’s earthiness is an excellent example of a well made wine in an Old World style.

This wine is a great everyday wine that will pair very well with food, especially grilled meats and hearty stews.