04 December 2016

A Jam-Packed Monday on the Island

Monday morning was a little overcast, but we had set it aside for a day of exploration.  Wanting to try something new for breakfast, we decided to stop in at Valley Bistro. I had been there for lunch once before but this was my first time sampling their petit dejeuner. It was bright and airy, and the circulating ceiling fans kept the breakfast area comfortable, despite the lack of breezes coming through.

Michael decided on a made to order omelet while I opted for the croque monsieur. The lateness of the hour means we missed the breakfast rush and our food arrived quickly.  Ample portions at good prices would be enough to recommend Valley Bistro, but the food was good and the central location was very pleasant, and it’s a place I intend to keep on my regular rotations on future visits to the island.


We finished our breakfast at a leisurely pace and made our way farther east. Our next stop? AARF. We had seen their request for more circular stickers for pricing items in their shop, so we dropped some of those off, but primarily we were there to play with the puppies! AARF had constructed an outdoor play area since my last visit, so we were led out there where a handful of pups were already getting their morning constitutional. As soon as we walked outside, they swarmed us, so we took turns picking each of them up and giving them woogies.

Lookit his ears!

Dat tongue!
There was one small pup who was too shy to come near us. He (she?) darted under the bench, so I sat down on the ground to get a little closer and talk softly to try to coax him out.  He left met touch his front paw with one finger, but that was all.

Michael says that it looks like the black pup is saying, “I wish I were bold like you.”  We stayed until we were both so uncomfortable out in the sun that we had to call it quits, and then headed east some more.  I had hoped that we could stop by the Anguilla Heritage Museum, but they were closed, so we made our way to Savannah Bay instead. Michael was apprehensive about the road after hearing repeated conversations about it with other folks on the island, but I wanted him to see a very different side of the island. As it turns out, the road wasn’t as bad as I remembered, but we still drove at a snail’s pace.

We walked along the beach to the point where the sand gives way to rocks & coral and made some photos, but the sun felt pretty brutal, despite the overcast skies. But I love the textures and the colors there.

It was really hot, so after making some photos and a short video of the sea, we walked back to Nat’s to order some Tings. We sat and chatted with him for a while, then got back in the car towards Island Harbour.


Coming down the hill into the fishing village and seeing that water will always take my breath away. I’m not sure what was happening with my camera lens here, but all of the photos I made with that lens now have those odd little superimposed squiggles. (Any tips what to do about that before I use my camera again?)

Seriously, how beautiful is that water?
Getting back in the car, we drove onwards looking for the new Anguilla Sea Salt company. We passed it before we realized what we had found and simply double backed. The man there was very kind and friendly, talking to us about the process they use to harvest the sea salt. He also let me walk out onto the miniature golf course to make some photos, including the photo of inside the  double hole that showcases some of Anguilla’s history.

We hit the road once more, this time with the Savannah Gallery in mind as our destination.  Frank welcomed us both to sit down on his back porch with a cold Perrier and we whiled away more time talking about island life, American politics, family, dogs, and upcoming changes to the island with the new season.  Then Frank led us through the gallery to showcase some new pieces he had acquired since my last visit:

We thought about stopping in at DaVida for a light snack, but  we decided we weren’t hungry enough to do that with our reservations for dinner at Veya that night.  So we went home to Villa Ella for a quick swim and a nap to get ready for our primo meal ahead, after a brief detour so I could show Michael my (and everybody else’s) favorite little pink chattel house on the island.

Our reservation was for 7:00, which I figured would give us time to get settled in and order a round of cocktails before Omari started playing downstairs. I thought we’d be on the early side, but the restaurant was packed when we arrived. We even had to back out into the drive to find a parking spot, their car park was so crowded. One of our servers brought us an amuse bouche of soup, which I think may have been pumpkin, and then I had to make a terribly difficult decision -- to order off the menu or to request the chef’s tasting menu.  

Our yummy soup

Vera’s signature sea urchin votive holders
The latter won out, despite the price increase since my last visit, and it wasn’t cheap then. (NB: Nor should it be, but I do have to think twice, possibly thrice, before spending that much money on a single dinner, albeit an extraordinary one.)  Michael, meanwhile, decided to try the Grilled Jerk Spice Tuna with a rum coffee glaze, stacked with caramelized pineapples and fried plantains -- which is quite possibly my favorite entrée there. The courses unfolded one by one, with his main course delivered between two of mine.  Despite the small size of each course in the tasting menu, I would not have been able finish everything if I had not been sharing. 

Mahi mahi ceviche with dill crème fraiche, ginger, and scallion

Simple grilled sea lice

Michael’s dish

Duck with Brussels sprouts, carrot purée and seasoning peppers,
Michael opined that it was his favorite duck he’d ever had.

Lamb lollipops
Our dessert course was good -- Michael chose the trio of creme brûlée and I was given a selection that included banana sorbet, hazelnut mousse bars, and what was supposed to be a coconut creme brûlée but which turned out to be a ginger one instead. I would most definitely have preferred the coconut, but that’s a minor quibble in the face of such supreme deliciousness over the course of the evening. Spectacular from beginning to finish, and a meal whose memory I will long treasure. 

Omari was just finishing up downstairs by the time we departed, and if I had had even one square millimeter to spare in my belly, I would have pressed to stay at Meze for a small nibble to enjoy the ambience. But alas, that was not the case, so we made our way home and rolled into bed to be well-rested for our next adventure in the morning.  

01 December 2016

Last Month in Review: November 2016

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve written a post like this -- a frame of time that could as easily be measured in years as months -- so I’m happy to be back in the saddle for some bookish blogposts. In chronological order, here is what I’ve read:

1. The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead by Chanelle Benz.  This book winz for great title and author name. This collection of short stories is very strong, and while the narrative voice varies from story to story, you can feel the unifying sensibility behind each one. Debut book. This author studied with George Saunders, and given that, the darkness in most of these stories is unsurprising.

2. Desperation Road by Michael Ferris Smith. Eh.  I was underwhelmed by this one.  I liked the story but felt I had read it in various permutations many times before. Man is released from prison, goes home, gets beaten up by the family who believes he deserves no mercy after what he’s done.  He crosses paths with a woman who turns out to have a unique connection to his past.

3. The Futures by Anna Pitoniak. First novel about a young couple trying to make it in Manhattan after graduating from Yale.  Another meh read for me.  The writing was good, but reading about how hard it is to be a young, white, Yale grad from a privileged background doesn’t exactly draw out my sympathy.

4. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. This book surprised me with how much I liked it.  I brought it with me on vacation for an easy beach read, and it was certainly that, but I LOVED reading all of the food and wine descriptions, as well as getting the inside scoop of what it’s like to be an underserver in an incredibly popular and well-respected NYC restaurant.

5. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Ugh. I picked this book up to read the day after the election because I wanted something that was sweet and charming and life affirming, all of which are adjectives that readers have applied to this book.  I thought it was pretty 2-dimensional and occasionally insipid. Very disappointed, since the premise of it is so good: a barge bookstore owner on the Seine doesn’t sell the book that the customer wants, he sells the book that the customer needs.

6. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (audio). I had lunch with Ann Patchett at the end of September and spending that time with her made me want to go back and listen to her essay collection.  Despite being a bonafide novel reader through and through, this is probably my favorite work of hers. I love the honesty and clarity behind each piece.

7. American War by Oman El Akkad. Holy shit, this was a good book.  Set about 50-60 years in the future, this novel tells the story of Sarat Chestnut and her life before, during, and after the Second Civil War in America. Refugee camps, suicide bombers, the secession of the Magnolia States, plotting, politics, and intrigue.  This book was well written, brilliantly paced, and rather frightening. Put it on your radar now, as it will be published in April 2017. 

30 November 2016

An Unconventional Sunday on Anguilla

View from the upper level of Villa Ella
Sunday turned out to be a lazy day all around for us.  We slept a little later than usual, and after a morning stroll on the beach, we decided to have wine & cheese for breakfast.  We’d bought quite a bit of snacks at Best Buy a few days ago, including two bottles of wine, and were a little afraid that, given our roster of dinner reservations, some might otherwise be wasted.  So, taking one for the team, we had a boozy breakfast. Really, since we added a splash of passionfruit juice to the sauvignon blanc, it was really more like sangria, or better yet, a tropical and non-fizzy mimosa, which is a totally reasonable breakfast beverage.

Same view as above, but zoomed in
The day before I requested, and had been granted, permission to have our morning coffee and evening cocktails upstairs on the upper level of Villa Ella. The mosquitos were just so terrible that it was impossible for us to enjoy sitting outside on the lower level, which is the level we were renting, and since the owner was away, she graciously agreed that we could carry our beverages upstairs and bookend our days that way.

Michael had gotten a bit sunburned the day before -- seeing the sun for the first time and being on Shoal Bay East made us a tad careless -- so we decided to be shade seekers for the rest of the morning. After breakfast we read under our umbrella on our beach until the sun crept over the sea grapes, then moved indoors to pack a bag for the afternoon.

We had decided upon Jacala for our lunch that day. I love this place, but I tend to prefer it for lunch over dinner. The location is so pretty right there on Meads Bay that it’s a shame to not see it in full sunlight. We found out after the fact that we were lucky to walk in without a reservation, since it was his first Sunday that Jacala was open for lunch for the season. But we got one of the last two tables available and counted ourselves fortunate. Jacques came over to welcome Michael, and welcome me back, to the restaurant.  I tried gamely to respond in French but I didn’t get very far.

I knew from the start that I wanted crayfish, and while Michael had technically tasted crayfish as a component in other dishes on the island, I wanted him to see it as the star of its own dish. We split a crayfish platter, which was the perfect amount of food when combined with the cucumber soup and the conch ceviche. That soup is one of my favorite soups on the planet -- so simple, but the spicy tomato sorbet elevates the cucumber in a sublime way.

The conch ceviche was beautiful and delicious. We shared both appetizers as equally as possible before delving into the grilled crayfish, which I forgot entirely to photograph. Between the beautiful setting and the incredible food, we were enjoying ourselves immensely. Because they forgot to bring me my glass of rosé until the crayfish had been almost entirely devoured, they comped me a second glass, so we lingered a bit longer than we otherwise would have. But that simply gave us enough time to know that we wanted to dessert, so it was a win-win.

I had had the rum baba once before, after seeing Frank from Savannah Gallery write about it on his blog. With this dessert, you can have your cake and drink it, too.  It was just as delicious as I remembered, with a delicate cake surrounding a scoop of banana sorbet, sitting in a sweet rum sauce.

Ocean Echo’s Rumzie
After lunch, we had planned to stop in at Ocean Echo so that we could see Andrea once again and to hear Omalie 360 play in the afternoon.  We got there close to 3:00 and stayed for about an hour, sipping our rum punches and enjoying the music.  It was too loud to chat, so we didn’t get to talk with Andrea as much as we usually do, but it was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Ocean Echo’s famous drink is called the Rumzie, which was too sweet for me on its own, but I asked Andrea for more lime juice and it made it delicious. Michael liked it jussssst fine as ordered.

We left there to head home to Barnes Bay. There wasn’t much of a sunset that day, but we enjoyed our sundowners anyway. Around 7:00 we drove back down to Sandy Ground to give Criss Conch Shack another try, but nobody was around.  You can’t say we didn’t give them a fair shake, but we were both disappointed not to be able to try a new local place.

We contemplated going back to Elvis’s again, but Michael was torn between that and trying someplace new. Since we had had a very high end lunch, we wanted something more on the casual side, so we drove back to the west end to Picante to eat dinner without breaking the bank. We had a couple of passionfruit margaritas at the bar while waiting for a table to become available, which gave us time to deliberate over the menu.  Michael settled on the chili-crusted spicy tuna tacos while I went with the Picante tacos, and we were both extremely pleased with our selections.  The lighting wasn’t very good, but here’s the only photo that turned out clearly enough:

We were both pretty full by the time we finished our meals, but I have a terrible sweet tooth and Michael was hankering for something sweet, too, so we ordered a frozen lemon-lime pudding to share, accompanied by a lime-chili salt.  Well, it was delicious.  The salt absolutely made it a cut above, and we were both glad we’d ordered it.  With heavy bellies we drove back home where we were wowed by the clarity of the night sky.  Stars were everywhere and with the lack of light pollution we saw so much more than we ever get to see at home. Just gorgeous.