19 July 2010

WAMC Round Table selection

WAMC, the NPR radio affiliate out of Albany, NY, hosts a round table book discussion with independent booksellers in their listening area. Tomorrow Joan Grenier (store co-owner) and I are the lucky booksellers and this is one of the books I'll be mentioning. You can catch us live around 10:05 am EDT or you can check out their website at www.wamc.org in a couple of days and listen to our full spiel.

Tom Nicholson's The Elephant Keeper was a quiet debut in hardcover last year, published to critical acclaim both here and in the UK, and I’m hoping that in paperback it will find the wider audience it deserves. The novel opens in England in 1766, where a ship docks with a live cargo, including a pair of young elephants, that barely survived the voyage. When a wealthy estate owner purchase the elephants, a young stable hand named Tom Page gets the opportunity of a lifetime. He nurses both elephants back from the brink of death, and in doing so, he forms a lasting bond with them. Tom eventually is able to train and communicate with Jenny and Timothy, as the elephants are named. However, when the estate owner loses his fortune, the fate of Tom & the elephants becomes a harsh one, as the 18th century is not a particularly kind time for animals of any kind, much less exotic ones. Heartbreak follows heartbreak for Tom and the elephants, but the reader gets some heartwarming moments, too. This book is a lovingly imagined portrait of a man who discovers that lasting friendships are not defined by species, and it is full of tenderness, empathy, and compassion. It’s an absolutely engaging read, though I should warn that sensitive readers will discover within themselves an inclination towards violence for those characters who exact cruelties on these magnificent creatures.

18 July 2010

What I read on my summer vacation, part IV

Here are two more books forthcoming this fall in hardcover.  Steve Martin is still the most intelligent person in show business I can think of, and it shows in his fiction.  And any season with a new Bill Bryson book is a great book season, in my opinion.  Wish I could say we had booked both of these authors for the Odyssey, but alas, it would be untrue.  

 Object of Beauty by Steve Martin.  Despite my reluctance to admire yet another celebrity writer, Martin impressed me with his first novel, Shop Girl, and he continues to do so with this book.  He introduces us to Lacey, a compelling but morally ambiguous young woman who becomes a mover & shaker in the Manhattan art world of the late 20th Century.  The reader ends up getting a crash course in both contemporary art history and consumerism, with sneak peaks into the rarefied worlds of Sotheby’s, uptown art galleries, and the moneyed international clientele who can patronize both. I, for one, found this book very hard to put down. 

 Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.  Bryson takes his own home, a mid-nineteenth century rectory in Norfolk, England, as the jumping-off point for investigating every possible angle of domestic history.  We get the expected lessons in architecture, furniture and horticulture, as well as the more unusual, such as the brilliant teamwork skills of rats, or the strategic importance of nutmeg in empire-building, or even how “teeth” were mysteriously listed as a leading cause of death in London in 1758.  Bryson’s trademark humor and wry social commentary are certainly present, but what stands out most here is his ability to trace intriguing connections between seemingly unrelated facts.  In short, I found it endlessly fascinating. 

17 July 2010

What I read on my summer vacation, part III

Tinkers by Paul Harding.  The quiet story of an old man’s deathbed reminiscences of youth and a time gone by is eclipsed by the enormous reach of its beautiful prose.  I’ve rarely read a novel where each paragraph, each sentence, was so exquisitely crafted.  Pick this book up and see exactly why Harding won this year's Pulitzer Prize.  

 Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.  This quietly intimate book introduces us to two indelible characters: a brilliant mathematician whose short term memory lasts only 80 minutes and the perceptive young housekeeper who cares for him daily.  While he might not remember her from day to day, or even from morning to afternoon, he finds succor in the unfailing order and beauty of numbers and mathematic proofs.  I found this to be a thoroughly engaging book, poised at the rare intersection of mathematics and literature.  

 Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall.   Assassination attempts, self-righteous con men, and interfering mothers are no match for Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator and one of Delhi’s few unbribable men.  This first book in a promising new series is so evocative of place that you’ll swear you can taste the paapri chaat, but the brutal descriptions of India’s poor raise this cozy mystery’s class consciousness a few notches above the norm.  An absolutely vibrant read.

16 July 2010

How I spent my summer vacation, part XII

DH at the top floor of the Water Club

Travel Day 3: Homeward Bound

We arrived at the airport around 7:15 am for our 8:00 am flight because the Anguilla Air Express website boasts that you need to arrive at the airport only 30 minutes before departure. What they don’t say is that nobody will be there earlier than that to check you in. ☺ So we cooled our heels for a quarter of an hour until the crew showed up en masse. We had a full flight bound for San Juan with 7 passengers on board. The flight itself is more than a little cramped, but the premium ticket price earns its value once you hit the ground in San Juan. The pilots led us through the immigration line for diplomats; meanwhile another airline employee was unloading all of our baggage to meet us and whisk us through customs. Furthermore, the same young man stayed with us to coax his friend to let my husband and me check in early for our American flight to Hartford. We had nine hours until our departure, but they usually only allow airport check-in within four hours of departure, so this was a real boon.

After tipping the young man, we took a taxi to the San Juan Beach & Water Club to have lunch and spend a few hours. The seven-minute ride was $10 each way, plus tip. While we’re definitely not the young, hip clientele that the boutique hotel seems to cater to, I would be hard-pressed to come up with a more pleasant and economical way to spend a layover. We arrived around 10:30 am and immediately went upstairs to the rooftop terrace to read for a couple of hours until their lunch service started. Twelve stories up, the terrace provides panoramic views of the beach as well as the city. We settled into an L-shaped padded banquette in the shade and made some headway in our books. Or at least I did. DH managed to doze. He somehow always seems to manage to doze. ☺ Periodically I would get up to stretch my legs and take in the view—it overlooked a very pretty stretch of popular beach, so there were all manner of activities to observe, such as kiteboarding, volleyball, bodysurfing, football, futbol, and parasailing, as well as the usual games the young and beautiful of our species play while trying to attract the attention of the opposite sex whilst simultaneously seeming aloof.

Self portrait on roof deck; table for one in Tangerine restaurant

For lunch we moseyed downstairs to the Tangerine restaurant where we sipped iced tea while waiting for our Cuban sandwich (DH) and trio of sliders (me). We were prepared for high prices and mediocre food, so we were pleasantly surprised with how delicious everything was for $13 each. The restaurant was air conditioned, but we preferred the open-air breezes of the rooftop, so after a while we headed back upstairs, choosing the opposite side of the shaded pavilion to stay out of the sun, which had the added benefit (for my husband, at least) of providing front row views of all of the incoming aircraft. I worked on this trip report while he took another (!) nap. At 3:30 we went back downstairs to have give the bar a little more of our custom in appreciation for our very agreeable interlude. We sipped excellent mojitos in the bar while watching part of the Ghana-Uruguay match for the World Cup. Shortly after 4:00 we headed back to the airport for our 6:45 flight home, which turned out to be delayed for two hours from all of the rain up and down the eastern seaboard.

Some random thoughts:

Although there was a good bit of rain on Anguilla, too, we seemed to enjoy our rainy time there more than we did on Grenada. Part of it was due to the heavy influx of mosquitoes in Grenada, where we could hardly sit outside at all without being swarmed.

One bizarre incident happened on our penultimate night on the island that seems not in keeping with Anguilla. As we were pulling up to Caribella in the late afternoon, one of the fishermen who keeps his boat at Barnes Bay approached us and asked if we’d like to buy some lobster from him. Since we already had reservations at Picante and didn’t really want to cook dinner at home anyway, we just said no, thank you. He then explained that he really needed $25 to buy some oil for his boat but that he’d like to sell us some fish or lobster in exchange. We offered to just give him the money, figuring that if he had the chance, he’d probably pay us back anyway, this being Anguilla. Well, we had just stopped at an ATM and unfortunately it had given us a US $100 bill, but we had US $17-18 in smaller bills, plus EC $15, which we gave him. He asked for more, we explained we had no other small bills to give him, and he stormed off, muttering under his breath, but with no “thank you,” no nothin’, directed toward us. We never saw him again.

We really, really loved our location at Caribella. While I think their daily rates are a little high considering the facilities, the weekly rates for 2 people reflect a good value. While I am not blind to its physical defects, they were not the sorts of defects that interfered with our vacation in any way. Yes, there were some chips in the plaster; yes, the window treatments hang a little crookedly and are due for replacement; yes, the sliding doors sometimes were hard to slide open or shut; yes, the walls looked a little bare. But all of the essentials for a great vacation were there: a comfortable living space, a comfortable bed, good water pressure, a functional kitchen, good towels, a very high standard of housekeeping, a phenomenal view, and a secluded beachfront location. All of this for $1150 for the week, before taxes and service charges are added, which is a mighty good bargain for beachfront accommodations in Anguilla. And, I’d like to add, our neighbors just 25 feet to the east were paying $4500/night, according to the Viceroy website (yes, you did the math correctly—that’s $31,500 for the week) for the same beachfront. Granted, their accommodations are more posh to the nth degree, but I don’t believe it’s possible for them to have had a better time than we did, much less, 27x more fun, which is roughly how much more they paid for their posh accommodations.

Last photo taken at Caribella on the morning of our departure.

We were really glad we got to try some new restaurants that I’ve read about that were either closed or new since our last visit in October, such as Davida and Jacala, not to mention we finally got around to forum favorites Gwen’s, Koal Keel, Picante and Smokey’s on this trip. Revisiting old favorites was just as rewarding as we anticipated—sometimes I build up an experience in my memory so much that revisiting it inevitably leads to disappointment, but on this trip it wasn’t the case at all. It did mean, though, that we didn’t have time to revisit some places, such as Valley Bistro or Ferryboat Inn, which we really enjoyed on previous trips. Actually, we tried to do Ferryboat for a rum punch one afternoon, but we were told that the kitchen and bar had closed early and wouldn’t reopen for another hour, so we left.

For the first time in our vacations together, DH and were ready to have part of our travels behind us. Grenada, usually our favorite island, just didn’t deliver the goods for us on this trip. Part of that was certainly the weather; we’ve had a rained-out vacation in the past on Nevis and Antigua that was still a ton of fun, but it was really difficult for us to keep our spirits up in Grenada. Another contributing factor was my getting really sick two days before we left and not markedly improving until the end of our first full day in Anguilla. We also discovered that our beloved Turtleback Villa is not well-suited for rainy day activities, at least not when the insects are so awful. Those mosquitoes and no-see-ums were intrepid, fighting off the breeze, the ceiling fans, burning coils, and both natural and DEET-based repellants (I don’t think this has so much to do with Turtleback in particular as the island in general during the window of our visit).

The fact of the matter is that we are utterly smitten with Anguilla. Our first trip was last June, and then we returned with my mother that October, so this was actually our third trip to the island in 13 months. We also realized that when the first half of our vacation is so disappointing, even a week in Anguilla isn’t enough to make up for it. I suspect that next year we won’t even go through the motion of considering another island and will just spend our full time there; maybe then we’ll break it up and stay on each end of the island. It would be nice to explore the east end more than we have; it would also be really nice to return to Bayberry villa, which we loved. But after being beachfront this year, I’m pretty sure it will be hard not to have that same kind of access again. But there I go again—it’s just part of DIF to be planning next year’s getaway the moment we get home from this year’s!

I should add that we were fortunate, indeed, to be able to make this trip at all. For most of 2010 it looked like it simply wouldn’t be in the budget for us to take a two week vacation, much less part of it in Anguilla. Although he teaches at Smith College as a supplement, my husband is an artist and 2009-2010 was a pretty lean sales time for his work. And my job as a bookseller doesn’t exactly pay for Caribbean vacations. But a new illustration contract came through in the spring (and with it the means for us to take two weeks off), combined with some seriously reduced accommodation rates, to make it all come together. The possibility of not vacationing this year was a wake-up call and I don’t think I’ll ever take for granted again the privilege of travel.

Our long shadows on West End Bay

15 July 2010

How I spent my summer vacation, part XI

The road to Caribella
Anguilla Day 6

Our last full day on the island always leaves us feeling a little melancholy, because no matter how much we’re enjoying ourselves, there’s the constant undercurrent of, “well, this is the last time we eat breakfast/ go to the PO/ visit with Vandra/ snorkel/ walk on the beach in Anguilla for another year.”

Isn’t it the way it happens? We discover our new favorite spots for breakfast and lunch on our last day. For breakfast we drove over to Koal Keel’s Le Petit Patisserie, where we sat at the single table on the balcony and lingered with our books over pastries and coffee. The elevated position on the balcony afforded us a wonderful breeze, the strong coffee reminded us very much of the chicory coffee served in New Orleans, and the fresh, flaky pastries were excellent. We remained there for nearly an hour, just soaking it all in, and marveling that the pastry chef’s shift begins at 1:00 am just so people like us can enjoy the fruits of his or her labor at the more leisurely hour of 8:00 am.

Our private balcony breakfast. We LOVED this place!

We went back to spend the morning at Barnes Bay, and this time we were the only souls on the beach all morning. The surf was up a little bit more than it had been in previous days, with waves about 18-24”. We read and walked and read and swam and read some more before heading back to the room to clean up.

Jacala for lunch

By 1:00 pm we had pulled up to Jacala where we spent the next few hours, first dining and then lounging on Meads Bay. The atmosphere was really lovely, a cool white background with brightly colored, tasteful accents. We drank iced tea like it was going out of style, meanwhile ordering the chilled cucumber soup with spicy tomato sorbet (DH) and the grilled watermelon & chevre salad (me). The soup was excellent, very delicately flavored and refreshing on a hot day, but my dish was no less than a revelation. The heat from the grilled watermelon caused the chevre to melt, and topping it all was a chilled salad of arugula, dressed with a fine balsamic reduction. It was perfect—a perfect balance of flavors, temperatures and textures that was just out of this world (but I won’t forget that it was the chef at Veya who first served up grilled watermelon). My husband doesn’t even like goat cheese and he was even raving about my salad. For dessert we shared the mint panna cotta, which was topped with a papaya-mint marmalade and accompanied by two coconut macaroons, and it was also perfect. (As of this writing several days later, I can still taste the fresh mint, the lightness of the custard, and the unexpected savory dimension of the marmalade.) The whole experience was superlative.

After lunch we gathered up our books to relax on the beach for a while. DH claimed the hammock while I reclined on one of their brightly colored canvas chairs that are structurally similar to bean bags. The day was bright, but between the palm trees and the open umbrellas, we had plenty of shade. Meads Bay was relatively busy, with lots of people walking or jogging along the waterline. Carimar, where we stayed for our first visit last year, had a couple dozen chairs & umbrellas set up, and though not every chair was occupied, it gave the effect of being crowded. (NB: In fact, when informed back in May by the staff that Carimar had about 2/3 occupancy for the week we were considering, we thought it would feel a bit too crowded for us. We really like Carimar and would return in the future, though.) By the time we left that afternoon, I had come to the startling conclusion that though Meads Bay is, in fact, stunningly pretty, it seems to lack the character of our favorite beaches on the island. I’m not sure I can put my finger on the whys and wherefores. Just lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, I suppose.

Looking left on Meads toward Viceroy the beach was fairly empty, but looking next door
toward Carimar, it was really packed. Relatively speaking, of course.

Late afternoon we headed back to do most of our packing and then enjoy a last walk and swim at Barnes Bay. It was nice to bookend our last day the same way as our first day, and though I was physically feeling much better at this point, my heart was certainly heavy. Even the sunset was appropriately subdued. ☺

We rallied ourselves for our final meal at Veya, which is hands-down our favorite place for dinner. We always choose it for our last evening meal on the island because anything else would invite comparison and come up lacking. This was our fourth visit over the course of three vacations, and Chef Carrie never ceases to impress with the consistency of the quality and her inventiveness. The atmosphere is a soothing, sophisticated one with the feeling of a treetop escape.

Ahhh, Veya!

After the hot johnnycakes (I LOVE those!) and the amuse-bouche of spicy pumpkin soup, I started with the Moroccan spiced shrimp cigars despite their cilantro content, partly because so many people have raved about them online, partly because I wanted to make the leap and trust the chef’s ability to balance flavors to perfection. I wasn’t at all disappointed. The cilantro was present, to be sure, but the other flavors were so intense that I honestly couldn’t detect it. DH started with the calamari and he also was quite sassified. For my main course, I had the appetizer of grilled watermelon (I guess it was just a grilled watermelon kind of day for me!) with poached shrimp, fresh mint, and candied pecans, and it was blissful. DH had the vanilla-cured duck breast accompanied by wilted spinach and au gratin potatoes. I really love the way the chef uses ingredients that seem counter-intuitive to me, like using vanilla and watermelon to a savory effect, but I also appreciate that nothing on the menu seems over-the-top—just the best, freshest ingredients served up in delightfully unexpected ways. Though we love the dense, rich coconut cake on the menu, it was simply too much after our meal, so we asked if we could just have a serving of the coconut-lime sorbet that they use as an accent on one of their other desserts and they were happy to comply. DH discovered a rum called Methusalen that just might supplant El Dorado as his favorite, and two shots of that, plus a rum punch and a glass of wine for me and a shared bottled water, brought our total to US $176, plus additional tip.

Some buildings around the island that I liked, including the Wallblake House.

It was a bit startling to see a ship from the Royal Navy in Road Bay!

Barnes Bay on our last day

14 July 2010

How I spent my summer vacation, part X

Photos from Gwen's

Anguilla Day 5

Never having been to Gwen’s, we decided that we would spend the day on Upper Shoal Bay. It quickly eclipsed all other locations for DH, who mightily enjoyed reading his book among the palm trees. Though Elodia’s still holds the top spot in my heart, I certainly enjoyed it, and it’s hard to argue with the beauty of that spot, combined with the stiff breeze to ensure total comfort all day long. The food, grilled right there on the beach, had a simple freshness that hit the spot—we shared the chicken & rib combo platter between us and it ended up being the perfect amount of food. Although we’re both avid readers, there were long moments where our books lay forgotten, neglected in favor of just taking in the view. We stayed there until it was time for the ladies to close up shop at 4:00, at which point we decided to explore out near West End Bay. We had strongly considered staying at Indigo Reef before we booked Caribella, so I was curious to see its situation. The property is attractive and the beach was deserted but it didn’t look very inviting for swimming, at least not that day. I liked the way the villas had a cohesive look to them without looking too same-same. If Indigo Reef offers the same package rates next year that they did this year, I would certainly be open to staying there.

Photos from West End Bay, including Indigo Reef, where we almost booked our trip. It's a
good place for shelling but Barnes Bay is a nicer location, at least for us.

We had two car mishaps today. On our way out to Shoal Bay, we stopped at the Education Department to donate a few children’s books, but as I was backing out of the parking lot, I backed over a sharp rock that punctured a front tire. What a way to put a damper on our spirits! I walked back to the Education Dept and explained the situation, asking if I could please borrow a telephone to contact Ronnie Bryan. I told him that I thought the tire was ruined but the rim still looked good, so he told us to just sit tight while he tracked someone down to get us set up with another tire (he was cycling when I called).

Sure enough, about 15 minutes later a man shows up to put a new tire on and cart away the old one, and another 15 minutes after that, we were on our way again. We tipped the young man, but I swear, his demeanor was so agreeable, even enthusiastic, that it was as if he woke up that morning and decided that his greatest ambition was to help a tourist in need. I manage a small, locally-owned bookshop, and I’ve had to deal with all manner of complaints and customer situations, but I would be tremendously proud if my staff were as uniformly courteous in the face of difficult situations as Ronnie Bryan and his staff were to us that day. I cannot overly praise the efficiency and dedication to good service that they demonstrated to us. Anybody can give good customer service when things are going right. But Ronnie demonstrated such a calibre of customer service that what could have been a ruinous morning and afternoon turned out to be a mere anecdote in our trip report, and we could happily be on our way with very little time lost.

The other mishap occurred while we were driving back to Caribella. You know the traffic light where you turn off the main road to head to Blowing Point? I was stopped at a red light and just about to accelerate after it turned green when the car lurched, as if my foot had slipped off the gas pedal. Turns out that we were rear-ended, but thankfully it was at such a slow speed that there was no damage done to the bumper. The other driver was profusely apologetic when we both pulled over to inspect the car, but there wasn’t so much as a ding, much less a dent. Thankful that we escaped not one but two potentially disastrous car situations that day, DH and I were both secretly relieved that we had already planned to have dinner close to home that night and thus wouldn’t be on the road to tempt the Fates a third time with vehicular misfortune.

Flat tire and DH at Picante

We had missed Picante on our two trips last year and they were closed for vacation for the first part of this visit, but I knew this time around that I would prioritize dinner there no matter what. My long-suffering husband merely looked at me sidelong when I said we were doing Mexican, no discussion. The distance was such that we could have easily walked, but I’m not comfortable walking on the roads at night—not for issues of personal safety, but for lack of visibility. The place was packed (in fact, it was the only restaurant in our two week stay on both islands that was busy, turning over several tables during the course of our meal and even had people waiting for tables), and luckily our reservation landed us the last available table for two. We just loved the whole experience at Picante and it will likely become another must-do on future trips.

The air was admittedly a little still compared to other locations on the island, but it was so lively and vibrant that our minds were soon diverted to more pleasant things. We ordered a half-pitcher of margaritas (US $26, that netted us about 2.5 glasses a piece), DH had the lime brick chicken (we saluted you, Howard, as he ate!) and I had the Picante tacos with beef (I only ate one of the two). We shared the frozen lemon-lime pudding for dessert that was reminiscent of a custardy Key Lime pie and declared it was an excellent way to end an excellent meal. We had a lot of fun observing a large party there to celebrate a little girl’s graduation (from kindergarten? Preschool? She was wearing a pink satin gown and tiny mortarboard), as the kids were dashing about outside, organizing themselves into teams for what looked like a long-jump competition. It sounds obtrusive, but it really wasn’t—they were energetic but not loud or disruptive and really quite adorable to watch.

Beautiful Upper Shoal Bay

13 July 2010

How I spent my summer vacation, part IX

This is the fishing book that lived next to Caribella

Anguilla Day 4

I started my day with an early walk on the beach before my lazy bum of a husband got out of bed—unlike the previous days, I didn’t see another person on Barnes Bay, not even down in front of Viceroy. We went to Geraud’s around 9:00 to have breakfast—yummy pastries and good, strong coffee, which we lazily enjoyed over our books. Leaving there, we stopped at Irie Life to look at t-shirts but this time around I wasn’t as impressed. They had fewer cute shirts at higher prices than the Anguilla Pharmacy. Still, I don’t like entering a shop in the Caribbean without getting a likkle somet’ing, so I found one for wearing in the water (I had forgotten my snorkel shirt at home and had been kicking myself for that) that I could live with wearing on dry land once we got home.

Irie Life

Our destination for most of the day was Shoal Bay East and we happily settled under the cabana at Elodia’s, our usual spot on the beach. I snorkeled for a while and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was better than I remembered. I spent about 45 minutes out there while DH read under the cabana, then we took a short walk.

Lunch at Elodia's

Upon our return, we were amused to watch a young American couple arrive and start posing for various pictures. Our amusement morphed into raised eyebrows when their poses started getting more and more provocative, though. (They were using their camera’s timer and in between shots the young woman would do a jiggly jog back to reset it.) After a while the young woman removed her bikini top and the couple started making out in the surf and then in the water. While we were enjoying our lunch at Elodia’s, a police car pulled up and the officer walked out and spoke with the young couple, who packed up and left soon afterward. We’ve seen topless sunbathing at SBE before but we’d never seen anybody confront the offenders before—I suppose it could have been their behavior as much as her toplessness that compelled somebody to call in a complaint.

A self-portrait on SBE

Anyway, our lunch was good. DH was feeling none too well, so he just sipped ginger ale and Ting all day, but I had a BLT and two passion fruit daiquiris, plus a bottled water. Our tab for the day came to US $60, but that also included $25 for use of the cabana all day, so it was a very reasonable meal in a great location. Elodia’s is definitely my favorite place to spend the day on SBE.

Gorgeous SBE!

We left around 3:30 so that we could rush home to shower and then return to Margaret’s to get the detoxifying footbath. Basically, the foot tubs are filled with regular hot water and then sea salt is slowly added until it reaches a certain salinity. There’s a wand that emits a mild electric pulse to ionize the water (we couldn’t feel anything), and before long, the sweat glands on the bottoms of our feet start expelling our body’s toxins. I have no idea how real this process is, but it was fascinatingly disgusting to watch. Most of the toxins I released were from the liver and the joints (the different colors mean different locations), plus quite a bit of gas. I didn’t take a “before” picture of the clear water, but I did take a few “afters” just to show how amazingly gross it was. Ugh! My feet sure felt good afterwards, though. ☺

TOTALLY gross "after" shots from the foot bath detox

We had originally planned to dine at the new Sand Bar in Sandy Ground after reading so many good reviews of it, but when we were at Smokey’s the day before, our server Felix brought out the menu from Koal Keel, where he works in the evenings, and suggested that we try that instead. Koal Keel, like Barrel Stay and Oliver’s, was on a long list of restaurants we eventually intend to try, so we postponed a visit to Sand Bay in lieu of a plantation dining experience.

Well, we ended up feeling quite enchanted with the place, putting us in mind of some of our favorite meals dining on Nevis. I love the traditional West Indian architecture, and the antique pieces, soft muslin drapery and mood lighting all contrived to create what we agreed was the loveliest ambience we had experienced in all of our dining on Anguilla. Our food was a little hit-or-miss that night. We began with two Warden’s salads, which would have been quite good if they hadn’t been positively swimming in dressing. When I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, our server asked if I wanted a red or white one. Thinking she had just misheard me, I repeated Sauvignon Blanc, but then she just repeated her question again. Ah, well! We also both had the Thai spring rolls as our main dish, as we intended to take full advantage of the dessert menu. The spring rolls were very good, but even though they were an appetizer portion, neither one of us could finish. (NB: I have no idea how people can put away a full three-course meal in a tropical climate. I admittedly look like I could put away that much food, several times a day in fact, but I’m afraid that most times I cannot consume even two small plates, much less an appetizer and an entrĂ©e portion.)

Lovely Koal Keel

The dessert course is definitely where Koal Keel was a shining beacon that night. I’m not a particularly big chocolate fan, usually tending toward desserts with a fruit theme instead, but that night I succumbed to the siren call of the chocolate lava cake, paired with a Grand Marnier-chocolate ice cream and accompanied by a heavenly raspberry reduction that was so piquant it made my mouth pucker. DH went for the simpler, but no less delicious, apple tart served in puff pastry and paired with vanilla bean ice cream and accompanied by a rich caramel sauce. Both were the best of their kind we’d ever had and we had a brief moment of mourning when we realized that we couldn’t finish either one. Dinner came to around US $130, plus additional tip, which included my glass of wine, two cocktails, and a bottle of water.

After dinner our server offered to give us a tour of the grounds, which we were pleased to accept. The wine cellar is a beautiful thing, but DH was especially drawn to the rum shop where they offer tastings of a large selection of rums. All in all, we were exceedingly content with our evening at Koal Keel and it will definitely be on our favorites list for future visits.

I wonder...does one ever grow tired of such beauty? I'd like the chance to find out!