Someone Else, Please Cook for Me: Nevis, West Indies

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This Green Vervet Monkey clearly needs someone to cook for him.

One could call this “Dining Out” or “Reviews” but essentially, what  it boils down to is: “Someone else, please cook for me.”  So there you go. Don’t get me wrong. I like cooking. I love it. Sometimes I’ll go out to eat, and assess if I can make a dish at home better and for significantly less money. Usually I can, but I do enjoy the social aspect of dining out: either I’m dishing with the girls or going on a date and it really is a nice treat when someone else cooks for a change. So in the words of Iman in Michael Jackson’s video, Remember the Time, “I want to be entertained.”  Yes, I just quoted a Michael Jackson video. Go ahead and judge me.

Let’s chat about Nevis. I specifically picked Nevis as holiday destination for both its exclusivity and low-key vibe. That, and neighboring St. Kitts has a crazy Christmas Carnival.  I also find it hilarious when people don’t know where the hell you are going. Friends made faces and said, “NEEEEEEVIS? What is NEEEEEVIS? I don’t even know where that is. How do you spell it? Isn’t that a skin condition?” Nevis is smaller and not as touristy as other Caribbean islands. I generally don’t prefer popular honeymoon destinations nor cruise ship docks with heavy traffic when I holiday. We’ll talk about what island citizens think of cruisers at some point when I discuss Bermuda.  Nevis has a fancy Four Seasons with a well-known golf course and St. Kitts is just a 45-minute ferry-boat ride away.  I actually flew into St. Kitts and stayed there before boating over to Nevis. While the islands are in proximity to one another, each definitely has a different vibe.

A view of Nevis Peak (complete with the cloud) from the ferry-boat.

I should make note that I try to avoid all-inclusive situations that keep me tied to a resort the whole time. I like to get out and explore the destination and try the local fare. While my resort had a meal-plan option for those interested, I chose to purchase my meals as needed. I came to Nevis with the intention of trying Miss June’s Cuisine. Miss June hosts a dinner party out of the Jones Estate that consists of several courses, cocktails and fun storytelling. Since Oprah had been there I was dying to try it. Unfortunately, Miss June wasn’t open for one of her dinners until the day I was leaving and one certain “Ginger Firecrotch” couldn’t get me in to meet her so I won’t be able to discuss this venue. However, my adventures in dining were still enjoyable and I’m going to cover a few places you too can enjoy if you ever get to visit “NEEEEEEVIS.”

Coconut Grove, a beachfront restaurant and wine lounge, is located on the northwest side of the island and has earned reputation as “The Top Hot Table in the World” from Conde Nast (Traveler). It has also received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence three years in a row. Sign me up for that. That’s right. I don’t eff around, people. I decided to walk to the restaurant. The Nevisians call tourists who do that “spontaneous” or “adventurous.” Right. I just call myself crazy. The owner, Gary Colt, is a master sommelier who was born in Rochester, NY, then lived in Scarsdale, NY, until the age of nine, and at that point the entire clan moved to the south of France. You will detect a slight French accent when you speak with him. In addition to being very personable and offering tours of his prized wine cellar, he’s very easy on the eyes.  He’s also married and has a child, so don’t get too excited.  The menu consists of relatively healthy, French cuisine with an island flair, created by chef, Stephen Smith, a Registered Dietitian and vegan. Smith apparently lost quite a bit of weight converting to a vegan lifestyle and incorporates delicious vegan offerings on the menu, including a black bean brownie, which is apparently, to die for.

I tried the vegan soup of the day right after downing two glasses of wine and a baked baby Camembert. It was conceivably one of the most delicious soups I have ever enjoyed and featured dark leafy greens (I believe it was a combination of spinach and kale), other mixed vegetables, and I detected a spicy, slightly curried undertone but I could be mistaken. I then moved on to another glass of wine and the catch of the day seasoned with what else? My favorite – Herbes de Provence.  Everything was going well at Coconut Grove until a storm hit, the power went out and some annoying New York City dwellers were seated behind me, trying to talk art and politics. The power situation was remedied quickly and I was able to flee from the NYC chatty weirdos. Do I recommend? For a food and wine lover, absolutely. Is it expensive? Yes, you will find most dining establishments in Nevis are pricey and this is on the higher end of that scale.  However, the restaurant itself is gorgeous  – it looks like a high-end, contemporary, South Pacific beach hut and they had some beautiful, festive decorations out at the time.  You will not be disappointed with the food, the wine list, or the personalized touch. Gary and his wife, Karin, make a point of chatting with all the dinner guests and it’s really a very friendly and fun atmosphere. You can take a look at pictures on their website here: www.coconutgroverestaurantnevis.com. They also have a beach club and a boutique. I do wish that I had tried the lamb special since I ate fish practically the entire time I was on Nevis, but that is my own issue. If you decide to go, please do wear bug spray – the mosquitoes are particularly hungry on Nevis but even more so in that location.

Another restaurant worth trying is Oasis at the Garden, a Thai restaurant on the grounds of the Nevis Botanical Gardens, east of Charlestown. I visited the gardens and enjoyed a very tasty lunch of Tom Yum Seafood soup and house-specialty fish dish that my server and the head “mixologist,” Moi, swore was delicious and that the presentation was just amazing. Well, it was delicious and the presentation was…um…well, look over here to the right. Yep, that’s a roly poly fish head. I do eat animals but don’t usually like to put a face with a name, if you catch my drift. Despite that surprise, I enjoyed my food, wine and conversation, as well as beautiful views of Nevis Peak and the orchid garden. I learned that Moi had recently visited the Adirondack Mountains (a rarity since most islanders thing everyone from New York is from New York City). I definitely recommend paying the gardens and Oasis a visit and found it reasonably priced (depending on what you get) for lunch.

Nevis Peak in the distance behind one of the orchids at the Botanical Gardens.

Fellow resort guests recommended grabbing a cab and heading down to the Golden Rock Inn, a hotel and restaurant built on an old sugar estate with walking trails and unparalleled views of Montserrat.  The item most raved about on the lunch menu was the lobster salad sandwich. I got tempted by the lobster salad on its own, mainly because I was intrigued by the passionfruit vinaigrette. I also enjoyed a pumpkin soup and got to meet model/icon Lauren Hutton who was doing some work there, which was just amazing. If I look half as good as she does at her age I will be very happy. Okay, enough celebrity gushing. I was only able to spend a few hours there but I would highly recommend taking the time to visit and allowing yourself another hour or so to wander the grounds in search of the green vervet monkeys.

Golden Rock Inn

Last but not least, I’d like to mention the Oualie Beach Resort, where I stayed, and its restaurant. The resort is on the smaller side, very low-key, but comfortable. You get your own little Caribbean gingerbread cottage that is anywhere from 20-40 feet from a private beach. The restaurant chef, Michael Henville, recently received the honor of Chef of the Year for 2011, basically giving him the title of best chef in the Caribbean. Not only does he make tasty food, but he is extremely down-to-earth, personable and will accommodate guests as needed (neighbors of mine convinced him to make a custom grouper sandwich recipe). Since I stayed there, I ate at the resort restaurant several times and favorites included both the conch chowder and mushroom soup, and the lunch catch of the day consisting of mahi-mahi with island seasoning, beans and rice, cole slaw, salad and fried plantains. I also enjoyed the jerk chicken skewers and a red snapper special. I’ve never met a red snapper I didn’t like, but it was perfection. If you hang out at the Oualie bar you will also enjoy live music and meet some local characters to provide you with amusement.

As far as wine goes, most restaurants offer Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc from South America and Pinot Grigio. I did get to try a Chardonnay at Coconut Grove (they have the very diverse and huge wine list and multiple house wines sold by the glass) and a Riesling at the Oasis (Thai is spicy and Riesling just makes sense). I primarily stick to white in the tropics because it’s refreshing and pairs well with the fish. I also grabbed a couple of bottles of tasty Chilean Sauvignon Blanc when I was in St. Kitts for the day for evening beach & wine walks back at the resort. If you are a lover of libation and if you have access to a refrigerator, I recommend doing this to cut down on your bar tab.

So if you like the sound of a smaller, laid-back island with plenty of dining options then Nevis might be the right vacation for you. Now go be fabulous and book a trip. Wine and dine it up.

A fabulous sunset view from the Oualie Beach Resort.

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