Passions: more theater than dinner
We sat on the beach, under a palm-shade-table thing, from 10 am until 4 pm. We lunched on bitterballen, which are a feat of engineering that takes spoonfuls of sweet, fatty pork ragout and deep-fries them in a crunchy breaded batter.
I've never had anything like them, and I want them again. All the time. Like right now.
We watched the sun set across the ocean, and then we went for dinner at Passions, the hotel's restaurant located on the beach, all white tablecloths and linen-upholstered chairs and tiki torches.
And that's where everything started to go downhill.
First, they didn't have a reservation for us. Well, they did, but it was for next week (the guy we'd emailed had corrected it in a message to us, but not changed the date in the book). Luckily, they were able to seat us by splitting up a four-top, and we ended up in the front row, with a ringside view of the ocean (and the occasional ATVs that roared along the shore).
The menu was yet more surf and turf, with plenty of shrimp dishes thrown in. The Boy, being allergic to, as he puts it, "anything that wears its skeleton on the outside," was therefore limited in his choices. As someone who has suffered too many poorly cooked steaks and defrosted shrimp, I was also hoping for something more.
Yes, we did look at the menu in advance, but I guess we were seduced by promises of "the soft light of torches all around you [...] the soft sound of waves caressing the shore" and therefore not thinking straight.
We began with glasses of Veuve Cliquot, and were further seduced by the experience of drinking champagne with our bare feet in the sand. And then I ordered the Aruban seafood soup, and The Boy asked what was in the ceviche.
"Fish," said our friendly Dutch waitron. So he ordered the ceviche.
Which came garnished with a fat, thumb-sized shrimp. So he explained, and she apologized, and dashed off to the kitchen for his second choice, a chilled watermelon salad. When she came back, she apologized some more and said, "The cook said I should remember to always say seafood, not just fish!" Well, hey, we live and learn.
My soup was not bad: a rich, tomato-cream broth that was somewhat oversalted but still tasty. A first exploration into its depths revealed baby squid and tiny shrimp; subsequent spoonfuls dredged up meatless shards of shell and chewy mussels in equal number. The Boy did better with his salad of sweet, ripe watermelon tossed with romaine and a pungent feta, though the abundance of chili oil threatened to overwhelm. Fresh ginger would have made a better foil.
Time passed. We watched the waves thunder against the shore and studied the constellations in the clear night sky.
Eventually, our waitron cleared the plates.
Time passed. We exchanged obligatory "please take our photo" requests with the middle-aged Dutch couple next to us (note half-watermelon used as subtle salad container).
And the entrees arrived. The Boy had opted for the grouper with pesto, it being the only non surf/turf item that didn't threaten shrimp. I had the catch of the day--red snapper--grilled with cumin.
(When we ordered, the waitron had paused in her description and asked, "Do you know what cumin is?" as though spice illiteracy was prevalent among the restaurant's clientele. Then again, she'd also seemed flustered when I declined the starch options. "But it comes with rice or baked potato," she'd explained. "You can have either. Really? Not at all?")
The Boy again fared slightly better; his fish was moist and flaky. Mine, alas, was dry, bony, sad, the cumin adding little to the flavor. On the side was a half of a fruit neither of us could identify; in fairness, we were dining by tiki-light at this point. The one saving grace was that the greens (possibly kale) were raw and tossed in a sweet tomato confit--the most creative thing on the plate.
Time passed. The tables around us started to empty. We stared out at the dark horizon, where ships, visible only by their lights, seemed to float in midair.
Time passed. We started to wonder whether the shapes near the shore were evil crabs lying in wait or just piles of sand caught in the flickering torchlight.
Time passed. The annoying table of loud Americans behind us got louder and louder. A young boy (also American, but from a different table) chose to stand in front of us while he peed into the ocean.
Time passed. We wondered whether the evil crabs had dragged our waitron into the thundering waters.
Some 45 minutes later, a busboy wandered over to refill our water glasses, took our plates and asked if we wanted to see the dessert menu. We'd guessed it was the usual selection (tiramisu, key lime cheesecake, somekind of tropical sorbet) and so declined.
Okay, it wasn't a terrible experience. We should doubtless expect island-time service in the Caribbean, and it was nice not to be rushed so they could turn over the table. And our waitron was pleasant and considerate enough--while she was around.
But we had the feeling the place was coasting on the theatrical aspect; 95% of what made the evening different was the location, the atmosphere, making it, in many ways, not that much different from the bad food at Medieval Manor or at some Tony-and-Tina's-stereotypical-Italian-wedding event.
It's probably not fair of me to compare this dinner with those of previous birthdays (at Clio, Craigie Street Bistro, Radius); this is not Boston. And the weather alone makes me glad about that. I feel a little ungracious, a little ungrateful, to criticize an evening spent surfside, in a sleeveless dress and bare feet, when the alternative would involve bundling up in several layers to brave the freezing January night.
But still: while this was not the worst birthday ever--not by a long shot--I think The Boy would agree with me that this was, without doubt, the worst birthday dinner ever.
But today is a new day, and we're thinking about visiting the ostrich farm. For lunch.