Thursday, May 22, 2008

BCD in STX: Part 2

by Erin and Xani

After the first half of the week in St. Croix, Xani and Mike were done with their work obligations and it was time for us to explore the island! We had heard about a burger place called Off the Wall Bar & Grill, rumored to have great burgers and pizza, where they take the phrase "no shoes, no shirt, no problem" quite literally. We hopped in our rental car, stayed to the left, and headed to the central northern shore (getting lost along the way, of course).

We pulled up and saw picnic tables in the sand and the surf splashing up about 10 feet away. We took a seat at one of the multi-colored picnic tables and ordered some ice cold Cokes and some chips and salsa. There's nothing like a Coke on a hot day with your toes in the sand!

Although the pizzas looked good, we all ordered cheeseburgers since we had heard the burgers were really good and our hopes were high. The verdict? They were great! The patties were definitely hand-formed, the cheese was melty, and the burgers were cooked well, though a bit overdone (more like medium instead of the medium-rare we ordered). The sesame-seed buns were toasted really nicely and added a nice extra crunch to each bite. According to Xani's ongoing Burger Rating System, she gives the burger an 8 out of 10 burgers. Not bad!

We hung around near the water for a few minutes and then hopped back in the car to return to the resort.

We ended up getting a late start for lunch, so by the time we got back to the resort, it was nearly 5:00pm. We went down to the beach near our room for a few minutes, just in time for sunset. It was so beautiful, we couldn't resist having a little photo shoot!

We weren't hungry for dinner again until well after 9:00pm, when everything closes, so what did we do for dinner? We shared a Coke. Mmm, 60-calorie dinner.

The next day, we went on an all-day boating and snorkeling trip!! We went with a company called Big Beard's, which Xani originally heard about through a Chowhound thread, and it was sooo great. We got super-lucky and there were only 8 of us on the boat (which could have held 27 people)! We headed out to Buck Island, an island to the north of St. Croix with a reef on the west side. First we went to Turtle Beach on the east side of the island to try out our snorkeling gear and enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean! Next, we headed over to the reef, which is a National Park, and began the snorkeling! It was incredible - we saw so many kinds of fish, including a HUGE school of beautiful blue fish, some barracuda, a few squid, a conch (which Xani almost stole but then realized (a) there was a living creature in it, and (b) as a National Park, it was probably a violation to take anything), among many others we can't name.

After snorkeling, we sailed to a private beach for a lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled mahi, and rum punch, while surrounded by mongoose (the squirrels of the Caribbean). We played in a the clear, bright-blue water for a while longer, and then returned to port in Christiansted.

We returned to the resort, assessed the severity of our sunburns (status: SEVERE; bright, angry red skin), and relaxed for a bit before our last dinner in St. Croix. We chose to go back into Christiansted for dinner, and ended up at Zebo's Wine Bar, an open-air wine bar with a delicious-looking menu. Again, we ordered a bunch of starters instead of any main dishes. First, we ordered Local Spiny Lobster Ceviche, with lobster marinated in lime, garlic, cilantro, red onion, bell pepper, and ginger, served in a crispy wonton cup. Unfortunately, we found the ceviche to be pretty bland, though the crispy wonton was an interesting touch.

Next, we got the Spicy Grilled Scallops, which were coated in a spice mixture and served atop a parmesan-basil risotto cake and drizzled with a mango gastrique. This was a great dish, and EP's favorite. The scallops had great flavor from the spice, and the risotto was cooked to a perfect al dente.

Next, we ordered the Mediterranean Calamari, which was interesting because the calamari was neither fried nor grilled, but rather it was marinated with kalamata olives, roasted red pepper, pepperoncini, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta cheese. The squid was very tender and took on a lot of the flavors, including the flavor of the balsamic vinaigrette.

Then we had the Duck Napoleon, which was layers of duck confit, goat cheese, and crispy wontons. The napoleon was served over greens with a blueberry-truffle vinaigrette and crispy leeks. This dish was interesting but not amazing.

We wanted to order the Sweetbreads, but they were out. Then we wanted to order a Local Sweet Potato Salad, but they were out of that too. We ended up getting the Tomato Tower, which was a "tower" made of local tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic syrup. The tomatoes were great and fresh, and the mozzarella was creamy and light. A very good caprese salad indeed.

For dessert, we bypassed the creme brulee and tiramisu and went for the classic: vanilla ice cream. Mmmm!

It was a wonderful and relaxing trip, and we had some great meals along the way. Our sunburns have faded (a bit), and we are glad to be back in Charm City, but we certainly miss the beach!

Happy travels,

EP & X

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

BCD in STX: Part 1

by Erin and Xani

We're back from paradise! We had a great time and a few good meals over the week. While Xani and co-worker Mike worked for the first few days, EP explored the resort and enjoyed the beach and the palm trees. But once Wednesday afternoon came around, everyone was on vacation! We explored the island and went snorkeling on the reef! Stay tuned for more about the second half of our trip in a post coming soon...

When we landed in St. Croix, we departed our tiny plane and felt the heat and humidity immediately! STX is a tiny island with a few quirky features: first, they drive on the left (a big thank you to Mike who drove the whole time and mastered the windy roads!); second, everything closes early (6:00 for stores, 9:00 for restaurants - no late-night dining for us!); third, there are very few signs on the roads and its difficult to find anything, anywhere; fourth, everyone is on island time, mon. The last one we could handle; the others took some getting used to!

We arrived at our hotel, the Buccaneer, checked into our tennis villas, and then headed down to the beach-side cafe called The Mermaid.

The view from our room

We were starving after our flights and wanted to try some local fare. First we ordered drinks and the conch fritters, which were a lot heavier and dough-ier than we were expecting. They were also served atop a bunch of sauces, one of which was ketchup...hmm. I don't think that's traditional? But whatever.

Beer from the nearby St. John

Conch fritters

Then Mike and EP ordered the cuban sandwich, and Xani ordered the Mediterranean plate with hummus, veggies, and a couscous salad. The cubans were delicious: cheesy, meaty, and crispy on the outside. The fries were "meh." Xani's hummus was surprisingly delicious, though the couscous was pretty bland.


Mediterranean plate

For dessert, we ordered their layered sorbet, with raspberry, mango, and coconut sorbets, or so they claimed. The sorbets were good but not amazing. The amazing part was the SAUCE on the plate! It was a delicious mango sauce that was so good, Mike literally licked his plate clean.

After lunch we relaxed on the beach for a while even though it was late in the day.

Then we retired to our rooms, where we quickly discovered that the TV channel selection sucked: no Food Network, and no BRAVO! Gasp! So, we called the concierge, and they brought us a DVD player, and we watched The Wire all week. Whew - crisis averted.

Our second night there, we went to an absolutely wonderful restaurant called ¡Salud! ¡Salud! is a "Mediterranean bistro" with a comfortable but upscale vibe.

Instead of ordering main dishes, we ordered a bunch of appetizers and a salad. But first, we got some delicious bread and olive oil (garnished with a mustard "S" - cute!).

One of the first things that arrived was the Pork Rillettes, described as "potted pork paté served with whole grain mustard, cornichons, and sour cherry chutney." The pork was very flavorful and rich (in a good way - yay pork fat!), and went beautifully with the sweetness of the sour cherry chutney, or the tanginess of the mustard. Everything was served on crunchy crostini, which added yet another dimension of texture.

Then we had the Cornmeal Dusted Fried Calamari, which was also excellent. The cornmeal coating added great texture and reminded us of the fried oysters and clams we've made at home. Mmm...calamari is the best! (Sorry, no good pics of the calamari...) Next we enjoyed "Salud's Decadent Mac and Cheese." Why is it decadent, you ask? Because in addition to the lovely cheesiness, it is made with mushrooms and truffle oil! Yum!! It was very decadent and totally irresistible.

Our most favorite dish of the meal, however, was the Mediterranean Meze Platter, which included hummus, baba ghanoush, white bean roasted garlic spread, spicy feta dip, and fried chickpeas. OMG this was amazing!! The baba ghanoush was some of the best we've ever had, and the spicy feta dip was very unique and very delicious.

To give our arteries a brief break, we ordered the Panzanella Salad, made with greens, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, olives, and of course, delicious homemade croutons. While this was good, it paled in comparison to everything else we ordered.

One of the benefits of ordering a few starters instead of full meals is that you are more likely to have room for dessert! We each ordered something: Mike ordered the Mango Cobbler, topped with homemade shortbread and vanilla ice cream; Xani ordered the Homemade Profiterole, with toasted almond brown butter semifreddo and cardamom caramel sauce; and Erin ordered the Tres Leches Cake, soaked with coconut rum cream sauce and topped with toasted coconut. All of the desserts were great, but Xani's dessert was delicous and so unique. The profiterole was crunchy and the semifreddo was not too icy and had the toasted almonds in it, and then the caramel cardamom sauce was such a great accompaniment. We are drooling as we write this! We need to get this chef to open a restaurant in Baltimore - stat!

Mango cobbler

Profiterole with toasted almond semifreddo and cardamom caramel

Tres leches cake

It was a great meal in St. Croix, with so many delicious and interesting dishes. We were discussing the unexpected presence of Mediterranean and middle eastern foods in St. Croix, and we later learned that in the 1700s, when the Danes bought the island, they were very tolerant of different religions, and attracted a small population of Spanish Sephardic Jews. Who knew?

Stay tuned for another STX post about the second half of our vacation coming soon! And thanks to everyone for all the comments! We missed you and we're glad to be back where things are NORMAL!

Happy travels,

EP & X

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