Our thoughts are with Provo and the rest of the Turks and Caicos islands today.
I’ve never watched the weather channel before today. I didnt even know what channel it is. Today we are watching it nonstop and I’m just sick to my stomach. Hang in there everyone, and stay safe.
Turks and Caicos
On my first night in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos a couple of months ago I had a Provo nightmare. It started fine, with me walking on the beach with people that I didnt come here with. All sorts of random people, like my high school music teacher. But things turned at some point, to the point where I was awoken with a little sweat slowly dripping down my forehead. On our little walk, we lost track of time, and I missed breakfast time! Which also meant I missed Seven Stars’ new omelette station. Yes, the Provo nightmare is a little more subdued than regular nightmares we have at home. During a dream last night, my oldest fell from the roof of Madison Square Garden on a sled. Long story!
But lets get straight to eating. The biggest takeaway from the last trip is that we should start limiting trying new places. As much as I try to find some new spots for you and me, this is just not working. The old guys just keep chugging along, while new places, and especially resort places keep pretending and delivering odd experiences. There’s one exception however.
Caicos Cafe – Nothing new here. Our usual first and last stop. But I start to get the sense that these guys wont be around here for too long. Wahoo Carpaccio is the same sea butter awesomeness self. Got two grilled calamaris this time to avoid World War Z. The lobster Fra Diavola didn’t do it for me this time around. Just missing some of that old pop. But the old Oriechiette with pork sausage ragu is back with a vengeance, showing very nice depth. The Octopus starter here is a slap your sister wowster! Brilliantly cooked on top of this delicious “I can’t believe this is not hummus” chickpea mousse. Black Tagliolini continues to be a must, and the steak and ribs are very underrated here.
Solana – In NYC, during my Hell’s Kitchen walks, I show visitors the various Thai restaurants and how to tell between the good and not so good. A big clue is in the looks department. The ones that look like dingy dives are far better than those with sexy looking rooms with expensive chandeliers. Such is the case in some cases with Provo, and especially with Solana taking the place of EWZ fave Seaside. A marked improvement in the looks dept, with dumbed-down food. The blackened fish sandwich is the same Swai as before but not blackened enough, hence blander. An “award winning” Conch salad paled in comparison to Seaside’s Peruvian conch salad. Fried Calamari plate looked gorgeous, but a quality and quantity fail. This is owned by the Vix group people, and I just dont think they care about ingredients nearly as much as looks.
Flamingo’s – The only news here is that they now accept CC. In other news, the Curried Grouper is still the same melt in your mouth flaky goodness. An island classic that requires some research (like reading this blog) to know about it. This time we also did some dirty dancing with a fine jerk chicken and passable ribs. But you come here for lunch for the grouper and rum punch.
Le Bouchon – Nothing to see here, move a long. Another great meal at good ol’ reliable LB. They keep experimenting (on me sometimes), stretching that menu, and stretching that sidewalk to the point that no one can see the board anymore. Soups are still great. Escargot is still perfection. Octopus Carpaccio is outrageous (but not cheap). The steps to produce it read like IKEA instructions. Au poivre still rules the island Games of Steak. And on this night a nice crispy snapper with buttery Beurre Blanc sauce.
Simone’s – The strong exception as far as new places go. We tried it for lunch last time and liked it enough to come back for dinner. Its the resort area Three Queens if you will, but still a small schlep from the hub to La Vista Azul resort. Simone, formerly with Sharkbites, is a sweetheart, and treats family like customer! Oh wait, I think I got it backwards. The “Conch Ceviche”, now that Seaside is gone, perhaps the Conch Salad to beat. A beefy fresh Wahoo, like a thick and juicy, flavor packed Swordfish. Local fishermen dine here both times we were here.
Thai Orchid – If you follow this blog, you know how much I love Thai food. So it may sound odd that this is my first time trying Thai Orchid in Provo, but really it shouldnt be. Crispy Duck was exactly what I expected. Crispy, understandably dry, but quite good especially once you add some chili sauce. A lot of nice flavorful crackling action. The Snapper Choo Chee was pretty good too. It’s a thicker, dryer red curry. With a fresher Caicos Snapper it would have been a chooooo chooooo! instead of choo chee. Ok, I try.
Chinson’s – Goat curry fix, Check. Spiciest goat curry out there, which is surprising considering how sweet their Chinese fried rice is and other dishes. Jerk chicken was on point. But the best thing surprisingly was a pulled pork sandwich. Heaps of juicy pork with a sweetish and sour sauce. Note to self, again… you dont like ginger beer! Chinson is now on the regular rotation, graduating perhaps into dinner next
Cocovan – A new addition to the Coco Bistro family, an Airstream parked in the CB parking lot operating only at dinner time. Perhaps a play on words on Coq au vin. Love CB, but didnt love, nor quite frankly got Cocovan. The Shrimp tacos were meh. Didn’t taste much shrimp, nor blackened, nor “coconut hummus”. Duck tacos were more like it if not a little dry. Sweet and sour Caicos lobster tasted like fine rock shrimp tempura. Lamb lollipops tasted like an average, slightly overcooked baby lamb chops you get at your nearest kebab house with an $8 per lollipop price tag. 20 mins, $120 later with some of us still hungry, now what do you do. It felt like an overpriced resort lunch with familiar flavors to me, but I have no doubt this will be popular. I would rather go to something local like Caravel. Or perhaps a niche player, serving fresh fish tacos, or high quality burgers.
Hemingway’s – If there’s one place that feels like home. Our first meal on the island over 10 years ago, and nothing changed. That includes the women running the front who see our girls grow and hairline shrink. We come here for lunch and order just two things, fish tacos and fish and chips
Pavilion – First visit to the newish (2 years?) fine dining at the Somerset, in the old O’soleil (aka O’SoSmall?) place. Hits and misses throughout, and essentially a one and done deal for us. Good conch spring rolls. Tasty Poke style tuna cubes sitting on top of avocado that was not fresh, with even less fresh banana chips on the side. C’mon, at a place like this you can’t serve this. Well cooked, supersized lobster was the star of show, beating the snapper. Grouper, a major fail. Crispy battered into a mushy, oversized fish and chip gone horribly wrong. Ambiance of a typical hotel restaurant.
Sweet T’s – Fried chicken stop on the way to the airport. Best value on the island
Stay hungry my friends!
February 6th, 2017 Update:
Coming to the island this time without my big boy camera felt weird but liberating. It was also a way to say, “we are just going to our other home, and dont get overly excited anymore”. And at that other home, one of the missions is to find the homey places where everyone knows your name and your kids can run around naked. As long as the food is a full notch above acceptable of course. Simone’s is becoming that kind of place. On our last dinner there we were the only secondary homeys there. A bunch of locals hugging the terrace, including my favorite kind of locals, fishermen. Two of them in fact. Would local fishermen dine at a place serving frozen fish from Miami? Would Urologists get Vasectomized by B grade Urologists? That is the question one must ask. Although on this date, as was…
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This is not a drill. A big update to that Provo eating itinerary you’ve been so anxiously waiting for. We keep trying new places with mixed results. And while Provo can use a few more cheap options near the resorts, there’s still no shortage. At least not until they sell Caicos Cafe or Le Bouchon. Those Islanders can get restless sometimes, and decide to move on on a whim, a la Seaside Cafe which closed last fall. The talented Francois is dishing them out in Opus these days, which means its to revisit soon. Until next time.
I’ve got a bunch of suggestions, corrections, hate mail, marriage proposals, etc etc since the last update which was only a few weeks ago. So I had to update it yet again. Keep in mind that things are constantly changing on the island, but this is the last update for the time being
Update to SS guide. More food, more pictures, more awesomeness…
Updated May 28, 2016 (after visit #12)
So you decided to book the Seven Stars in Turks and Caicos. Mazal Tov!! And now what? Not quite sure what to do? Got that deer in headlights look after all those All Inclusive trips? Time to change that to Raccoon in fresh Indian leftover garbage can look. Or something like that.. you know what I mean. Here are some tips that should enhance your stay. Some of these are my own opinions by the way so save the hate mail and voodoo. I occasionally have friends and family stay here so I’m partially doing this to save time writing stuff for them.
Airport – first things first, get your island reading material. After customs, go straight to the stand on your left to pick your free copy of the Where When How Magazine and Dining Guide. Dont be surprised to see my…
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Our latest food adventure on our favorite home
away from home. I didnt take too many pictures, and on some evenings at the regular spots I didnt even take my camera (it felt like its time). But this was yet another fun trip, with good food for the most part. To some of the regulars these mentions may become tiresome, but I did have enough new dishes at most that moved me (yes moved)
Sweet T’s – Our new regular first stop driving from the airport. $6 chicken (12 pieces), $2 fries, $2 drinks, eating the chicken in the car while ducking every time a Grace Bay Rental employee shows up, priceless!
Caicos Cafe – The prerequisite double meal at Caicos Cafe. A lot of changes on the menu since the last visit not surprisingly (knowing chef “Mad” Max). Old fave Tagliolini got a tan. It’s now a sweeter tasting pasta by way of the squid ink. Grilled Calamari and the Gnocchi are a must get from day one, while the fall off the fork ribs are heading to that direction as well. On the second visit I “Scarpetta’d” the shi&$t out of the calamari plate with their homemade bread, to the point of an unrecognized spotless clean dish. Grouper, when on the board, you will not find a better preparation on the island. Loved the conch and grouper chowder this time. Goat cheese with butternut salad in a pastry was perhaps the best new app discovery.
Mad Max also does a decent steak. Peppercorn expectedly not as creamy as Le Bouchon, but more peppery. Good ol’ Orrechiette (aka Mike Tyson’s fave) has finally been replaced by Pacheri, large rolled tube shape, when unrolled they are like Pappardelle with balls. But it’s more like a crazy salad than pasta, fully loaded with peppers, sausages, zucchini, a cold small mozzarella ball in the center, and more. Gorgeous dish. Had a nice semi dry white from Naples – forgot the name of the grape, not something I heard of before. That’s one region we haven’t explored yet. Iced mousse with chocolate and coconut mousse, like the island version of Semifreddo. The lone miss this time was the grouper ravioli, but I’m not a fan of fish ravioli to begin with
Caravel – This is one of my favorite newish local spots. We had a nice lunch here two months after they opened, and now back for dinner. They are no longer open for lunch after they realized they are not on the water! Very welcoming, and comfortable from the friendly husband, wife, and friends team. The soups here are very strong, particularly the white chowder. Good blackened snapper, while jerk pork loin less successful. But the star here again were those unusual fried fish tacos. I would love to see more Caribbean specialties on the menu, like goat and oxtail. Owner cooked at Amanyara, Mr Grouper’s, Fresh Catch and finally now his very own restaurant, but something tells me he has more tricks up his sleeve
Hemingways – We had fish tacos at 4 different places on this trip including the famous Somewhere, and to me the Hemingway’s tacos are still the ones to beat. Perfectly flaky, nicely seasoned grouper with a nice tang from the mango salsa. Same goes for the fish & chips, a must for us on every visit. Hemingway’s was our first meal in TCI 10 years ago, and still going strong. Hard to beat this setting for lunch
Julien’s Deli – Stop by before the flight (give it some time) got sandwiches and leave it to Julien, your Le Bouchon host, to make your return flight easier. You will have the best food on the plane
Le Bouchon – I saw an ad on the bus today for Jimmy Kimmel for Vice President, “A good, solid #2”. This is essentially Le Bouchon for me, though they can be easily #1 if they feel like it. This is the only none ‘local’ place on the island where locals and expats outnumber visitors. Tuna tartar, nothing short of spectacular, as only the French can do. Escargot, now that the kids are obsessed with escargot (seriously I’m raising freaks) we should start getting two of those. Lets just say I enjoyed the bread :-(. The head cheese-like Octopus Carpaccio… angels singing. Get this. The now legendary Steak au Poivre is still the steak to beat. Two perfectly seared scallops on creamy saffron risotto was on point. A beautifully done yellowfin tuna (left), so light and flavorful (once you add the sauce). Perhaps the best LB meal to date.
Conch Shack – We forgot how much fun this place can be. And the food here is good enough to make it a regular again. Conch rules much of the menu, but make sure to get the jerk wings with the homemade sauce. The sauce is one of those sauces that make you dip anything and everything in it. Peas, rice, beans, fingers, car keys, it’s all good. The blackened fish make-yourself tacos are fine. Basic conch salad. And Conch Creole was like the homey tomato based stew your grandma would make if she was into conch (like the coolest grandma ever). You cant get a better setting, and “welcome to provo” than this
Vix – New management, new chef, new menu, new mediocrity? The place and flavors just did not come through for us. The frozen packaged tasting gnocchi looked better on the menu than on the plate. The very basic Caesar salad can use some tips from Mark from Lupo nearby. The spicy Pasta Rusta’s heat was the only thing you taste after a few bites. Just pure senseless heat. Lamb Shank was fall off the bone alright but became boring in a hurry. The snapper, cooked creole style was the saving grace. One and dont!
Bugaloos – Another regular stop. Conch salad is noticeably fresher here, though its not so much freshness, but who chops it fresh for each order. A misunderstanding that we could have corrected but chose not to, left us with a mammoth $85 snapper that we all shared and couldn’t finish. They got the freshest snappers, and other than the broth a little saltier this time, we enjoyed this again. Coconut cracked conch is fine, much prefer the raw goodness. “Service can be slow at time” is becoming the norm, but who cares.
Bella Luna Pizza – Stayed in one night to watch Hockey playoffs (the only thing I like more than food). Thin, underdone, soggy, super cheesy, desperate need for seasoning, but other than that, we loved it!
Simone’s – Considering this is the first place I wrote about when we came back, yes we liked this newcomer quite a bit. It wasnt perfect, but very very promising.
Infiniti Bar – This is becoming a favorite for pre-dinner drinks, and sunset. The drinks are good, and they give you popcorn!
Somewhere – Infamous fish tacos were much better this time, so I’m finally on board. But something tells me the best thing on the menu is the the fish fajitas especially when they have fresh snapper. Our friends ordered it, and it looked and smelled amazing. Ex-friends I should say, since they didnt offer me any!
Seaside – As long as Francois is at the helm, I’ll continue to come. But out of my favorites, I have the lowest confidence when recommending Seaside, mainly because it doesnt have much of an atmosphere. Blackened Mahi was nicely cooked. Not the biggest mahi fan, but this one worked. A nice new addition to the menu is the excellent open faced ravioli with bay scallops, conch, shrimp, mahi, some truffle oil and mushrooms. The elusive “South American” (aka Peruvian) conch salad, still the best conch salad on the island.
The latest update to How To Gain 7 Pounds in 7 Days and still look fabulous. Without the looking fabulous part
February 6th, 2017 Update:
Coming to the island this time without my big boy camera felt weird but liberating. It was also a way to say, “we are just going to our other home, and dont get overly excited anymore”. And at that other home, one of the missions is to find the homey places where everyone knows your name and your kids can run around naked. As long as the food is a full notch above acceptable of course. Simone’s is becoming that kind of place. On our last dinner there we were the only secondary homeys there. A bunch of locals hugging the terrace, including my favorite kind of locals, fishermen. Two of them in fact. Would local fishermen dine at a place serving frozen fish from Miami? Would Urologists get Vasectomized by B grade Urologists? That is the question one must ask. Although on this date, as was the theme this week, Wahoo was the catch of the day, but boy was it good. A beefy consistency as expected, without crossing the dryness line as Wahoo often does.
I would come back just for the Wahoo. But not without the “Conch Ceviche” first which is essentially fancy for Conch Salad. With its heaps of fresh veggies and heat, this may be the closest to Seaside’s Peruvian conch salad (RIP) today. Here you also control your own destiny with an extra spoonful of Scotch Bonnet hidden below the lime. The Seafood Chowder is another great one to add to the ever growing list of Island chowders. This is a light, well balanced, full bodied white with delightful fishy notes. The fine lobster, and curry snapper again, rounded another fine meal at this Three Queens of the resorts area. Certainly not for those looking for full service, consistent, finer dining. Think of it as an easy going, eating at aunt Betsy type of place. Except in this case aunt Betsy can flat out bring it.
May 3rd, 2016 Post:
You can say we waited well over a year for the chef to show up. Back in 2014, we sat at the foot of mount La Vista Azul waiting for the chef of ‘The Wave’ from the team behind Ricky’s Flamingo’s (only one member so far: Ricky). “She is coming, stuck in traffic”. where is this traffic, Miami? We waited until the house ran out of Bambarra Coconut, and left to Chinson’s. Fast forward to December 2015, the place is now called Simone’s, and the head chef, coincidentally called Simone, is actually in the kitchen, not Miami, not Sunrise, not downtown Provo. Four months later, Simone is cranking out award worthy conch salads, fresh Groupers and Snappers.
As of this writing, Simone is in no man’s land on Trip Advisor. By the time you reach Simone on TA you either reach behemoths like Asu on the Beach, and Mookie Pookie Pizza Palace, or get finger tendinitis. After spending some time with her, I dont get the sense that Simone is too worried. Unlike some of her fellow counterparts, she is not going from table to table asking people to write TA reviews, nor she and her cousins busy injecting fake ones. She only care about two things: What people like, and what people dont like right now.
This is Simone’s first restaurant. But with over 15 years of cooking experience, including a long stint at nearby Sharkbite, she’s no stranger to the Provo restaurant world. Simone has friends with benefits… Fishermen! One of them was sitting by the door, just watching the world go by (I apologized when I walked by). ‘True’ Fish like freshly caught snappers and groupers can be a luxury at places like this. In the last few years fishing in Provo has been severely erratic due to changing weather patterns and government regulations in favor of sustainability. Even before all this, getting the correct fish that is listed on the menu has been a crapshoot everywhere. Ever wonder why that Grouper ‘Special’ you’ve been enjoying at Caicos Cafe and Three Queens is completely different than some of the other places you tried. That’s because it is. That’s either Swai or Tilapia you dealing with, with the former resembling the grouper more and an upgrade in taste and texture over the Tilapia.
Simone does not only promise to serve the proper fish, but will also tell you if its frozen. Location, and the the number of expats/locals frequenting Simone in the early going, suggest there could be some legitimacy to those promises. Location is significant driving distance from most resorts (significant in provo = more than 5 minutes), off the road, without any views of oceans or sunsets to speak of. Meaning the goal is for the food to take center stage. Another good ‘local’ sign is the plethora of rotating daily nightly specials like oxtail stew and Goulash!
So far so good on the food front. Other than the uneventful, dry ribs, everything we tried was solid. The conch fritters (the falafel of the sea) were light, just crunchy enough, and missing some of that greasiness you find elsewhere. The jerk wings were basic but satisfying. The curry snapper here can give Flamingo’s ‘Grouper’ a run for its money. Fresh, perfectly cooked flaky snapper, with thick mild green sauce with onions and peppers. Flamingo’s got the sauce, Simone got the fish. Combine them together and you got the cure to summertime sadness.
Mrs Z is not particularly fond of the conch salad/ceviche in general but tries them all (not by force) like a trooper. So when she declares “the best conch salad on the island”, everybody needs to pay attention. Spicy, tender, without the chewy rough stuff you normally find. Simone simply removes the not so tender parts. Some of the conch was as sweet as summer corn. And she provided some scotch bonnet salsa on the side for the white folks to add more heat as they please. Go!