Sunday, November 30, 2008

St. Lucia Surprise – SILK

Fine Dining at Coconut Bay Resort

Never been to an all-inclusive resort, and frankly, wasn’t expecting much from the food. “Mon,”as they say on the island, was I surprised by Coconut Bay Resort in St. Lucia.

Arrivals are greeted with a glass of champagne. Nice touch.

First evening, I chose a roti from the buffet, something I always order at the Soggy Dollar Bar in the BVI’s. The folded wrap is traditional Caribbean food: curried chicken and potatoes, perhaps green pepper and carrots within a thin shell similar to a tortilla. The dish is usually served with chutney, a green salad and plantains. Yum, that roti, along with a pina colada, put me in a laid-back mood.

Next morning I found a lavish self-service breakfast. Who wouldn't be happy with fresh fruit, ham, bacon, sausage, eggs any style, including a casserole similar to the one I make on Christmas morning? Pancakes, waffles, French toast, breads, Danish, bagels, croissants, hot and cold cereals, OJ and coffee or tea were also available. More than needed.

Later, my group went to one of the two onsite reservation necessary restaurants. Guests call to book a table, those with children must be finished by 7:30, or opt for the buffet. We chose Bellagio’s, the Italian Restaurant and I confess I feasted on insalata, mushroom ravioli, and tiramisu. La bella notte.

Sunrise brought a planned hike up the Gros Piton (2,619 feet to be exact). The resort packed goodies to eat enroute (you must start early due to the heat) and an apple saved me about half way up. I struggled to climb to the top—but once there--what a panorama.

Assured that I’d burned a couple thousand calories, I felt I’d earned the right to eat anything I wanted. So, I relaxed and reveled on the beauties and diversity of St. Lucia and then consumed a spectacular meal at SILK, another restaurant on the all-inclusive plan.

Honestly, I’ve never chopsticked my way through better Chinese- anywhere, and that includes Chinatown in San Francisco. I started with hot and sour soup, a bowl of joy: tangy, with a spicy kick, unlike watery Won-Ton. Threads of burnt umber laced the broth presented in a charcoal colored bowl with a small flower floating in the center. The soup was as luxurious as cashmere or the restaurant’s name-- Silk.

Crispy chicken wings appeared next, exploding with heat but not fire. No way to eat these fried morsels except finger licking.

My entrée, a trio of sesame beef kabob, sweet and sour chicken and garlic shrimp, was artfully presented in a hollow bamboo container, accompanied by a mound of steaming rice. The shrimps were tender, succulent and garlicky. This dish alone would demand a return visit, if Coconut Bay were in my hometown

Dessert starred Chocolate Delight, a double-wide dark cocoa truffle, the consistency of ganache, which melted on my tongue with momentary bitterness, then burst into semi-sweetness. Just one bite was all that was needed to end an eventful day and our soiree.

Other meals included a cheeseburger at the outdoor poolside grill and a western themed supper around the moonlit deck. The hotel staff danced the two-step and boot scootin’ boogie like pros. Apparently GI’s stationed on St. Lucia during WWII introduced country music and the residents adopted the western sound into their culture.

My recommendations: Anyone going to St Lucia should dine at Silk. I’d also encourage a hike at least half way up the Gros Piton for the photo worthy view. If you can’t manage the difficult terrain, drive to the lighthouse at sunset. And if you are fortunate enough to stay at Coconut Bay during a full moon, you’ll bask in one of the most romantic places on the island.

Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa, St Lucia


West Indian Chicken Roti Recipe

As Adapted by Debi Lander from A Week at Sandcastle

Roti Filling

2 pounds boneless chicken thigh meat

1 Tbsp curry powder

1 Tbsp oil

1 small onion

2 cloves minced garlic

1 small green pepper

1 small red pepper

1 sprig thyme

2 pounds peeled and cubed potatoes

2 Cups water

2 cans drained chickpeas

Heat oil in saucepan and fry curry powder for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Cut up chicken and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken to curry powder and cook for 3 to 5 minutes more. Add all the other ingredients and continue to simmer. Stir frequently until potatoes are soft and sauce is thickened. Spoon into Roti skins and fold like an envelope. Serve with mango chutney.

Roti Skins

2 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 Tablespoons butter

¾ cup water

1 cup oil

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cumin

Salt to taste

Mix flour, baking powder and butter.

Add water, turmeric, cumin and salt.

Knead to form soft elastic but not sticky dough.

Cut into 6 pieces.

Roll dough out thinly, brush on oil and sprinkle on a pinch of flour.

Fold in half, then a quarter, then roll into a ball.

Let sit for 10 minutes.

Roll dough out again and place on a hot griddle.

Brush on oil as needed and turn frequently.

Remove roti and clap with both hands until pliable.

Fold and place on waxed paper.

Stuff with roti filling and serve or reheat later.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mrs. Wilkes Boardinghouse Restaurant

Savannah, Georgia

Every weekday, hungry folks wait in line for a table in Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. By 11:30, the crowd snakes around the corner of brick paved Jones Street, in heart of Savannah. No reservations are taken and no credit cards accepted.

Mrs. Wilkes restaurant was legendary, long before John Berendt’s, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, hit the bestseller list. His story included references to the boardinghouse food and my husband and I wanted a sample.

Being just a party of two, were quickly called to the front of the line. By tradition, the restaurant seats and serves family style; so this was our lucky day.

We entered a ground level room with a low hanging ceiling, giving it a cozy close feel, like dining at grandma’s house. Oilcloth covered tables were laden with so many side dishes, I lost count. In front of me rested bowls of lima beans, coleslaw, yellow squash, black- eyed peas, pickled beets, mashed potatoes and gravy. Next to Jay, an bevy of containers were brimming with beef stew, barbequed pork, succotash, collard greens, corn bread stuffing (called dressing in the South), mashed sweet potatoes, creamed corn, macaroni and cheese, tomato and okra gumbo and biscuits.

The server filled glasses with sweet iced tea and took orders from non-southerners who desired the unsweetened version or water. But our attention turned to the high-piled platter of fried chicken being presented. This entree was still sending off currents of hot steam and, I believe, made some folks drool.

The poultry gleamed golden brown, lightly breaded, not greasy. Without hesitation, customers, really more like guests, began politely digging into the feast. And, no wonder Jim Williams (of the famous book) had food from Mrs. Wilkes delivered to his prison cell. This chicken oozed finger licking goodness, as should a James Beard Award winner.

Seated with us were friendly strangers: a retired couple traveling the USA in their pick up truck, another retired couple who had piloted and flown in on a small plane, just to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes, and a third couple from Arizona, vacationing in the historic city.

We quickly got to know each other while consuming delicious mouthfuls and trading opinions on the meal. The offerings were passed a second time; but only one or two took extras. I considered a spoonful of the yams, a sweet intriguing mingle of spices and raisins. I just had to ask about the recipe and was told it included coconut.

Before long, dessert was served, a small dish of creamy banana pudding, finishing the yummy, but hardly heart-healthy, banquet.

Traditionally all diners at Mrs. Wilkes carry their own plates to the kitchen. Then they pay in cash on their way out. The luncheon costs sixteen dollars, a bargain that lasted me the rest of the day.

Mrs. Sema Wilkes was a dearly beloved woman who passed away in 2002 at age 95. She took over the boardinghouse in 1943 and worked hard to maintain it all those years.

Her great-grandson Ryon Thompson now manages the establishment, along with help from his mother, Mrs. Wilkes granddaughter, and her husband. They keep about 200 long-term customers and tourists happy by preparing the original, time-tested menus and recipes.

The cuisine is not gourmet, and it never intended to be. But, you can’t find a more authentic home-cooked southern spread anywhere. Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is an unpretentious and cherished Savannah shrine worthy of a visit and, however long, a wait in line.

If you go:

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is located in the historic district.

107 West Jones Street, Savannah, Georgia

912 232 5997

Here is a perfect Thanksgiving recipe from Mrs. Wilkes Boardinghouse Cookbook. In fact, Mrs. Wilkes used to say, “a lot of people buy my cookbook just to get this recipe.” Add me to that list.

Sweet Potato Soufflé

4 pounds sweet potatoes, pared and sliced

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

½ cup raisins

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ cup evaporated milk

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup butter or margarine, melted

½ cup shredded coconut

Miniature marshmallows

Place the potatoes in a pot and add enough salted water to cover. Cook until tender. Drain. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mash and whip the potatoes. Add the remaining ingredients (except marshmallows) and mix well. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with marshmallows. Return t the oven and continue cooking until brown. Serves 8. (Except if you have as many side dishes as Mrs. Wilkes, it will likely serve more!)