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Monday, April 15, 2013

ARUBAN CUISINE AT QUEEN'S CARIBBEAN TURNS DINERS INTO FOODIES!


Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
Could our search for Aruban cuisine driven me to drink?
Hardly.
 As you can tell from my posts on Aruba, it is not so easy to find purely Aruban anything because the culture is an eclectic fusion of all the cultures that have lived and worked in Aruba beginning with the Arawak tribe from South America. Finding an Aruban restaurant is a task, but after repeatedly asking the concierge, “Where would you go for dinner if you were looking for Aruban food?” we finally had a few choices.  The first, and absolutely the best, was Queen's Caribbean.

Why such difficulty in finding Aruban cuisine?  Aruba was part of the Netherlands until becoming an independent country  within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1996, so, of course Dutch influence is felt.  Located only 15 miles from Venezuela, Aruba is influenced by South American culture.  For a long while, oil refineries were the main industry bringing experts from around the world, and with them came their comfort foods.  American influence is a result of the burgeoning tourist industry.  That goes back to the mid 20th century when Aruba was “discovered” by Elizabeth Taylor & friends around the time their playground in Cuba ended with Fidel Castro.  The resulting mixture is quite delicious.

Someplace along the way, Queen's Caribbean found a way to offer the Aruban answer to that mix. Queen’s owner is Varella Inocencia, but it is her mother, Luisa who is the chef and Queen who created the restaurant and preserved the Aruban recipes that had been in her family for generations.  She learned her craft from her parents who were also Aruban restaurateurs.


Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
The Queen's Restaurant in its new location in Palm Beach Plaza
 The original Queen’s Bar and Restaurant was located in downtown Oranjestad where the cruise ships docked. On June 1, 2012, Queens relocated to Palm Beach Plaza within walking distance of all the high-rise hotels. Never fear, foodies.  Quality moved with them, and according to locals, the Aruban specialties cooked up in the old location are still on the menu here.

It’s a shame we couldn’t taste everything on the menu, but I will share dishes I highly recommend you try.  We had the assistance of our wonderful server, Melissa, who made the recommendations once we explained that we were hoping to sample.

All Rob and I can say is that we enjoyed some astonishing dishes as well as wonderfully personalized service in a sleek, modern environment.  Everything you would expect in a fine restaurant you will find at Queen's.


Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
Aruban Pancakes and a wonderful sauce
 We began with very, very good Margaritas and Aruban Pancakes.  The pancakes were served with a spicy dipping sauce that mingled the tastes of hot peppers with chopped sweet onions in a vinegary brew.  Using our pretend Scoville Scale to measure the hotness of the peppers, I would say medium, but Rob would say low.  What that might mean is—don’t worry; be happy! 

Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
Goat Stew in red wine and herbs---wonderful!
We really diverged in choosing our main courses.  Rob selected Cabrito di Cunuku which is stewed goat in red wine and local herbs.  To say he was delighted with this native dish is an understatement.  He sucked the marrow from the bones explaining that the marrow ”…is like a sponge in the meal that despite its own flavor it sucks in the flavor of the meal.  You should try it sometime.” 

Rob’s entrĂ©e was accompanied by a selection of fresh vegetables, fried plantain, a brown rice and raisin dish, and pan bati, a type of corn bread. 

I did sample the goat stew, and it was delicious.  The meat has the consistency of lamb, but the flavor is a bit more robust but not gamey. I was very surprised and very pleased with a dish I would not find at home.  That’s part of the adventure of traveling.

Aruba-Queen's RestaurantRob’s final word on Queen’s Cabrito di Cunuku: “If there’s only one thing to bring me back to Aruba, it would be this.”  Praise cannot get much better than that, but here’s a photo of the “remains.”  A picture says a thousand words!



Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
Kesha Jena--absolutely the best!

I chose another Aruban dish, Kesha Jena, a baked Dutch Gouda cheese shell stuffed with chicken, raisins, capers and cashews.  Yes, I chose something with more familiar ingredients, but the dish was something new and wonderful.  It was superb.  The melding of flavors and the rich, creamy Gouda cheese added that extra zing that highlighted this experience.

 
My dish was accompanied by white rice, fresh, steamed vegetables, fried plantain, and funchi (polenta). 

We were ready to sit back and relax with a cup of coffee and smile about our meal.  The coffee was extraordinary enough for me to ask the brand, and what I learned makes for an interesting tale of success when an opportunity is seized.

The extraordinary coffee was Smit & Dorlas. This company began as two separate Dutch companies formed in the early 19th century and did not combine until 1980.  In 1991, Smit & Dorlas opened an office in Aruba, a country not used to fresh roasted coffee; they used instant.  In ten years, in 2001, Smit & Dorlas opened its own building in Oranjestad.  The company’s employees are trained in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United States, and Italy.  Smit & Dorlas Caribbean n.v. is now an independent company with Smith & Dorlas in the Netherlands as its main supplier. 

Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
and it tasted as good as it looks
Our wonderful culinary guide, Melissa, pointed out to us that we really HAD to have the flan for dessert.  How easily we capitulated!  We shared one dessert.  Queen’s’ flan is different from most we’ve had.  It is very substantial, not nearly as custardy as most flans.  It is closer to cheesecake.  It is delicious.  As with our other dishes, the flan was attractively presented and really, coupled with Smit & Dorlas coffee, topped off a delicious culinary journey. 

Make sure you have Queen's as a restaurant you want to visit.  You will have a wonderful evening.

PS  I've realized how many times I've used the word "wonderful" in this post.  It's not overuse; it's the perfect description for Queen's!





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