I finally made my first trip to Saint-BarthÃ©lemy (aka St. Barts, aka St. Barths depending where you’re from) thanks to the occasion of Jeannie and Brian’s wedding. As far as destination weddings go, I don’t think you could have picked a better location. The scenery is beautiful, the people are welcoming, and best of all, the food is fantastic everywhere on the island.
The trip into St. Barths is thrilling in itself. The airport consists of a very short runway tucked behind a hill and ending at the beach. So all incoming planes have to basically come in low over the hill and cut the engines so they can descend quickly enough to catch the runway. Once on the runway the plane needs to stop right away in order to avoid ending up on the beach or in the sea. The pilot then has to pull an immediate u-turn to head back to the gate which you passed on the way down. It’s as crazy as it sounds, and that’s why pilots have to have a special certification to be allowed to land at that airport. Search Youtube and you’ll find some good videos of landings, both successful and not!
The great thing is that once you’ve landed, you’re in St. Barts! No long lines at the airport, no long drive to get where you’re going. The island is so small that once you hop in your rental car you are minutes from wherever you want to go- your hotel, the beach, and of course the restaurants. Oh the restaurants…
The thing about St. Barts is that it is a French territory so you are surrounded by great cuisine everywhere you turn. Here are a few of versions of foie gras I enjoyed:
The above was at Eden Rock, once of the pricier restaurants on the island, but we were only there for foie gras and drinks.
This was at Bonito, a new restaurant on St. Barts. I don’t remember exactly what the dumpling like thing at the bottom of the skewers were. Blame it on the fact that it was the sixth meal of the day for me so things were kind of a blur by that point. Also I was much less interested in that foie gras as this one was the highlight at Bonito:
It’s a seared foie gras over pumpkin ravioli. A brilliant combination as the pumpkin had just the right delicate level of sweetness, not as overbearing as the syrupy sauce you often find served with foie.
A recurring theme on menus all across St. Barts is the freshest of fish prepared simply, usually some sort of white fish like wahoo or mahi mahi, and often served in tartare or ceviche preparations. Maya’s is reknowned and beloved for specializing in just that sort of refined simplicity. Check out Maya’s ceviche and her asparagus salad:
And here’s Wall House’s take on raw fish, with a nice little accent of gari, the pickled ginger you usually get with sushi. Makes so much sense as an accompaniment, I’m surprised we don’t see it more often.
And here’s the ceviche sampler at Bonito with some very interesting garnishes. That’s mango and watermelon on the left, pine nuts in position two, seaweed salad in the third slot, and popcorn and sweet potato on the right.
Beautiful raw preparations weren’t limited to fish either. At La Route des Boucaniers we had this magnificent pair of raw beef dishes:
The quality of the beef was magnificent in both dishes, but the carpaccio could have used another salty component. The steak tartare did have that component in the form of capers and it worked beautifully. Definitely the best steak tartare I’ve ever had, it was well seasoned without overwhelming the flavor of the beef. Quite a generous portion too I might add, yet wolfing the whole thing down it never felt like a heavy dish. It was just perfect in both flavor and texture, it may have been my favorite plate of the entire trip.
Another must-visit eatery on the island is La Creperie which as you’d expect, specializes in crepes. They do both savory and sweet, but I opted for this gem featuring lemon, honey and almonds and a scoop of lemon sorbet. So good.
It’s not just the French food, but even things like burgers are great here. Just ask Jimmy Buffett who wrote Cheeseburger In Paradise after being inspired by the burger at the St. Barts institution called Le Select. I of course had to try one and naturally I got bacon on mine:
Ok, I know what you’re thinking, “where’s the beef?”, right? Well I’d agree, the patty could have been a little more substantial, but hey, it was only about 7â‚¬, probably my cheapest meal on the island (St. Barts is expensive, even with the Euro collapsing). It was a decent burger but I don’t know if it would have inspired me to write a song about it. Elsewhere on the island however, you can get this burger which will in fact make you want to break into song and dance:
It’s a cheeseburger from La Route des Boucaniers. Just look at it. Simple, not gimmicked up in any way. Just a perfectly cooked patty of beef with cheese melted just right and a lightly toasty bun. Classic and delicious, which is a good way to describe much of the food on island.
Nowhere was this classicism more evident than in the desserts. Meringue used to be popular back in the hay day of French haute cuisine. These days, in New York anyway, you just won’t see classic French meringue desserts anymore because nobody wants their menu to appear outdated. But you know, these things are classics for a reason- because they’re goddamn delicious! Example number one, a Vacherin at La Route des Boucaniers:
A vacherin is a baked meringue shell filled with whatever goodies you want. My favorites are like this one, filled with a berry compote, but they are also great when filled with mousse. La Route kind of unnecessarily gilds the lily by covering it all with whipped cream, but I’m not complaining.
But perhaps the ultimate throwback was this beautiful classic from The Wall House restaurant:
It’s the Floating Island, or perhaps better known by its more attractive French name, Oeufs a la Neige which means “snow eggs”. The meringue is soft and cloud-like, floating on a pool of creme anglaise. It’s a dish I don’t think I’ve even heard mentioned since the 80’s, but so satisfying and fun to eat it makes me wonder why we have written it off. All I know is it makes me happy that they proudly serve this sort of food in St. Barts. In fact, most everything about St. Barts makes me happy. It’s my kind of paradise, one that has foie gras and steak tartare. 🙂