Jamaica - Runaway Bay

Sunset over Runaway Bay, Jamaica

Kitchen Monkey just got back from a week-long trip to Jamaica, and no synonym for "amazing" could do justice to it.

Runaway Bay

We stayed at an expansive villa--owned by the parents of a law school friend--in Runaway Bay, which is an hour East of Montego Bay. The villa has a breathtaking view over the town, the beach, and the bay itself. It also has a staff of Jamaican women who have worked there for decades, make the most delicious meals, and have the loveliest singing voices. Yeah, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of having anything resembling "servants." Definitely not how I grew up. We did our best to help out, taking in our own dirty dishes. Much of my discomfort was overidden by how wonderful the cooking was. Fresh-squeezed (or, if you're from Utah, fresh-squoze) orange juice every morning with French toast, bacon, or pancakes, and always ripe melons of all varieties. The coffee was perfect. Dinner was different and fantastic every night, the most memorable being a giant platter of Jamaican lobsters with butter sauce. Here is breakfast:

A large part of the vacation was spent simply relaxing by the pool or playing guitar on the veranda. I was at least half-way inebriated from noon to bedtime every day. Here are some trip highlights worth going into detail about.

1. The River and the Waterfall
On day 2 we shelled out for innertubes and a couple of guides, who led us down to the banks of a lazy river that traced its way through a jungle that looked almost like a perfect Hollywood version of what a Jamaican river through a jungle would look like. Our guides sang Bob Marley songs along the way, which I imagine is geared to their most frequent tourist demographic (American college students there on spring break), but I swallowed my cynicism in the face of how beautiful it all was. Half way down the river we stopped at a bank where we bought trinkets from locals and jumped off a cliff into the cool river below. I came up out of the water to hear people screaming and to see a ziploc bag with my credit card and $2,000 Jamaican floating down the river. Fortunately I am a fast swimmer.

We hopped back on the tubes and floated down to the ocean, where our ride picked us up to take us to lunch at a restaurant next to a large waterfall. My friend Naila and I wandered above the waterfall where a local was showing a group of tourists around the beautiful garden above the falls. He presented them, and then us, with the leaves of a plant which he claimed was a mild narcotic. Curious, we munched on the leaves. They tasted like ass and provided no mental or physical stimulation at all. Perhaps he and his friends would laugh about it later. I know I would have.

On our way back we passed one of those mountain-size cruise ships near St. Ann's Bay. We wondered aloud why in god's name anyone would want to be trapped on one of those things, since as Naila put it, they're "filled with the kinds of people we go on vacation to get away from."

Later in the day, after more Red Stripe, we paid $15 to hike up through a waterfall. We started at the ocean and hiked up several levels. At first I thought, "this is too perfect." Then I realized that some of the conveniently located "rocks" were actually made of concrete. Still, it looked realistic enough, and there was at least some sense of danger. One person almost took a nasty spill, another lost her glasses (a Jamaican with a snorkel mask found them and earned himself $20 for the deed), and I was bitten by fire ants, which could have been disastrous on account of a nasty allergy. Fortunately, there were only three bites. A dozen or so more and I could have spent a couple hours vomiting and semi-paralyzed.

Amnesia and the Best Jerk Ever
Speaking of vomit and semi-paralyisis (OK, not really) the following night we found ourselves in Ocho Rios at a club called Amnesia where I drank vodka tonics like a fish with malaria. Fortunately, this was not some crap-tastic tourist club, but rather a hangout for the locals. With the exception of random expats and a couple ditzy Canadian girls (who were happy to announce that they worked as Princesses at Disney World), the entire club was filled with Jamaicans dancing their asses off. So we danced OUR asses off, and drank, and danced, and drank.

At about 2 in the morning we stumbled out into the street, looking for Junior, a kindly and elderly Jamaican man who was our driver for the entire trip. While waiting for him to show up, I felt a powerful hunger come on. Fortunately, there were men lined along the street with grills selling jerk, waiting for the clubbers to spill out into the streets. I bought a leg and a thigh of jerk chicken, which the man speared, set on a cutting board, and hacked into four pieces with a large and crusty-looking meat cleaver before sliding it onto some aluminum foil and placing the steaming bird in my hands. Yes, I know, I was at least three sheets to the wind at that point, but I can still objectively say this was one of my top 20 favorite eating experiences ever. The seasoning was rich and spicy, and the bird was moist and tore apart easily. I gnawed greedily and happily licked the sauce from my fingers before piling into the van for a sleepy ride back to the villa.

Equestrian and Roadside Bar Adventures
On Friday my friend Julie and I woke up, had breakfast with the others, and met Robert, a local Jamaican guide who keeps horses. He had brought three horses up to the villa, one each for himself, myself, and Julie. My horse was named Winston, and he is a damn good horse. Robert led us up the hillside to the top, where we could look out across the entire valley and Runaway Bay. Runaway Bay was the first part of Jamaica that Columbus saw upon his arrival. Its name seems to have come from the nearby caves, which served as a hideout for pirates, runaway slaves, and even a Spanish nobleman on the lam. It is far less touristy than Montego Bay or Ocho Rios, and the only nearby resort is Hedonism III, which I'm told is a nudist resort.

After gazing out across the countryside, we took the horses down the hill to the beach, where we rode straight into the bay and traced the shoreline 100 feet out or so. A group of Jamaican children, ages 6 to 8 were splashing in the tide, and when they saw us they waved, screamed and shouted, wanting a ride. It was blissful, and I will never forget it. In fact, Kitchen Monkey is going to break his longstanding policy of not posting any pictures of himself, just so you can see how cool it all was. Behold:

After the horsey ride I was starving, but out of cash. A Jamaican man named Tika, in his late 40s or early 50s, offered to take us to a money machine. As he led us far down the beach, through some woods, across a canal, and under some barbed wire, I began to wonder if this was going to turn into one of those stories about stupid gullible tourists who meet a nasty end, but to tell the truth, I trusted him. I never felt like we were in the slightest amount of danger from this friendly chap. After we reached the money machine, he offered to take us to the highway where we could find food. At a roadside bar called "Bar," which was little more than a tiny shack and an adjacent open air hut with a full bar, I feasted hungrily on aki and snapper, served with black beans & rice and breadfruit. Washing it down with the ubiquitous red stripe, I was in heaven. Check it out:

A Strong Shirk Ethic

And now I'm back in D.C. What did I bring back with me (besides a Jamaican soccer jersey and a bottle of Appleton's Rum)? I would say a determination to take life easier. It just so happens that this determination coincides and conflicts with a mountain of homework for my last semester of law school, not to mention bar applications, and blah blah blah blah blah.

I'm ready to go back. Now. Please.


Les Bistros & les Brasseries of D.C. & Pasta a la Jesse

The Dining Room at Central Michel Richard

First, Kitchen Monkey is posting this from a villa overlooking the ocean in Runaway Bay, Jamaica. I kid you not. But that will wait for a future post. Right now it's time to play catch-up.

Sushi Party
Last month I hosted a sushi party, putting the guests to work making makimono while I churned pork tonkatsu and gyoza out of the kitchen in batches that disappeared almost as soon as they were out the door. I love the frenetic pace of balancing the timing of various menu items and making sure everybody is well fed, but I'm glad I don't have to do it everyday. I finally read Kitchen Confidential, and as exciting as Bourdain makes it sound, the life of a chef would not be for me. In any event, the sake was flowing, and merriment was had. I also managed to find a Japanese market that sells quail eggs! So the hard core foodies in the kitchen were treated to quail eggs atop nigiri with ikura (salmon roe). Little salty bombs of goodness incarnate my friend. Credit is especially due to Tim, who brought miso soup and helped serve the appetizers. Credit also to Jesse who assisted greatly in the kitchen.

Jesse of Key West: a genuine foodie who cooks a mean pasta (more on that later) and has recently joined KM on food escapades to some of D.C.'s french restaurants, each of which deserve various amounts of praise.

Difference between a bistro and a brasserie? If you don't know, but really care, you can probably look it up on wikipedia. It seems like brasseries are more formal. During my few months in France I never really paid attention to the difference. Feel free to fill me in.

Bistro Du Coin
Frequently hectic and always noisy, Bistro Du Coin is the most authentically French in atmosphere and menu. They are located close to Dupont Circle, and are known for their mussels and fries. In fact, I've never had any desire to order anything there besides moules frites. Bistro du Coin packs you in tight, so its very easy to hear the conversation at the next table, which will probably be about public policy or in French.

This brasserie is near Eastern Market, and has a very cozy atmosphere. The menu is fairly affordable and the food portions are plentiful. Nearly everything is appropriately rich and heavy. For an appetizer we had a very good charcuterie plate with some tasty paté.
Honestly, I don't remember exactly what I had for an entrée, though it was delicious. Rabbit? Duck? Whatever it was, it sat in a box in the back of a rented PT Cruiser over night and was tragically never finished. The rental car people I'm sure appreciated the smell.

Belga Cafe
Also near Eastern Market. Not French, but Belgian. Atmosphere is interesting, a bit trendy-looking. I had steak and frites, and though it was good, I thought it overpriced. Also, it was a weekend, and they were cranking people in and out. It seemed our meals were already prepared when we ordered them, they came so quickly. I don't know that I'd go back to eat, but they do have one of my favorite Belgian ales--Lucifer--which brings back pleasant memories of the gallons I drank at La Gueze in Paris a few summers ago.

Central Michel Richard
The best by far of my recent dining experiences. One of the top restaurants in DC is Citronelle, by the world famous chef Michel Richard. To this point Citronelle is beyond my budget, but Jesse and I recently tried his more affordable place, Central, a mere lamb shank's throw from the Capitol Building. About $140 got us two appetizers, two entrées, dessert, and a bottle of wine plus tip. We started off with the "faux gras" board, which you can see in this NY Times review. The paté is made primarily of butter. Delicious, delicious butter. There also seemed to be some rabbit meat in it.

The "faux gras" terrine is chicken liver, and, again, butter. I can't recall the bottle of wine, which was less than impressive. We had a cold ratatouille which came with a mix of greens on the side. It was fantastic. Jesse had a charcuterie plate for an entrée as well, which meant enormous amounts of sausage and prosciutto sliced thinly from the giant hocks hanging in a display window not far away. I had a slow-braised lamb served with a very creamy polenta. On top of all that, we shared a dessert, which can also be viewed in the Times article: a glorified kit kat bar. As you probably know by now, KM has not the sweet tooth, but this was delicately textured, not overly sweet, and served with some of the best ice cream I've ever had. The wait staff was very professional, and kind enough to twice replace KM's napkin when he dropped it on the floor. I choose to blame this on the wine, which the waiter repeatedly poured into our glasses, hoping to get us drunk so that our judgment would lead us into another bottle of wine.

I definitely recommend this restaurant and will go back eventually. But next on the list is Cafe Atlantico, owned by another famous chef, José Andrés, who, according to the Post, is indefatigable. This is my new favorite word.

Pasta á la Jesse
After playing down her kitchen skills, the indefatigable Jesse whips this up from imagination, and daaaaamn eetz gooood. Very simple, fairly quick, and extremely tasty. You're getting the recipe in IM form. Deal with it.

Jesse: it was
ok -
so it's very detailed and intense
first chop one and half tomatoes
i used linguini if you care
me: i do, i really do
Jesse: i sliced, salted, and let the eggplant sweat for an hour
4:02 PM i didn't use any salt in the cooking otherwise
then i fried the eggplant in olive oil
me: lots of it
Jesse: you need lots
we drained it a bit - the eggplant after frying it right
then while the pasta cooked
4:03 PM i simmered the tomatoes with pepper and red pepper flakes
in a little bit of olive oil
added the eggplant cut into bite size pieces near the end since it's already cooked, just to heat it
added the procciutto right at the end
i think that's it maybe
4:04 PM i could be forgetting a spice
but i don't think so
i don't think i put onion
maybe i put garlic?

Note from the indefatigable editor: I think there was, in fact, some garlic in it.

Next time, Jamaica. (And fear not, I will not end any of my sentences with "mon").