Thursday, November 30, 2017

Tru Bahamian Food Tasting Tour

November 15, 2017

Athena Cafe and Tru Bahamian Food Tour -
The Tru Bahamian Food Tour is a great way to get to know The Bahamas. 

I owe it to a fellow blogger who commented that the Tru Bahamian Food Tour is one of the best in Nassau. The Bites of Nassau Tour is a food tasting and a cultural walking tour...which is brilliant. How else could one better understand The Bahamas than through its food? Moreover, the heart of downtown Nassau, which is rich in hues and history, is best explored on foot.

Our tour guide Murray, highly knowledgeable and personable, led us on this educational journey, sometimes taking us back in time as he related the stories behind local delicacies and colorful edifices. Occasionally, he pointed out plants endemic to The Bahamas islands and cited their medicinal benefits. Murray made us feel like he was welcoming us to his home and even introduced us to some of the business owners.

The information overload from this 4-hour cultural and culinary immersion would be impossible to transcribe. So for this blogpost, I'm doing something different by sharing the interesting things that caught my eye during the tour.

While walking the streets of downtown Nassau, you'll witness a color explosion that will be imprinted indelibly in your memory. Come walk with me via this travelogue and I'll show you what I mean.

Christ Church Cathedral in Nassau, Bahamas -
The designated meeting place is Christ Church Cathedral, one of the most prominent landmarks in Nassau. Our tour guide encouraged the earlybirds to take a peek inside this lovely church while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive.

Pirates of Nassau Museum -
In front of the Pirates of Nassau Museum where we were briefed prior to the walking tour. 

Stop 1:  Bahamian Cookin' - authentic Bahamian cuisine

Bahamian Cookin' and Tru Bahamian Food Tour -
This is THE place for traditional Bahamian cuisine.

Bahamian Cookin' Restaurant -
Inside Bahamian Cookin' Restaurant where our group had our first Tru Bahamian food tasting experience.

Bahamian Cookin' in Nassau, Bahamas -
This colorful art piece was on the wall behind our table. It reminded me of a piñata because of the papier-mâché material. It was likely used to decorate a float during a Junkanoo festival.

Conch Fritters, Bahamian Cookin' -
 Conch fritters: A must-try in The Bahamas.
The correct pronunciation of conch is "konk" (rhymes with "honk")

Bahamian Cookin' and Tru Bahamian Food Tours -
Sampler plate with steamed chicken, peas n' rice, mac n' cheese, cole slaw, and plantains 

Note on the Steamed Chicken: Don't be fooled by its name. It's prepared much like a stew with a tomato-based sauce. But because it's been braised, the chicken is utterly tender and packed with flavor. Murray explains that in the past, chicken here had to be steamed twice in order to make it edible. It's so good, I wanted more than just a taste. I'll have to go back there and bring my husband so he can try it too.

Bahamian Cookin' Restaurant and Bar -
The bar inside Bahamian Cookin' Restaurant and Bar

Bahamian Cookin' Restaurant and Bar -
Another eye-catching framed art at the bar.
See the drink on the bottom right corner of the photo above? That's the local lemonade called Switcha, prepared with key limes and sugar cane. We were treated to this drink on our way to the next stop. Refreshing and tangy, it was the perfect treat on a late afternoon.

Balcony House in Nassau, Bahamas -
The historic Balcony House, now a museum, is the oldest residential building in The Bahamas (about two centuries old).

Stop 2:  Talking Stick Bar & Restaurant

Towne Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas -
Towne Hotel, a 46-room hotel on a three-story building, houses The Talking Stick Bar & Restaurant. This Bed & Breakfast place is bursting with visual delight.

Max inside Town Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas -
The central attraction of the hotel lobby is Max, the adorable blue macaw.

Lobby of Towne Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas -
This colorful lamp is just one of the lobby's eclectic decorative pieces.

Talking Stick Planters Punch, Towne Hotel Nassau -
While I sipped on Planters Punch (a classic rum punch), I feasted on all the eye candy around me.

The Jazz Singers inside Towne Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas -
On our way up to the rooftop, we were greeted by "The Jazz Singers" -- created by local artist Antonius Roberts.

Talking Stick Bar & Restaurant, Towne Hotel Nassau -
Among other things, the Talking Stick Bar & Restaurant exhibits the owner's collection of talking sticks.

Street Art in Nassau, Bahamas -
This vibrant mural is impossible to miss while walking towards Heritage Village.

Heritage Village in Nassau, Bahamas -
This way to Heritage Village. You could easily spend an entire day here.

Stop 3:  Graycliff Chocolatier
Discovering Graycliff is like unearthing a hidden treasure. The entire property (consisting of hotel, restaurant, humidor, churrascaria, pizzeria, wine cellar, and chocolate factory) plus the history behind it are all fascinating. Graycliff has evolved from the 1700s Pirate era, to the 1860s American Civil War, to the 1920s Prohibition era (think Al Capone), to what it is today after Enrcio and Anna Maria Garzaroli purchased the estate in 1973.

Graycliff restaurant in Nassau, Bahamas -
Just one of the dining rooms at Graycliff restaurant.

Pool at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas -
The stunning pool inside the expansive Graycliff mansion.

Graycliff Chocolatier in Nassau, Bahamas -
The Graycliff Chocolatier, Chocolate Factory & Boutique, is where you can buy elegantly hand-crafted chocolates.

Graycliff Chocolatier and Tru Bahamian Food Tour -
Our guide Murray explaining the chocolate-making process before giving us samples of the exquisite chocolate treats.

Stop 4:  The Drawbridge by Graycliff - a Gelateria & Patisserie

Drawbridge in Heritage Village, Nassau -
Here is where we stopped for a gelato break.

Stop 5:  Athena Cafe & Bar - This place opens up to a jewelry store and a winding staircase takes you to the restaurant on the upper level.

Athena Cafe & Bar in Nassau, Bahamas -
The main dining room of the Greek restaurant, Athena Cafe & Bar.

We sat around the bar where we sampled their tasty conch chowder (like Manhattan clam chowder) and their authentic Greek salad. My wandering eyes caught sight of the top shelf with some "interesting" items on full display. Opa! I'll let you find that for yourself when you take this tour. ;-)

Athena Cafe and Tru Bahamian Food Tour -
The bar top at Athena Cafe where we had Conch Chowder (a la Manhattan Chowder) and authentic Greek Salad.

Stop 6:  Tortuga Rum Cakes

Tortuga Rum Cake & Factory in Nassau, Bahamas -
The rum-infused cake contains only 1% alcohol. Tasting it might make you think different, though.

Murray Sweeting of Tru Bahamian Food Tours -
Our affable and gracious guide, Murray Sweeting. A tru Bahamian himself, he loves history, food, and meeting people.

I can't believe I waited so long to take this food tasting tour. All the stops, which are highly rated on TripAdvisor, are places that I've driven past so many times. These treasures were just around the corner waiting for me to find them.

If you're ever in Nassau with time to explore the town, make sure to join this engaging activity. I highly recommend it. The walking tour takes place rain or shine. But worry not, Murray comes equipped with rain ponchos should you need them. Wear comfy shoes, bring a curious appetite, and remember to keep those eyes peeled!

View from Government House in Nassau, Bahamas -
Joining the statue of Christopher Columbus in taking in the fantastic view of the Nassau Harbor from the Government House.

Learn more about their tours by visiting their website here:
Tru Bahamian Food Tours

Friday, November 10, 2017


Katsuya Baha Mar
Nassau, The Bahamas
November 3, 2017

"Would you go back?"

Christopher, who was with us for dinner that evening, brought up this simple but most important question. The answer is very telling of one's overall rating of a restaurant.

He's absolutely right. You might say that the food was delicious, the service was good, and the venue was great. But was the restaurant compelling enough to make you want to go back?

Tonight, we put Katsuya to the test.

Katsuya Baha Mar in Nassau, Bahamas -
Katsuya's main dining room

Giant-sized kanjithe Japanese symbol for katsu meaning "win," decorated the fabric banners that hung above Katsuya's central sushi counter. All around, the upscale restaurant pulsated with an electric vibe. The beaming staff hollered "Irasshaimase!" in unison as they welcomed the constant stream of patrons.

As millennials would say, "The place was lit." After all, it's Katsuya. This particular location, inside the grand Baha Mar in Nassau, Bahamas, opened last August 15, 2017 to become the tenth of the legendary Japanese restaurant chain.

Katsuya Baha Mar in Nassau, Bahamas -
The signature red lips on a backlit panel by the sushi bar.
The sleek and urban interior articulated Philippe Starck's signature design. Just like the one in Las Vegas, it had the distinctive backlit panels featuring a geisha's glossy red lips and pair of eyelashes. A glass-encased kimono brilliantly separated the private dining room with walls and ceilings splashed with an artistic rendition of a dragon.

Katsuya Baha Mar in Nassau, Bahamas -
Gorgeous lashes brightened up the liquid kitchen

Reputed to deliver a "feast for the senses," Katsuya is known to powerfully match Starck's arresting design with the exceptional creations of Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi. Our party of five was here to find out and we're ready to be swept off our feet.

Katsuya Baha Mar in Nassau, Bahamas -
A glass-encased kimono separated the private dining room

Our head waiter, Chase, enthusiastically attended to us and gave us a brief introduction of the iconic culinary concept. "There are four kitchens here," he began."One is the liquid kitchen," he pointed with his thumb to the bar behind him. "There's the sushi kitchen, the hot kitchen, and the robata (Japanese charcoal grill)." He highlighted that sharing is highly encouraged.

Chase from Katsuya Baha Mar -
Chase, our head waiter

Once the inquiries about allergies were out of the way, the culinary parade began. Plate after plate, we swooned over the dishes delivered to our table. Each presentation was fabulous. With every bite, there was a party in my mouth.

It's challenging to pare down our favorites but here's our list of absolute must-haves:

Maitake Mushrooms, Katsuya Baha Mar -
Maitake Mushrooms

Maitake Mushrooms. Upon tasting this, we all exclaimed, "OMG!" The delicious flavor oozed as I sank my teeth into the tender Maitake mushrooms that have been slowly roasted on the robata or Japanese charcoal grill. (Fun fact:  Maitake mushrooms are also known to have a powerful medicinal value.)

Japanese Octopus Carpaccio, Katsuya Baha Mar -
Japanese Octopus Carpaccio

Japanese Octopus Carpaccio. Even my husband Alan, who typically doesn't eat octopus, surprised me when he raved about this Katsuya specialty starter. We were all wild about the thinly sliced octopus drenched in lemon herb relish and yuzu kosho (a Japanese seasoning similar to chili paste).

Crispy Brussel Sprouts. Those who aren't fans of Brussel sprouts will bow down to this appetizer. The separated leaves of the brussel sprouts were tossed in balsamic soy with toasted almonds, then roasted to a crispy consistency. Absolutely loved it! [Not pictured. My photo doesn't do it justice.]

Shrimp Tobanyaki, Katsuya Baha Mar -
Shrimp Tobanyaki - sizzling shrimp and mushrooms

Shrimp Tobanyaki. It's easy to recognize that tobanyaki means to roast on a ceramic plate. This simple but mouth-watering dish sizzled, leaving a tempting aroma. The combo of succulent shrimp and mushrooms smothered in a savory sauce was to die for.

Kakuni Pork Belly and Grilled Corn, Katsuya Baha Mar -
From the Robata:  Kakuni Pork Belly and Grilled Corn

Kakuni Pork Belly. Who doesn't love pork belly? Oh, but this one will change your life. The robata pork belly was so tender, it was almost impossible to pick up with chopsticks. Kakuni involves thick cubes of pork belly braised for a long period to keep it moist and tender. In robatayaki fashion, the braised pork belly are skewered and slowly cooked over a hot charcoal grill (robata). I agree with friends Omar and Danielle about giving this five stars.

I also want to point out these two menu items that were created exclusively for the Nassau location:

Conch-oyaki (conch fritters), Katsuya Baha Mar -
Conch-oyaki, a playful adaptation of conch fritters

Conch-oyaki. This is a playful interpretation of conch fritters, a popular Bahamas food specialty. Local conch is prepared tempura style, battered and deep-fried, topped with fish flakes.

Conch Salad, Katsuya Baha Mar -
Conch Salad served in a coconut shell
Conch Salad. This version innovates the traditional Potter's Cay conch salad, served in a coconut shell and topped with coconut foam.

In between oohs and ahhs over the different courses, we touched on various conversational topics ranging from politics to sports, business, and family. We simply had a great time. After we blitzed on the sumptuous dessert selections, we gushed over our astounding dinner experience. Everything. Was. Delicious.

"The flavors!" cried an emphatic Cristopher. "And the energy here is incredible." SLS Baha Mar isn't even due to open until November 14, yet the restaurant was buzzing.

Now back to the original question: "Would you go back?" All my senses answered with a standing ovation, "Without a doubt."

p.s. Remember to try their specialty cocktails too. My favorite is the Katsuya Fresh, a creative concoction of vodka, Rock sake, cucumbers and lime.

For more information about Katsuya Baha Mar and its menu, click here. They recently opened for lunch from 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. Open daily for dinner from 5:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Cafe Matisse

Getting to know the background of this restaurant is like taking a tour of Europe. The name was inspired by a chef from Switzerland; the decor is a tribute to the artist from France; and the specialty is undeniably the traditional food of Italy.

Cafe Matisse, Italian fine dining restaurant, Nassau, Bahamas -
Cafe Matisse on Bank Lane in Nassau, The Bahamas

Courtyard of Cafe Matisse in Nassau, Bahamas -
Table for two at Cafe Matisse's courtyard

Cafe Matisse owner Greg Curry and his wife Gabriella ("She's the Italian," he pointed out) were vacationing in San Moritz when they met a talented chef named Matisse. He was so memorable that they named their cafe after him.

Inside the restaurant, Henri Matisse's art pervades. The brand tagline, "From canvas to table," playfully alludes to the French artist. Although it sounds very French, Cafe Matisse specializes in authentic Italian cuisine.

"We also make our own pasta, pizza, and bread," explained chef David Fiora, speaking with a distinctive Italian accent. Originally from Milan, Chef David has been working his magic in Cafe Matisse's kitchen for 15 years.

Cafe Matisse Chef David Fiora -
Cafe Matisse Chef David Fiora hails from Milan, Italy

Since opening in 1996, Cafe Matisse has built and upheld a reputation for being one of the best fine dining restaurants in Nassau, The Bahamas. (Number one on TripAdvisor.) It sits in the heart of downtown Nassau, along a narrow alley called Bank Lane. The restaurant can be found behind the historic Parliament Square, a landmark that is hard to miss with its bright pink facade fronted with the statue of Queen Victoria. History reveals that the centuries old building, which is now Cafe Matisse, was once a horse and buggy firehouse.

Cafe Matisse main dining room -
Main dining room

Cafe Matisse courtyard -
The courtyard for al fresco dining

Cafe Matisse private dining room -
Private dining room upstairs

From the minute I stepped inside the restaurant, I instantly felt like a guest in someone's charming home. It was my friend Jane Lightbourne who suggested Cafe Matisse for a dinner get-together. After hearing rave reviews, I looked forward to dining there. I didn't expect I'd be smitten.

Cafe Matisse reception lounge -
The inviting reception area makes you feel at home

Sofa in Cafe Matisse reception area -
A welcoming sofa at the reception lounge
I remember that everything we ordered that night was great. Thanks to Jane, who offered me a bite of her appetizer, I was forever hooked to the heavenly octopus salad. I only had a morsel but it left a powerful impression with me. It was succulent and tasted as tender as a fine lobster dish. I've never had octopus that excellent before.

Octopus Salad, Cafe Matisse Bahamas -
Insalatta di Polipo, Octopus Salad with Potatoes and Olives

Also notable was the service we received. I could tell how well established the restaurant was just by observing the friendly and efficient staff. They moved purposefully and seamlessly like clockwork.

We were there early but it didn't take long for the place to fill up. If you have any idea about parking in downtown Nassau, you'll appreciate the popularity of this dining hotspot even more.

I was focused on spending time with our friends that I didn't take pictures that evening. So there I was back in Cafe Matisse the other day, on a mission to complete this story. I arrived before they opened for lunch service. Even though the staff was busy setting up, they remained helpful and courteous.

Cafe Matisse courtyard -
More of the garden courtyard

Shortly after, a modest Greg Curry casually walked in, briefly excusing himself to extinguish his cigar. The Bahamas-born restaurateur was kind enough to spare a few minutes answering my questions about his restaurant.

During this return visit, I was treated to Insalatta di Polipo, the Octopus Salad. Since the menu is updated every six months, the sublime appetizer came with a new twist this time around. The hero ingredient featured Spanish octopus which is packed with flavor. I enjoyed the contrasting textures of the octopus and the soft potatoes. The olives with the simple dressing gave the dish a delightful zest. And the ginger lemonade recommended by Tico was just the right beverage complement. It was refreshing, as promised by the gentlemanly food attendant.

Cafe Matisse, Nassau, Bahamas -
The ginger lemonade makes the perfect beverage complement to the octopus salad.

I didn't want to leave without taking a photo of Greg. I found him sitting at the bar. "Make sure to get 'Lou Rawls' in the picture too," he joked, referencing a TripAdvisor review that stated their bartender sounded like Lou Rawls. I think his voice sounded more like Barry White. Ah, but the guy's charm is all his own.

Cafe Matisse owner, Greg Curry -
Cafe Matisse owner Greg Curry

Cafe Matisse bar -
The Lou Rawls sound-alike bartender at Cafe Matisse

Cafe Matisse is closed on Sundays and Mondays but open for lunch from noon to 3:00 p.m. and dinner from 6:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. the rest of the week. To view their menu, click here. Reservations are highly recommended.

Tru Bahamian Food Tasting Tour

November 15, 2017 The Tru Bahamian Food Tour is a great way to get to know The Bahamas.  I owe it to a fellow blogger who commented ...