Seaside Cafe Ocean Club West, Turks & Caicos IslandsReviewed January / February 2014
Snow Crab Risotto Cakes with Roasted Garlic Aioli at Seaside Cafe
I will dispense with all the clichés about ‘hidden gems’ and ‘best kept secrets’ and get straight to the point. Seaside Café IS what oceanfront dining is all about.
It was no surprise to learn that the culinary collaboration and proprietorship of Tony Arata and Abby Marlow were behind Seaside Café; together they are a talented and intuitive team of restaurateurs, having garnered huge success with Opus.
Chef Francois Hubert is the perfect fit with his refreshingly relaxed and spontaneous demeanor, but this unpretentious and modest chef is in fact a powerhouse of culinary talent in the kitchen.
Your dining ‘stage’ is waiting and it’s right behind the dunes; a front-row, Grace Bay Beach ‘location, location, location’ on the spacious and breezy oceanfront deck, or just a few steps back in the lively restaurant and bar area. Seaside Café has long been recognised as a great spot for breakfast and lunch, where many sun-worshippers enjoy squandering a few minutes – or a few hours in the company of great food and frosty libations while taking a brief or extended respite from the sea, sun and sand.
Seaside Cafe's Ahi Tuna Sashimi on Tortilla Wedges appetiser
But when that sun goes down… and herein lies the secret … this café retains that same comfortable and laid-back vibe but delivers it with just the right splash of elegance and style together with a phenomenal menu. The flickering flames of Tiki torches give way to a meandering ribbon of lights that silhouette the gentle curve of Grace Bay Beach’s shoreline as the evening sky above becomes sprinkled with stars.
The Seaside Café dinner menu is a marvelous mélange of cuisine featuring many local specialties like conch and fresh seafood. It is a veritable fusion of freshness that you can see and taste, beginning with Conch Ceviche.
Chef Francois puts a Peruvian twist on this island’s specialty; the naturally sweet and mellow flavours of the conch melted in your mouth while a refreshing and invigorating spicy lemon and lime citrus sauce infused this vegetable-loaded ceviche with immense flavour. Crunch, tenderness, colour, flavour and ‘kick’ all in the right places, it’s no surprise it was the Winning Dish in the 2012 Conch Festival.
Chef Francoise Hubert at the beachfront Seaside Cafe
When it comes to fish it simply doesn’t get any fresher than sashimi. The sashimi dissolved on contact with the tongue. Morsels of Ahi Tuna on a bed of crisp, grilled teriyaki glazed tortilla wedges were blanketed with fresh sliced radishes, tomatoes, scallions and cilantro. Topped with a dollop of homemade wasabi mustard, they had a satisfying kick, but not too spicy. He creates his version of the classic Caprese with local tomatoes and fresh Buffalo mozzarella. An aromatic and flavourful basil pesto and toasted pine nuts combine with the olive oil and balsamic for an extravagant, garden-fresh taste.
A Snow Crab Risotto Cake was deliciously crispy on the outside, yielding to a luscious, moist and creamy risotto and crab core. Finished with a drizzle of balsamic reduction and basking in a puddle of homemade pesto and a to-die-for roasted garlic aioli, these cakes were absolutely divine. Roasting the garlic for the aioli brings out an intense sweetness and earthiness that renders this characteristically potent flavour enhancer remarkably delicate.
Our dining consortium has often hailed Pinot Noir as a great equaliser; time and again preferred for its propensity to step-up to almost any plate and appeal to most palates. A 2009 Duckhorn Migration Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley did just that; pleasurable with all of our first courses, it was a complex wine with plenty of ripe, seductive fruit. Without missing a beat, the big, rich cherry flavours and peppery nuances of a medium-bodied 2010 Jekel Vineyards Pinot Noir was agreeably a marvelous coupling with ‘the fantastic four’ to come.
Pan Seared White Escolar Tuna with Wasabi Mustard
As I reminisce over the evening’s culinary chronicles our wildest palates could not imagine what Chef Francois was about to pull out of his toque next. Best epitomised by me as ‘the fantastic four’; this was a quintessential quartet of his popular dishes beginning with his legendary and celebrated Lobster, Shiitake Mushroom, Green Bean and Truffle Risotto. When I sat down with Francois in the summer of 2013 to write his chef story (see page 70 of the 2014 Dining Guide) he had regaled me with his repertoire of risottos – what he called his Signature Dishes. I am a huge risotto aficionado and a ruthless critic when it comes to this dish. Needless to say I was compelled to step up to Francois’ plate at my earliest opportunity. I had been told that this is one of the dishes that Francois’ guests repeatedly request and relentlessly rave about.
Almost as if on cue, we unanimously took the first bite together. It was indeed one of those ‘ah ha’ moments. Francois absolutely nailed it … the Arborio rice was flawlessly prepared, creamy with just the right al dente ‘to the tooth’ bite. Generous chunks of succulent lobster added a subtle sweetness while the earthiness of the mushrooms and the extravagance of the truffle oil put forward an intensity of decadence that rendered us speechless and smitten.
Enjoy relaxed dining on the large oceanfront deck at Seaside Cafe
Fresh from the waters of South Caicos, Francois prepared a fabulously moist White Escolar Tuna. Excited to discover he could now procure this fish locally, the chef prepares this dish with a Miso Sauce made with sake, mirin vinegar, a little bit of sugar and a miso paste. The fish is pan-seared and topped with the Miso sauce that caramelises in the oven, the saltiness of the miso infusing itself into the meat of the fish. While we all raved about the ‘meaty’ yet pleasantly light texture of the tuna, Francois explained that the fish in its raw state is “Really oily”. He added: “You can make it melt with the temperature of your body.” A dollop of that now-famous Wasabi mustard was the piècede résistance while stir-fried vegetables and Jasmine rice were the perfect accompaniment to this Asian-inspired dish.
Another catch from the waters of the Big South this evening was Mahi Mahi. A plantain crust which gave it a delicate crispness and imparted an almost ‘nutty’ flavour, seared all the moistness inside. A colourful and juicy Mango-Pineapple Salsa balanced this light and engaging dish perfectly.
Seaside Cafe's dessert of Warm Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream
The chef’s favourite ingredient is mushrooms, at least when it comes to beef. A self-professed mushroom lover, he shared his favourite way to prepare mushrooms with a steak. “Sauté easy, a little garlic butter, and a squeeze of lemon at the end to make a little edge; for me, that’s the best thing that can go with a steak.” And that steak was an 8oz. Bacon Wrapped Black Angus Filet. The smokiness of the bacon was palpable and pleasurable as its flavour permeated the perfectly grilled filet. It was smothered in the classic French sauce – a rich and creamy Béarnaise and served with a crispy and quite delectable accompaniment – a sweet potato cake, reminiscent of the classic white potato croquette.
Desserts were undeniably decadent with Vanilla Coffee Crème Brulée, Vanilla Cheesecake with Berry Topping, Chocolate Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Banana Chocolate with caramelised banana. Indulge in the ultimate finale with after dinner drinks, liqueur coffees and regional rums.
Discover your idyllic oceanfront dining oasis, just a short stroll up from the beach at Ocean Club West.
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