So when you are on an island in the southern Caribbean, what’s the cuisine you crave? In my mind it isn’t sushi, but that’s what my bride wanted and in fairness, I never turn down good sushi. So can you get good sushi on an island? It turns out you can. Omakase at the Manchebo Beach Resort was the destination. A quick ten minute cab ride brought us to the resort, not before passing the beach tennis open in full swing (not exactly the US Open in Queens, but on it’s scale it was an interesting find). If you’re not paying attention, you will walk right by Omakase. We literally did just that. Why is it so had to find? Because it occupies half the bar inside the ChopHouse steakhouse at the resort. Hmm, small, hidden sushi gem? I like where we’re going here.
Once seated at the bar (there were10 seats at the bar and three 4 tops that comprised the seating area for the restaurant) we were greeted by Jason. Jason is fucking fabulous. Charming, quick witted, a total sweetheart, and as it turns out, a knucklehead like us. Check us out on Instagram for pictures of our new best friend.
What drew us here were the rave reviews and the fact that they offer an omakase experience. In full disclosure, I’ve become a bit of an omakase whore. I seek this experience out whenever I travel, and have enjoyed Nobu in Las Vegas, Sushi Roku in Scottsdale, and Matsuhisa in Denver. Why do I set that stage? My expectations are high, and I’m a spoiled little bitch when it comes to this experience.
Considering we can eat like champs (fat, drunk, you get the idea) We were all in on the omakase, but it was a four course experience. I’m used to a 7-8 course experience, and based on the price point I assumed this was a smaller offering so we supplemented with two rolls (Caterpillar and Rainbow). Some Sake and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and we were ready to indulge. First up was the obligatory miso soup. A standard in most sushi experiences, this was delightful. Just a hint of steam rising off the broth served in a stark white square bowl. At first sight, this was different. Plenary of nori floating throughout, and cubes of tofu that may require a fork to cut. Not too salty (my knock on standard miso soup), aromatic,delicious. Toward the end we both picked up our bowls to make sure we didn’t miss a bit of it. Stay classy bitches.
Next up was a crab salad. Fresh crab, seaweed, roe and black sesame seeds. Again delightful and fresh. Interesting, we didn’t order these two plates, and the menu didn’t reveal any inclusions with the meal. Hmm..
Next up the chef presented a plate of sushi and sashimi, and explained that this was the first of two plates as part of the third course. Oooohhhh, got it. The four course Omakase included soup and salad as two courses. While delightful, my expectation was something wildly different. So, expectations reset, ready to proceed. I’m now viewing this as a sushi meal, and less as the omakase experience that I was used to. That said, the sushi was a hit.
Thinly sliced salmon, tuna and yellowtail sashimi, accompanied by shrimp, mackerel and eel sushi. Nothing was too cold, and all smelled remarkably fresh. The sashimi simply melted in your mouth, like you would expect a perfectly cooked steak to do, except, you know, it’s fish. The sushi was also prepared right, with hints of rice vinegar and wasabi. Just enough, but nothing overpowering the guests of honor on these rice pillows. For god’s sake, don’t use fucking soy sauce on a treat like this! If I wanted to taste soy sauce I could put it in a glass and drink it. Don’t sully this treat with the stuff. To say this plate didn’t last long would be an understatement. Next up was plate two of course three (bootleg) which was an array of three menu rolls. Ok, now that I’ve accepted this meal as a menu tasting experience, I can review it appropriately. Two out of three were tasty. Caterpillar roll (frankly a terrible name, who wants to eat something associated with those hairy crawling beasts?) Tuna, salmon and avocado. Very pleasing and refreshing. Surf & Turf roll, asparagus and tempura shrimp, but not overly fried, topped with grilled tenderloin, sweet and savory. Then there was the Ebitem roll. Jason wanted us to try it, but we saw cream cheese in the description and don’t typically enjoy cream cheese in sushi. However, it was on the plate, and we decided to try it, because you can’t register a valid opinion without trying it. This is what we teach my son, so I guess we have to play by those rules. Also, as my son would say, “it’s not my favorite, but I tried it.” Our opinion on cream cheese and sushi was confirmed. No shot of enjoying this one. While I figured the cream cheese would add a creamy and tart element to the right roll, this didn’t do it. The roll was tart to begin with, and the cream cheese just made it more tart. Not our favorite. If this is your jam, have at it, but not us.
Next up were our other two rolls, caterpillar and Rainbow. Caterpillar described before, just as yummy, and Rainbow, which was avacodo and cucumber topped with salmon, tuna and crab (we debated whether or not it was imitation crab). Again, delightful and fresh, at the risk of sounding repetitive. Clearly we were off our chopstick game as we each had pieces fall apart on us, but it sure felt like operator error.
The Sake hit the spot, but it wasn’t listed on the menu, nor did I see the brand. It was mild, and accompanied the first few dishes well. We followed that up with a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, which was like drinking a sun kissed grapefruit. However I’m not one to chill my wine, and the first things to hit the bar were two chilled wine glasses. That was followed by the chilled wine bottle and the ice bucket. Oh well.
Now as to the service, this made the experience. Our server, Jason, was a trip. He endeared himself to us immediately. He was hysterical, like a close friend who always has something witty to say (much like me). He captured some great pictures for us, and made his way into a few selfies that will end up on the Instagram for sure. He also refused to give us the check until he came up with some surprise for us as we were on our honeymoon. Eventually a piece of cake with a goddamn Roman Candle in it showed up, and he sang “Endless Love” to us, knowing about half the words. Our own personal a dancing queen.
Now when you go out, take the time to talk to the people charged with your experience. Besides Jason, we had a chat with Mylene, the chef. She was hands on both in preparing the meal and in serving. She stopped by our side of the bar and we talked about our honeymoon, the resort where the restaurant was located, and he 23 years in Aruba. She was very proud that in the three years since opening Omakase she has had many customers follow her here from her past restaurants. She also was proud of the customers who come weekly, not just the expected tourist crowd. This endeavor is a labor of love for her and it shows in the greeting we received, the serivce, and the conversation. Get to know Mylene, Jason, and the rest of the staff at omakase for sure.
We went looking for sushi and found it. With the correct expectations you cannot be disappointed. Take your time, savor the meal, and enjoy some laughs. That’s an appropriate dining experience away from the tourist traps. The healthier option when endeavoring to be fat, drunk and fancy.
So we decided to have dinner with Fred. Not that we know Fred, or Tom for that matter, but hell, let’s have dinner in their kitchen with 12 other random strangers. Sounds like a perfectly peculiar evening, no? Picking up on the dripping sarcasm, it’s safe to asssume there’s more to Fred, and there is. So.much.more.
Fred is widely believed to be the best restaurant in Aruba. The experience (and it is an experience) seats no more than 14 people, takes place Monday through Friday, one seating at 7pm sharp. No kids, set menu, five course meal, with wine if you’d like. Culinary heaven if you live for dining experiences. Now being the dimwit that I am, I checked their website a few weeks before our trip to make a reservation. Scanning open dates, I could begin booking a space in March 2018… Nice planning dummy. So as the website suggested, I sent an email hoping to be put on the waiting list for any night while we were in Aruba. Expectations were quite low on getting in. Tom was nice enough to let me know that I was on the list and I’d hear if we got in. Nothing. We got on the plane, still nothing. Landed, nothing. Got to the hotel, nothing. Unpacked in our room, took a glance at my email, SOMETHING! Two seats on our last night on the island. Yes, Tom, yes, we’re in, book it, do whatever you need to, but lock us in!
Now, one does not want to be accused of rushing their honeymoon. Unfortunately, I talked about going to Fred so much that week, I was accused of just that. Gotta work on that, but after we go to Fred (see, did it again).
We arrived early and parked it at the bar at Que Pasa, the Mexican restaurant downstairs from Fred. In the vestibule their was a rope across a stairway upstairs with a sign advising Fred guests to grab a drink at the bar until they came downstairs to greet their guests at 7pm sharp. Also present was the night’s guest list, with last name and number in the party. We were listed, so all was good. Into Que Pasa for a cocktail. Once parked at the 12 seat bar, our host got my bride a Titos and club, then fetched a colleague to make me a Makers old fashioned, as “he makes them better than I do.” Love the honesty and it was a lovely cocktail. He handed us a book on Fred, probably because we were the most overdressed people at the bar, but he was right about our motives and the book was great. I visual introduction to the restaurant, from concept to construction and the experience. Photos of the upstairs space needing a total remodel, and Fred laboring to build the kitchen to best capture his vision. I’ve never met the man, but already my respect for his passion was growing. Two cocktails a piece (and yes, my second was made by the designated Old Fashioned maker again) and we noticed the vestibule was full and down the stairs came two men. One in jeans and a black shirt, the other in chef whites. These had to be Fred and Tom. We joined the other guests (after slugging back the rest of my drink) and made introductions all around. Tom greeted us first, and congratulated us on our recent wedding. Once we shook hands with the two men, it was upstairs with the other guests. We sat at the open patio with the others as Tom passed out prosecco with pieces of mango in the glass. The very proud Patriots fan in the crowned began the introductions. Boston, North Carolina, New Jersey and San Antonio were represented in the crowd, truly an American affair. We continued to chat about sports, food, Aruba, and relationships (there was another newlywed couple with us as well) until Tom returned to usher us into the kitchen. The entrance was stunning. Through small double doors we entered the space, a U-shaped high dining area with the kitchen at the opposite end. Within the U was a service area where Tom had wine glasses and the night’s wine selections at the ready, in the kitchen Fred was assembling the first course. Once seated (name tags with our last names spanned our seats, the pair pulled out a board with the night’s menu. This was going to be special. Fred described everything, Tom pointed out the wine options, and we were off. As it turned out we were seated next to the other newlyweds, so great conversation accompanied the evening.
First up was the salad. Some leaves of chicory a few slices of perfectly smoked duck breast, tender, juicy, flavorful. Thinly sliced watermelon, pine nuts, and a balsamic reduction. Each bite brought a special taste. Refreshing watermelon, deep, flavorful balsamic, each bite accented by the crunch of purple cabbage and sliced radishes. Our neighbor was tireless in his pursuit of the perfect bite, but capturing every element on one fork was challenging, but no less satisfying. Paired with this course was a choice of La Crema Pinot Noir or Twin Island Sauvignon Blanc. We opted for the Sauvignon Blanc and were rewarded for the choice. It was crisp, with notes of grapefruit, a perfect compliment to the smoked duck in the salad. While we all enjoyed our first course, Fred was at the kitchen, organizing 14 shallow bowls. This must be the famous white asparagus soup..
Having read about the soup in countless reviews, I was already tasting it in my mind. Mellow, smooth, flavorful. My mouth is watering now as it was then. However as vivid as my imagination is, it was not able to fully capture the reality of this dish. First Tom placed the bowls in front of us. An array of diced prociutto and scallions awaited their liquid companions. They weren’t lonely for too long. Fred arrived with a pitcher of soup, and gently poured it into the bowl, consuming the procuitto and scallions as he poured. The visual is beautiful, and you can guess where we may have posted it. We both took a moment to comprehend our dish. The smell was heavenly, and the taste, sublime. It was mellow and creamy, with just the right amount of saltiness from the prociutto and crunch from the scallions. The room fell quiet as we all dove into our bowls, somewhat literally. I think everyone would have put their bowls to their mouths. This dish was a true pleasure. With The Rolling Stones playing in the background, we completed the dish and were ushered back onto the patio for the first break of the evening. As I relayed to Tom, we don’t have to leave, but we can’t stay here.
The topic of conversation among our dining bretheren was the delightful start to the meal we had experienced, and continued banter about football loyalties and marriage. The cool wine cut the humidity in the air, and a gentle Aruban breeze eased us through the brief break.
Tom returned to user usher us back into the kitchen, this time accompanied by the savory smell of something (was it meat or fish?) cooking in a pan inside, clearly sizzling in some appropriate fat (god I hope it’s butter!) under the watchful eye of Fred. Upon return, our place settings had been replaced with fresh cutlery and napkins, as well as new wine glasses ready to receive the nectar of Tom’s choice. For this course, there were two white options, a 2016 Yalumba Viognier and Houis Ha Tour Chablis. We opted for the Viognier, and its honeysuckle aroma and stone fruit flavor was a crisp and lovely choice to pair with the next dish. With anticipation, we watched as Fred assembled the next dish. The presentation was a sight to behold. A wide dish with a depression in the middle was delicately adorned with our feast. Two shrimp on the wide edge, touched by the bernaise. In the middle, a delicate filet of Dover sole, browned and crisp on one side, gently curled over revealing it’s flakey bottom. Add in the fennel and broccoli sitting atop a small pool of lobster sauce, and the dish was complete. You could not have in imperfect bite of this dish! The bernaise with the shrimp was divine, and the lobster sauce perfectly highlighted the perfection of the sole. Crisp and flakey, moist and perfectly seasoned. It’s key to note that there was no salt and pepper on the table, and with good reason. Fred is a pro, there was nothing about the flavors that required adjustment. Had you asked, I would have kindly slapped the crap out of you and sent you off to McDonalds where you belong. There were 14 clean plates where this dish once resided. It was glorious. It wasn’t, however, the end.
As this point my bride and I parted ways, at least as it relates to the wine selection. She opted for the Caterna Malbec (she’s a sucker for a Malbec, but I do love her so). I went with the Villa Antinori. Neither was a bad choice for what came next. But not before another break. Back to the patio we went, to trade stories of the delights we just experienced and a further discussion of food. Where we had eaten on the island, similar experiences we’ve had stateside, it was a wonderful addition to a culinary evening. Before long Tom was back, ushering us to our communal table.
Fred saved he best work for last. Angus Tenderloin, wrapped in bacon, topped with a fois gras ravioli and truffle sauce. Had I died after this meal, I would have died happy, albeit far too soon. This was the one dish where Fred had asked if anyone wanted the beef cooked to a particular temperature other than the advised medium rare. One of our friends did request it medium, and only a mild ribbing ensued. A sip of wine and our dishes were presented. A tower of magical scents and sights awaited us, surrounded by a small sentinels of button mushrooms, green beans, and zucchini, with a cascade of decadent truffle sauce pooling around the vegetables. The first cut is always an experience, and this was no different. The meat was cooked perfectly (even for a man who orders he steak blue). The bacon surrounding it added so much flavor, but I mean, it’s bacon! This bite married so well with the truffle sauce, with it’s velvety texture and bits of tender black truffles. Then there was the ravioli. Oh the ravioli! Pasta pillows stuffed with creamy, smokey fois gras. Decadent doesn’t begin to describe it. The richness of the dish cut by the wine, all filling our mouths and bellies with delight. Wine glasses clinked, forks tapped plates, and we all smiled.
Stopping just short of licking our plates (just short), we agreed this dish was complete and we poured the praise onto Fred as Tom poured more wine. While we were eating Fred was preparing the finale for the evening; a plate of four treats. Passionfruit mousse, coconut macaroon, chocolate cake and mousse, and rum raisin ice cream. Just a taste, not too much, but wonderful flavors all around. The passionfruit mousse was fluffy and light, but topped with a tart gel of passionfruit, perfectly accenting the dish. The cake was dense, balanced by the mousse. The macaroons were crisp outside, soft inside. The rum raisin, as expected, and matched the array of desserts well. With our wine topped off, we headed back out to the patio, this time with Fred and Tom. We all pulled up seats, and a lively conversation began. Obvious questions about the dishes and the methods that Fred used throughout the evening, as well as his other culinary adventures. We discussed travel and life on the island, any number of topics for who knows how long. As the evening drew later, we each settled our bills and Tom called cabs for us all. We departed feeling more like friends than patrons at a restaurant. This was a unique culinary experience, superior to many we’ve had in the states. Upon our return, the trip will be planned around our next visit to Fred.
So here we are, ready to embark on a journey that frankly already started, but now we felt it was a good time to share the experience. This is Fat, Drunk and Fancy, and we are your guides on this culinary adventure. We (Nick and Kim) are a couple who loves good food, great drinks, and amazing experiences. So many of our times with friends and family are engrossed with discussions of dining experiences, amazing bartenders, and whatever we happen to be cooking at the time. We are most comfortable navigating the kitchen together, or scanning the wine collection for the next bottle (but nothing too good if it’s the third bottle of the night). We deliberated for quite awhile as to what direction we would take this (read: about two days), and settled on a concept taken from my younger days listening to baseball games on the radio. We’re going to paint the word picture as we review our experiences. No photos here, because we don’t want to be those people snapping pictures of every dish as it’s served, ignoring the undertaking that brought it to fruition. That’s not to say that there won’t be photos, just not here. We’ll reserve those for Instagram and Snapchat, and the other social media outlets that we can tie together. Seriously, don’t give me shit if you see a picture of a great dish out there, I think I’ve been clear on how we’re doing this.
We want to make your mouth water as you read, and pick up the phone to call (remember using phones for that?) or email these places to book your table. Some will require some planning (like four months ahead), others can be walk in. We’re going to categorize this adventure into a few distinct categories (my type-A wife loves this idea).
Dining/Drinking Experiences – Out and about, documenting our culinary travels
Business – We both travel for work, so we’ll share our favorite haunts from the road that fit the business traveler
Home & Holidays – into our kitchen you go, or the backyard if I’m grilling smoking, or deep frying (get ready for Thanksgiving kids)
Lite – While we love the name Fat, Drunk & Fancy, neither of us are aiming for the first one. So we’ll introduce those healthy (but delicious) choices at home and when we’re out and about.
Regular folks with great appetites and strong tolerances. Who’s up for this trip?
Welcome to Fat, Drunk and Fancy!
-Nick & Kim