News from our hotel partners

Bitters make cocktails better

Chances are, if you’ve been into a bar that serves mixed drinks over the last decade, you will have encountered a small army of brown glass or cut crystal bottles, often with cryptic labels like “Tiki," “Wormwood” or “Hermes.” These bottles are filled with bitters, and they are much more important to your drink than most people think.

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Ave going 'Simply Greek' on Thursdays

Ave restaurant and bar is embarking on a culinary voyage throughout the Mediterranean from which Ave’s cuisine takes its influence. Every Thursday evening starting 5 November, a different region of the Mediterranean will be featured in the menu, with each theme running for a number of weeks.

We’ll be making our first stop at one of the most ancient of Mediterranean cultures, to immerse diners in the wonderful aromatic world of Greek cuisine.

Widely regarded as the birthplace of Western culture, civilisation, politics, philosophy, science and modern thought, Greece has a long and fascinating history. It is a massively varied country, with a lengthy coastline along four seas with hundreds of islands in archipelagos, and yet 80% of its land is mountainous. This is reflected in the culture, the people and of course the food and drink.

It’s a quintessentially Mediterranean diet, with fresh fish meals popular among vast arrays of traditional dishes like moussaka, souvlaki, gyros and dolmades; dips such as taramasalata, tzatziki and fava; and sweet treats like baklava, galatoboureko (a custard pastry) and loukoumades (doughnut balls covered in honey, cinnamon and walnuts).

Olives and olive oil are universal in the cuisine. You’ll see more goat and lamb than beef, due in part to the terrain not being conducive to raising cattle. There is a prevalence of herbs like oregano, mint, dill, bay laurel leaves, basil, thyme and fennel, and while these can be said to be common throughout the region, the level of spicing in Greek dishes is uniquely recognisable. Sweet spices are also favoured — and not just in sweet or dessert foods, but also on meats and in stews.

The drinks are regionally unique, too, although you’ll find parallels locally, such as the sweet, sticky and often deceptively boozy anise-flavoured Ouzo or sipping sibling Raki, which you can find throughout their Dalmatian coastal and Balkan neighbours.

Another staple is retsina — a 2000-year-old form of wine, made by adding pine resin to amphorae to avoid oxidation in ancient times.

For our "Simply Greek" evenings, which is what we're calling the first themed stop on our culinary voyage through the Mediterranean, we’ll serve some typically Ave bar-intricate mixed drinks to pair with the delectable dishes. We’ve made our own retsina into a wine cooler. Another drink takes inspiration from the Greek Pantheon of deities in "Triton," a local Poseidon gin-based Hellenic-blue concoction. We also worked with cucumber, dill and vodka, and incorporated the fresh acidity of Greek yoghurt into our "Tzatzini" cocktail.

Lastly, we mixed up the aptly monikered "Nektar," which takes the smooth vanilla toasted oak and ripe fruit flavours of Metaxa 7 star brandy and stirs them with a rich honey and sesame syrup, inspired by the traditional Greek pasteli bars, which we use as a garnish in this delectable sipper. ... Opa!

Jim Wrigley is the beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.

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This article appears in print in the November 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.

 

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You say barbecue, Coccoloba says barbacoa

With Grand Cayman residents unable to travel without risk and the requirement of quarantine when they return, there's a premium on finding new, interesting and fun things to do on island.
That is exactly what Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa is trying to provide with the launch of Barbacoa, a Saturday-night-only food, beverage and entertainment event launched last month at Coccoloba Bar & Grill.

"We wanted to continue to entertain locals with new events and at the same time we wanted to enhance the authentic, Mexican-inspired concept of Coccoloba," says Kimpton Seafire Executive Chef Massimo De Francesca.

Barbacoa is actually a traditional method of slow-cooking meat in Mexico, similar to the way jerk was traditionally slow-cooked in Jamaica. The English word "barbecue" derives from barbacoa. Although the Barbacoa event at Coccoloba doesn't prepare food in a fire pit covered with agave leaves the way traditional barbacoa was made in Mexico, it does prepare some of it over an open fire, similar to the way modern barbacoa is made.

In authentic barbacoa fashion, though, the process of preparing the meats is slow.

"We marinate and brine the meats for days beforehand," says De Francesca. "The brisket, for example, is brined for 48 hours, slow-roasted for six hours and smoked for one hour," he says, adding that the organic chicken that is cooked over an open flame is also marinated for more than a day.

Food

Barbacoa, however, is about much more than just meat.

The starters, which are all served family-style and can change from week to week, include items like nachos, tuna ceviche, mixed green salad and elote served on the cob instead of how it is served when ordered from Coccoloba's regular menu. Almost all of the items served for Barbacoa aren't on the regular Coccoloba menu and are designed to highlight authentic Mexican food.

Served along with the starters — even though they are really made to accompany the meats — is a quartet of sauces, including chimichurri, molcajete, aji amarilo and mole rojo.

"We put a lot of effort into making these very authentic Mexican sauces," says De Francesco.

When it's time for the grill course, guests walk down to the beach to the counter not far from where chickens are roasting over an open fire. Here, Coccoloba waiters offer portions of meats and fish like smoked beef brisket, roasted marinated chicken, swordfish steaks and an array of side dishes like charred roasted vegetables, ranchero beans and Mexican rice.

The brisket, which is likely to be a regular menu item, is a particular highlight — full of seasoning and smoke flavour with just the right amount of crispiness on the outside, while melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside.

Dessert includes items like "pizza con chocolate."

"It's a Mexican-inspired dessert pizza, with puff pastry and a hazelnut-chocolate topping and dried raspberries," says De Francesca.

Other desserts include items like churros served with a salted dulce de leche dipping sauce and watermelon wedges that incorporate agave syrup, lime, chili and mint.

Beverages

In addition to beer buckets of Mexican beers — priced at six for $30 — a selection of Coccolobo cocktail favourites are supplemented with cocktails created for Barbacoa. One of them, the "Batanga Country" cocktail created by Kimpton Seafire Beverage Manager Jim Wrigley, is a delicious sipper that blends Ilegal joven mezcal with smoked salt and "smoka-cola." If ever there was a cocktail made to pair with smoked beef brisket, this is it.

Entertainment

After it gets dark and most diners are onto their dessert course, Paul Abel — better knowns as "Paul the Fireman" — and his partner, Shorlet Johnson perform an entertaining series of fire dances to music. Alternating in a way so that when one solo dance ends, another begins, Abel and Johnson use various wooden and whip-like props to create amazing spectacles for the eyes, eliciting many oohs and aahs from the guests.

In addition, live musicians — aided by voice recordings — play Latin beats and after the fire show, Coccoloba hostess Kristina Fonjga Milanovic heads to the makeshift dance floor near the Coccoloba's covered dining area and leads all willing children — and some adults, too — in a variety of Latin dances.

Because it happens on Saturday night, has seating starting at 6 p.m. and offers entertainment and many child-friendly food options, Barbacoa is a family-friendly event that is offered at the very family-friendly price of CI$38 per person, excluding beverages.

For reservations, which are required, call 746-4111.

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This article appears in print in the November 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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Coronavirus changing Cayman's drinking trends

Without visitors coming to the Cayman Islands for most of this year, those working in the hospitality industry have predominantly served residents. As a result, they've learned more about the tastes of Grand Cayman's residents.

Adam Slobodian, a bartender at Seven restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman says he notices a big difference between what tourists normally order and what residents are ordering.

"The local clientele has a different flavour profile," he says. "There are some whiskeys that we used to go through six bottles a week, but now that we're serving only locals, we don't go through one. And there are other things that moved very slowly that we now have to reorder every week."

It's not just with whiskey that Slobodian is seeing a difference. Because Americans make up the large majority of stay-over visitors to the Cayman Islands — and by extension, overnight guests at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman — the menus are slanted toward American preferences, which include American wines and cocktails on the sweet side. The local customers, however, order fewer American wines and they like their cocktails less sweet, he says.

Although this trend is artificial because it's caused by the special circumstances of COVID-19, it could have some lasting effects.

"Our trends are indicative of who travels," Slobodian says, noting as an example that if Cayman were to open up to European visitors before it opened to American tourists, the menus would have to change to suit the tastes of those guests.

"The longer this goes on, we're going to notice more differences in taste profiles and what moves off the shelf."

In addition to learning more about the beverage tastes of residents, Slobodian was able to use the time during the lockdown period to further his knowledge about spirits.

Employees of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company are encouraged to continue their education and training in their various fields and it's no different for those in the food and beverage sector. When the hotels closed and Cayman Islands residents were instructed by the government to shelter in place, Slobodian took a virtual training course through the Society of Wine Educators. Upon the successful completion of the course and passing the exam, he became a “Certified Specialist of Spirits."

Although he had already completed a mid-level spirits course offered in the Cayman Islands, the Certified Specialist of Spirits encompassed more material.

"It touched on all spirits really," Slobodian says. "Everything from vodka to cachaça, to Korean spirits like soju and vermouth — basically anything that touches the distillation process."

Whiskeys and Whiskies

The Seven restaurant bar where Slobodian works is known for its bourbon whiskey selection, which includes a Woodford Reserve single barrel "Private Selection" that is unique for The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Its label even reads, “Seven at The Ritz-Carlton."

Although it still offers a strong selection of bourbon whiskeys, Seven carries more Scotch whisky and rye whisky now. The cocktail list for its happy hour — which takes place at the Seven bar from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and offers craft cocktails for CI$7 each — reflects this change. For example, Johnny Walker Black is used in the Candied Popcorn Old Fashioned and the Driftwood cocktails at Seven.

"Scotch is a fun ingredient to work with," says Slobodian. "A blended Scotch like Johnny Walker Black is easy to incorporate because of its balanced flavours, and with a smoky Scotch, you can almost use that like you would a mescal."

The Driftwood cocktail is Slobodian's creation and in addition to Johnny Walker Black, it uses Mount Gay Black Barrel rum, banana liqueur and falernum syrup.
"It's a like a Caribbean version of a Manhattan," he says.

Getting Caribbean flavours into the cocktails is a goal of all the bartenders at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, partially because of its long history in the region and partially because that's what people who live and visit the Cayman Islands want. Because of that, Slobodian believes that two of the coming trends will include more use of rum in cocktails, and not just for the sweet traditional cocktails like piña coladas, but also for sipping cocktails as well.

In addition, Slobodian sees highballs becoming popular again, but with premium and super-premium spirits. There is one customer at Seven who likes to order Johnny Walker Blue — a super premium blended Scotch that typically retails for more than US$200 a bottle — with Coca-Cola. Although purists might scoff at using such a high-quality spirit with Coke, Slobodian doesn't have an issue with it.

"Chefs use the best ingredients to make the best dishes," he says. "There's something to be said for using the best spirits to make the best cocktails. If you don't start with good ingredients, you can't get a superior product."

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This article appears in print in the November 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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