Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Icoa: A Little Foodie Heaven on Grand Cayman 

We knew for certain that we had hit the jackpot when the beautiful little artisanal bread board arrived and practically begged us in audible human language to be savored immediately. A brief glance in its direction and we knew we would have to oblige it.

It all started back on Little Cayman at the Southern Cross Club. When we realized that we had no way to avoid a long layover on Grand Cayman on the way home, we figured we'd better ask Terry Thomson what to do about it. Terry is SC's masseur who also doubles as the bartender (and in earlier days was apparently also the boat captain and a divemaster). Having spent a little time at the bar with Mr. Thomson it was pretty clear that he's a very well rounded hedonist. So Terry gave us the eye, considered our foodie tendencies and spieled through a few options for lunch on GC. Watching our reactions carefully, he finally pronounced, "Yeah. You know, I think Icoa Cafe is the place for you. It's in the Seven Mile Shops strip mall. Don't be fooled by the appearance of the mall. The food is really good."

Now the strip mall is seriously unpreposessing, so the warning was very much needed. One would never imagine that there was a purveyor of food porn present given the humble setting, but as K. began using a cute little spoon to put some tapenade on the freshly baked bread, we were thinking that this was going to prove to be a serious find.

Because the appetizers looked so fabulous and because we had been eating and drinking a lot more food than we are accustomed to for the past week at Southern Cross Club, we elected to order a whole bunch of appetizers and forego the main dishes.

Dish after dish, we were not disappointed. Two tender scallops were in an unctous mushroom broth (definitely cream in that "broth!) with a few beautifully shaved pieces of parmesan. I honestly was a bit skeptical about the cheese in this context, but I loved it in practice. Or more specifically, in my mouth. And that bread basket required a refill so that we could sop up all that yummy broth!

A cylinder of chicken liver pate arrived with toasted pistachio nuts, fig compote and most interestingly a pot of honey and a honey dripper. Ohhhhhhh.....so unbelievably superb. I would have never thought to combine honey and pate myself, much less fig compote but it turned out to be an inspired combination.

After a sip of crisp Australian Pino Grigio, I would spread a little bit, consider whether or not with this taste I had accomplished everything I needed to in this world and whether or not I could depart with this swallow as my last deed on earth. I have to say that the chicken liver pate was truly unbelievable. I loved the texture and it's robust but not overpowering flavor. Both the honey and fig compote managed to be complementary without repetitive in the ways in which they added sweetness. And the simple, but inventive presentation of the honey in a shot glass with the mini-dripper struck me as delightfully pragmatic and still surprising at the same time.
After raving about the pate, I don't want to give too short shrift to the Blue Crab cakes with lemon verbena, sweet pea & mint "Gazpacho". It too was lovely and flavorful. Yet another win on the menu.
So the moral of the story here is:
a) Listen to your local hedonist when it comes to island food (which in the Caribbean is so often a crashing disappointment in comparison to the beautiful environs)
b) Never mind the strip mall because most of the islands are not generally known for their glorious architecture to begin with, right?
c) You dont need entrees when the appetizers rock the house. You have the advantage of being able to try many more items and see what the chef is all about.
The next time we're passing through Grand Cayman, we might just engineer a little layover at lunch hour on purpose!
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