Thursday, January 27, 2011

Carmine's, Atlantis, Paradise Island

Carmine's, Marina Village

The Juggernaut organised dinner here on a whim, high on endorphins after his ten mile run. We were in the market for some carbs so with this in mind we set off towards Paradise Island. From the little I knew about Carmine's, an Italian trattoria catering mostly to tourists from Atlantis, I was aware that they served up enormous portions of pasta 'family style'.
A hearty welcome awaited us at the front desk and we were then left to our own devices to locate our friends.Walking into the great hall, past its false beams and brick arches I felt we were extras on the set of an Eighties mafia B- movie that went straight to video. A small child could easily go missing in this vast space and not be discovered for days. However, we eventually located our friends waving frantically in the distance and headed past tables full of families on holiday with forkfulls of spaghetti and slightly defeated expressions on their faces.
The friendly waitress was over to us in a flash, clearly trained to the standards of American service. The laminated menu consisted of Pasta, Seafood, Steaks and Chops, all fairly straightforward. The dishes are designed for sharing between four to six people. We chose a Mixed Seafood Pasta ($55) and a Chicken Parmigiana ($28) with a side order of, you guessed it, pasta. You could choose the type of pasta you wanted, which I think should be left up to the chef, and ominously either red or white sauce, whatever that meant. We opted for linguine and white sauce. A basket of bread was brought to the table, of which the sundried tomato encrusted focaccia was the highlight, despite being a bit soggy.
Our food arrived too quickly, within ten minutes we were presented with a vat of pasta drenched in clear brown liquid with an array of slightly dry frozen seafood, mussels, clams, overcooked lobster, large prawns, squid rings mixed through it. Unfortunately I couldn't identify a single ingredient in the pasta sauce but I believe it was meant to contain white wine, garlic, onion, parsley and olive oil. Perhaps it should have been sent of to a laboratory for analysis.
Parmesan was offered to sprinkle on the seafood; a practise of which I vehemently disapprove, with few exceptions. The Chicken Parmigiana was a large slab of flattened chicken breast, covered with tomato puree and suffocating underneath a blanket of cheese. I was mesmerised by it. I hadn't seen this much cheese on a pizza before, let alone on a poor chicken breast. Would we need liposuction after eating all this? Needless to say, we couldn't finish the two dishes between the five of us.
Dessert was out of the question. After the table was cleared, a lone strand of linguine was left behind on the table cloth, with a small oil slick emanating from it. Slumped in our chairs in a pasta induced coma, we quietly sipped our espressos, waiting patiently for our bloated tummies to deflate. We sat there for quite some time.
Carmine's is one of four restaurants; two of which are in New York, the other in a casino in New Jersey. Described as 'NYC's legendary Family Style Italian Restaurant' on the website, it was a far cry from real Italian food, made with thought and understanding. The efficiently churned out meals and high turnover are typical of a chain restaurant. I found the food bland, over processed and frankly, pretty forgettable.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mahogany House, Mahogany Hill, West Bay St, Nassau

I had heard good things about Mahogany, the hotly anticipated, newly opened restaurant near Lyford Cay. Having just relocated from a city where good eateries are not hard to come by, I often found myself underwhelmed by the restaurants on the island. A new addition to the West which did not require membership or only served lunch was a refreshing addition to the scene. I made a reservation a few days ahead for a Friday night; at which point there was only a 6pm or 9pm sitting available; a good sign. I took the Juggernaut (my significant other, who is solidly built but certainly no fatty) and we headed over. 
Walking through vast Mahogany doors through a bustling bar into the contemporarily designed room, with it's banquette seating, simply laid wooden tables without linens and shelving displaying an impressive array of wines, I felt transported back to the urban dining spots I knew and loved. The lighting was soft and flattering, worlds away from some of the harsh white lit rooms I had encountered elsewhere here. The clientele was a well heeled mix of silver haired expats and glamorous couples, all happily chattering away. 
Soon after being seated, we were offered some complimentary sparkling water, something I had never encountered before and a nice touch. The menu is concise and clear, devoid of unnecessary description and full of the sort of food I enjoyed eating. It was also confined to one page, which I always find reassuring. A menu offering too much choice is rarely a good thing in my experience. The cooking is Modern European, with a broad selection of Salumi, some salad (not a Caesar in sight), various pastas, pizzas, meats including duck and pork; something to cater to all tastes. There was even a cheese section; with fourme d'ambert, tallegio and manchego; a joy to behold as I had been longing for some fine cheese.
The wine list was extensive, with down to earth descriptions, removing any pretension from the decision making process. As I am not that knowledgeable about wines but know what I like and enjoy seeing different grapes on a menu, I found it easy to navigate . The restaurant manager, Chris Farnham, was clearly passionate and knowledgeable. He was conducting an impromptu tasting on the table next to ours and had just ordered a further six hundred cases. There is a wonderful wine cellar beneath the restaurant, which doubles up as a private dining room.
After much deliberation we made our decisions and placed our order; I plumped for the quail with grilled radicchio, pancetta and barley to start. The Juggernaut chose the terrine of wild mushroom, asiago, balsamic and polenta. While we waited, albeit not for too long, we were presented with some delicious roast red pepper crostini amuse bouches; a great way to kick of a meal and make it feel special. Our lovely waitress brought the starters over whilst we were still tucking into the bread and olive oil . The quail was wonderfully bronzed and glistening, cooked perfectly for such a small bird, still moist, smothered with the rustic combination of pancetta, radicchio and barley; a deeply comforting dish with depth of flavour. I was one happy punter. The terrine was heavy on Polenta; which has a pretty divisive texture and flavour; but worked well with the wild mushrooms, although there could have been more of them. All washed down with hearty gulps of Pinot Noir, it was bliss.
For main course, I chose the cod with squash puree and braised cabbage. It arrived looking a bit anaemic but I have to confess all the elements were well cooked; even if the combination was a little bizarre. The Juggernaut had the chicken with Chorizo, Fingerlings and wild mushroom; a warming earthy dish which gave rise to food envy. The portions are polite but not tight and designed to be eaten in one sitting. No styrofoam takeaways needed here. For the really hungry, there are imaginative side orders such as truffled potato and root vegetable gratin, quinoa tabbouleh, roasted brussel sprouts. 
New Years resolutions aside, we could not forgo dessert, so we ordered a Pannacotta with chocolate Espresso, cookies and mint coulis. The textures and flavour were really well balanced; with the Espresso keeping the pannacotta the right side of sweet. Needless to say it didn't stay on the plate for long. Sadly, there was no room left to acccomodate any cheese on this occasion.
 Head chef Dan Quirk, came over to chat about our food and overall impression, then took the time to give us a tour of us the market shop and cellar. Mahogany appears to have really filled a gap in the market here for great food, cooked with love, care and innate understanding, without the hefty price tags. A love of hog has even been incorporated into the name of the restaurant. It is arguably the best restaurant on the island. It really deserves to do well; it would thrive in London, Barcelona or New York and should continue to do a stonking trade here. I can't wait to return and work my way through the menu.