Sunday, November 13, 2011

The D.R.: breakfasts at The Peninsula House, and other food

I'd been talking to Cary about the breakfast fruit arrangements at his and Marie-Claude's
The Peninsula House for a few years before I actually witnessed them - and then, of course, ate them.  The fruit was as delicious as it was beautifully set, on different china each morning.  At  least it was for the five mornings that it was served to me.

Grapefuit, Watermelon, Papaya, Mango, Pineapple, Grapes, Melon

Gonzalo Tizon, the chef at both The Peninsula House and its Beach Restaurant, created the delicious caper hors d'oeuvre to go with cocktails on the veranda one particularly sultry evening.  The flowers on the plate are REAL bouganvilla.  Gonzalo is a native of Argentina and coincidentally worked with Marcelo Raitelli  (see December 4th 2010 blog, "And then I went to Patagonia") at a hotel in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia.  What are the odds - it's not as if I travel that often anymore -  but - Argentina and the DR, and two chefs who know each other?  And two, young talented chefs.  Wow.

Plantains and batatas at a market in Las Terrenas


Paco Mer is a restaurant smack on the beach behind the cemetary in "downtown" Las Terrenas.  Its rustic, slapped-together appearance defies its rather sophiscated offerings.  Paco, pictured in a T-shirt the color of his eyes, and the sea, is a Frenchman who's lived in the DR longer than he can remember.  We ate avocado tartare (avocadoes were in season, highly flavored and incredibly creamy), fried, freshly-caught sardines, mai mai -  white fish similar to mahi mahi - with spinach sauce and chofan, an island staple that is more or less a Domincan version of fried rice.  It can be a main course filled with pieces of chicken and pork as well as chopped vegetables and plently of soy sauce - or as  a side with green onions, sweet corn and whatever else might be in season.  It's very tasty.

Just down the Playa Coson from the Beach Resturant is Restaurant Luis.  It's been on that spot, at the edge of the water for the past two years.  But Luis has had his restaurant for years - he just squats in the most hospitable location and when asked to leave he hitches his bar to a trailer, packs up his grill, and tables and chairs and moves to another welcoming place.  The first time we tried to eat there it was so busy - his reputation is far-flung and the highway that facilitates the trip to the Samana peninsula had just opened, so hungry patrons were crowding the beach to get a table and a chance at his grilled langoustines, chicken, fish and shrimp.  We went back the next day and were easily seated and fed the most scrumptious selection of garlicky grilled shrimp and fish, fried plantains, and potatoes, rice and beans, and avocado salad.   I had a fresh coconut to drink.

Happiness is all that tasty food, under a palm tree, at the edge of the sea with a dear old friend.
Gracias querido amigo.

Bedtime snack at The Peninsula House. Chocolate chip cookies.  These buttery, densely sweet, slightly salty cookies will insure heavenly dreams.

adapted from Jacques Torres

makes about a dozen and a half 5-inch cookies

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1//4 pounds bittersweet chocolate discs or feves . at least 60 % cacao content
sea salt

1.   Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Set aside.
2.   Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in the vanilla.  Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combine, 5 to 10 seconds (Cary says, "Do not overmix").  Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them.  Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.  Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
3.   When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.  Set aside.
4.   Scoop 6  3 1/2 mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto a baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally and chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes.  Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another sheet to cool a bit more.  Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day.

my note:  you can make smaller cookies - just bake for 12 - 15 minutes.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

On the road to La Samana, D.R.

After a few false starts - "I'm coming, yes, I'm coming" and "Thank you so much for your gracious invitation, but I don't think I can come right now".  I went.  Oh boy, did I ever go.  Whooshed away directly by Jetblue from JFK to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I was met at the airport by the charming Victor and driven straight through the navy blue tropical sky, fringed by silhouettes of palm trees to The Peninsula House located at the north-western top of the Samana Peninsula.   The Peninsula House ,owned by a dear, old friend, Cary Guy, and his partner, Marie-Claude Thibault, calls itself an "exclusive guesthouse".   In fact, when you step foot into the luxurious Caribbean-style house, you feel as if you are arriving at the home of a 19th century French planter who made a fortune in sugar cane products then sent his new-found fortune  back to Europe to purchase the most exquisite furniture, rugs, paintings, sculptures, crystal and china that those rum pesos could buy. You are comforted by the formal setting - not overwhelmed by it.
Actually, before you are allowed inside the house, you are obliged to coo coo and caress the house's two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Dallas and Jake - and to tickle  the tummy of the Dominican mutt, Bill - who's a girl.

There's so much to say about this award-winning spot (for 3 years in a row the readers of
Conde Nast Traveler have chosen it the number ONE hotel in the Caribbean and number TWO in the entire world.  I'm breathless) that I think that I'll divide information and observations into a few entries.

China used for breakfast service.  It was previously owned by the Aga Khan.

Jake & Dallas


Pool and the Atlantic Ocean

The Beach House.  It's a few minutes away from the main house.  Here, you can take the sun from a a comfy chaise lounge parked in the powder sugar sand and swim in the tepid, turquoise ocean.   Lunch at the Beach always begins with a dish of warm coconut chips.
Make with shaved, fresh coconut meat, place on a baking sheet, toss with sea salt and cook at 350 degrees F until deep gold - a few minutes.  Watch carefully or they'll burn.

Consume with a drink, invented on the spot, and made to order by Luca: fresh pineapple juice, a splash of campari and topped with sparkling water.  Divine.

It didn't get much better than my stay at The Peninsula House.
Coming - breakfasts and other food, and pink and green dwellings.