Monday 6 May 2013

Pêche Pâtisserie

I've long been a fan of  Pêche Pâtisserie. I was one of their first followers on Facebook when they were based out of Chaguanas. Chef Khalil Ali has been making a name for himself as a bit of magical baker. If you can imagine it, Ali can deliver it. The imagination and craftsmanship that goes into his desserts and baked goods have ensured a loyal following of foodies who flock daily to little Picton St patisserie. The Bloggers' Table (Marie from TriniChow, Sarina from TriniGourmet, Q from Bring It To The Table, and Corey over at Learning Patience and I) were here to road test some of the more recent additions on the menu. If the rumors were true, we were in for a treat. Ali seems to have a natural instinct for the luxurious and the sublime. With offerings such a roe for breakfast, a daily lobster bisque, and the most recent addition - lovely big (local!) oysters, Peche is morphing out of its patisserie status and growing up into a heavy weight small bistro. 

Sourdough foccacia with olive oil, roquefort, cheddar, and fresh herbs
It seemed fitting that we'd start off our marathon luncheon with some baked breads (it is, after all, still a patisserie). The foccacia was soon joined by an olive fougasse made with sourdough, organic rye.  And olives of course.
Olive fougasse
The rumours were true. Oysters! Anyone who knows me well is very familiar with my oyster obsession. To say that I love them is an understatement. And these were big, juicy, and cold. Lovely with a briny, salty under note. Definitely more briny than milky and more to my liking. I like to taste my oysters.

Oysters on the half shell.

Q politely stopped after two. But when I realized that not everyone at the table shared my oyster passion, I did not politely stop at two.
A mouthful of briny wonderful-ness!
I had one alone. And then I had one with a splash of lime. The lime worked well with the briny, salty flavor. Just a small splash, to complement, not overpower.
Fresh lime
Lovely, cold, and briny.
 Then I tried one with lime and the zingy horseradish dip. 
And just when I thought it could not get any better (!) out came the platter of Oysters Rockefeller.  I'd had my share of oysters, rockerfellered and otherwise, in New Orleans recently so I can speak with some authority when I say that these rockerfellers can hold their own anywhere.  A roasted creamy herb topping, a smidgen of shallots, the de rigeur spinach, and a light dusting of panko bread crumbs dressed the oysters before being gently cooked. Wonderful stuff.

Oysters still plump under their Rockerfeller blankets.
Oysters Rockerfeller done to perfection
The way had been paved for the egg and smoked salmon salmon that was waiting in the wings. The salmon had been rolled and laid on a bed of artisan greens.  
Tight rolls of smoked salmon make this presentation a feast for the eyes
The tight curls of the smoked salmon told me that this salad had been prepared with the same precision that Ali applies to his desserts. An attention to detail that makes the presentation of the dish very much a multi sensory experience. Tasting with the eyes. I was very taken with the sliced egg which were so perfectly done (with a mandolin maybe?) that I had to look closely to confirm that they were, in fact, eggs.
The eggs were perfectly sliced and sprinkled with roasted capsicum. The Parmesan crisps add visual texture as well as provide a necessary "cracker-like" addition to this salad. 
The beauty of this presentation is that once the eggs are served, the whites fall away to reveal the yolks and add a dash of yellow. The eggs were hard boiled and tossed in roasted capsicum. Scattered around were little crisps of Parmesan and a sprinkling of feta.
This was followed by a paneer salad. 

Lightly seared paneer was served up on greens with a crisp vinaigrette  Paneer is malleable with a gentle creamy texture. Lovely!

But nothing prepared us for the excitement of the Snow Crab Legs. I'm trying to write this as if these dishes came out one after the other. Actually, many of the dishes came out simultaneously, which allowed us to taste and sample and come back to taste again. The more dramatic the presentation of the dish, the more excited we got. It is a lot of fun, all this eating and photographing and note taking with other bloggers. I highly recommend it. 
Snow Crab Legs served with buttered creamed cassava.
 The Snow Crab Legs not only wowed us with their presentation, we all had to learn from Corey, who managed to carry on a full conversation all the while seemingly oblivious to the skillful crab leg decimation that showed her stripes as a seasoned crab eater. (note the color coordination - hip blue nails and Snow Crab Legs perfectly matching the shirt - that's our girl!)

Q, on the other hand, was like - whoa! That's some legs!

Marie learned fast. Bend at the joint. Crack and pull. Dip in delicious herbed garlic and Chardonnay butter.

It's easy once you get the hang of it.
Sarina opted for an Egg Norwegian which is a variation on an Egg Benedict. With the Norwegian, the classic ham or bacon in the Benedict is replaced with smoked salmon.

Egg Norwegian
The poached egg sits regally on its bed of English muffins, spinach, and smoked salmon liberally sauced with a lemon and paprika Hollandaise and a Parmesan brulee before being run lightly under the grill. 
By this time, our main meal had arrived. A Peche specialty. Tandoori Atlantic jumbo shrimp served with a tikka masala sauce. The flavors were bright and the shrimp not overcooked which is always the risk with tandoori (my opinion). But they were firm (not hard) and full of flavor with the hints of cardamon, mustard seed, and cinnamon all coming through the cream based sauce. The shrimp were served simply with a basmati rice and greens.

Yes, it was a wonder that we had any room for dessert. But we did. After all, you can't come to Peche and not eat dessert. There are many little gems to choose from, each handcrafted with a jeweler's precision.

A small selection of some of the desserts available at Peche.

This little bonbon was a blueberry and saffron cheese cake served on an almond pecan base.

But I had my eye on the Pave de Roy, an 80% chocolate, 20% rum concoction that had the texture of a truffle.

And no dessert is ever complete without a least a spoon of creme brulee. 
Sheer decadence.
If you can, visit Peche for lunch. It's best to get there early as the room fills up quickly and parking can be limited on Picton St. I like to visit their Facebook page which is pretty good about getting information out to customers. That's how I keep up with what's new on the menu. I anticipate that they will have to move sooner rather than later because with an expanding menu, it's only a matter of time before customers will be clamoring at the door for more space, and we can only hope - a dinner menu. But for now, visit them for lunch and take home some chocolate croissants for tea.

When you do go, don't forget to try the oysters.

Thursday 2 May 2013

The Royal Botanic Gardens

The Saraca indica.

I try to walk in the Royal Botanic Gardens of Trinidad at least twice a week. We are very lucky to have such wonderful gardens laid out in the middle of our city. Originally established by Sir Ralph Woodford in 1818, the gardens were one of the earliest Botanic Gardens in existence and certainly one of the longest to have a continuous run. Under the purvey of The Ministry of Agriculture since the early 1900s, this space is manned by some one hundred staff.
Indian Silk Cotton

The best time to visit is during the early dry season, when the grass is still green and the trees are just beginning to flower and the air cool and crisp.
Line of bay trees

The Fern House

It's one of the few places in urban Port of Spain where you can still see wildlife. Squirrels and parrots in particular.

Close up of the flowers of the Saraca indica.

The yellow African tulip


Collection of seeds

Many past governor generals are buried in the little cemetery. So too their wives, often lost young. But alongside them are also the remains of past curators and many who have loved this space. A tranquil gentle place that lies within site of the bay trees, the cemetery is often known as "God's Acre".

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Tuesday 12 March 2013

Foodie Blogger Meet Up At Buzo Osteria Italiana

It’s always exciting to meet people that you've come to know in the Blogosphere. The Trini food bloggers are a particularly great bunch. They blog consistently, give honest feedback, and ask all the right questions. So I was happy to do a little genre jumping and join up with the foodies for a bloggers’ lunch at Buzo a few Wednesdays ago. Meeting all the people I know in cyberspace feels, well, kind of like a blind date. But it was a nice small bunch to ease me in.  Our coordinator and organizer extraordinaire was Corey
who blogs over at, I was also excited to see Marie from TriniChow, Sarina from Trini Gourmet (who now has her own television show), and Q from Bring It to The Table. 
 If you’re not familiar with Buzo Osteria Italiana, it sits on that wonderful spot at 6a Warner St that once housed Rafters Restaurant back in the eighties and nineties. The limestone building (built in 1908) with its original thick walls has a long history of food.
 Beginning with its incarnation as Camacho’s Grocery (owners and proprietors Manuel and Rosina Camacho lived upstairs and ran their business out of the Warner St wing) the building was later sold to the Mowser family who ran the very popular Rafters Restaurant for some twenty four years.
Elizabeth Mowser remembers that when Rafters first opened, the late Pat Bishop did a series of large floral paintings to adorn the walls of the restaurant. Bishop knew the building well as she had grown up diagonally opposite to Camacho’s and would no doubt have shopped there, as many people living in the area did at the time. Mowser, no stranger to the restaurant business as she had been instrumental in running JBs (named after owner Johnny Boos (Mowser’s brother) was a solid source of knowledge to her sons, Richard and Paul, who managed Rafters through its sterling run before closing its doors after almost quarter century of operation. Today the Mowser family still owns the building but it is now the home of Italian restaurant Buzo Osteria Italiana.
With a snazzy renovation under its belt, the old world charm of Rafters has been replaced with an uber chic remodel.
That all of this modern appeal is housed in one of Port of Spain’s older buildings only adds to the charm of both the spot and the ambiance of the restaurant.
Chef Christian Grini pulled out all the stops for us and after much chatting and picture taking we settled down to our menu while taking note of all the lovely touches.
 Here thanks to Corey's great organisation, I have her handwritten menu. I'm including it because I like the rustic-y charm of an au natural menu.
We started with Focaccia al Rosmarino, also known as Focaccia Cicilista (pronounced chick-kle-sta) topped with olive oil, rosemary, and rock salt. I like the presentation of the bread standing in triangular shapes. Reminds me a bit of the hot, salted, nuts are served as street food. The focaccia (a type of flatbread) was crisp, not greasy, with the rock salt and rosemary flavor holding up well to the texture.  
Focaccia al Rosmarino
Next on the plate was Polenta Fritta on Cheese Fondue  or Polenta Fritta con Fonduta al Quattro Formaggi which was perfect. Deliciously cheesy, the polenta base is always more accommodating than heavier starches and reliably delivers on texture. Visually it was also interesting as the association with an egg (for obvious reasons) intrigued me; it's something that I've been seeing recently, this idea of chefs playing up visuals to throw the palate off guard.  A culinary-pun, I guess. 
Polenta Fritta on Cheese Fondue
 For me, the piece de resistance was the Portobello Tempura. If you haven’t tried it at Buzo, make sure you ask for it next time. This meaty mushroom is perfect in its tempura batter. Light and heavy. Yin and yan. The basics of good cooking. I like when my palate expects something and I get an other. Wonderful.

Portobello Tempura
 All through our tasting, we were attended by Frances, our waiter, who was gracious and ever patient as we rearranged the food to shoot it and asked him a million questions. Thank you Frances. You were the bomb. 
Frances our waiter
The flat bread  pizzas are really called Focaccine Farcini and they came in several combinations. My personal favorite was the Arugula and Truffle Oil (a lettuce pizza?), and the Zucchini and Goat Cheese.
Zucchini and Goat Cheese - A favorite

Prosciutto Crudo
A selection of the flatbread pizzas. Note my favorite in the back!
 They were all very good but my favorites had flavors that I didn't expect to find on a flat bread. For anyone going to Buzo and expecting the heavy, cheesy, pizza that most people associate with the term will be surprised at both the versatility and the flavors that are produced by these light, crisp, offerings.
Next on the menu were little pillow shaped Lobster Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta Cheese.
 Lobster Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta Cheese.
But, for presentation, nothing beat the whimsical touch of the Frito Misto, fried calamari and shrimp which arrived in its own little brown bag and jar. The absolute gourmand's brown bag lunch!
Frito Misto, fried calamari and shrimp which arrived in its own little brown bag and jar.
 Style on a plate.

Note the bed of Proseco Risotto
Gorgeous! This was followed by a Strawberry Salad. Even on the page this menu is an epicurean's dream. I was intrigued by the use of radishes as accents with their crisp red and white circles. I'd seen them in the polenta dish and here they were again. Just a little pop of color.
Strawberry Salad


Final Light Dessert
After this marathon tasting session and lots of this (always necessary at long Italian lunches)...

And even some of this. All fine Italian of course.

We had to have our fair and delicious share of this...

But we were all still shooting away. So many lovely things in this restaurant
Pepper Flakes and Pepper Oil
Even the Display Jars are Exotic.

 Buzo Osteria Italiana is on Facebook and at 6a Warner St. Port of Spain.
Be sure to have the Portobello Mushroom Tempura.