Thursday, January 22, 2015

Birthday Dinner at Half Moon's Sugar Mill Restaurant (Rose Hall, Jamaica)

When I left you last, we had arrived at Sugar Mill Restaurant and had made our way to the seating area for Joy's Birthday dinner. I broke off the narrative at that time due to concerns about the length of the piece. This new post allows us to continue on a clean sheet of paper.

After Parlo and Joy had completed the tablescape, Joy assigned seats by placing name tags adjacent to each setting. Four members of our party had still not arrived but we went ahead and took our assigned seats anyway. The server responsible for our table introduced herself, the Assistant Server, and the Wine Steward and then distributed food menus. Joy wanted me to select the wines so she motioned the Wine Steward in my direction.

The wine list was professionally bound in green leather and the pages were laminated. I flipped through the pages quickly to size it up, saw that it merited careful study, and so went back to the beginning to give it the attention it deserved. This was not a hipster-Somm wine list. It was very traditional, with representative brands from the world's major wine regions. It also had a number of labels that I did not recognize from providers with whom I was otherwise familiar. The pricing was high. For example, a Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label can be bought in most US restaurants for between $90 and $160; at Sugar Mill it was $280. But, it is a high-end restaurant in a country which sees wine as a luxury item and taxes it as such. Pricing notwithstanding, the presence of a modern wine cellar, and the dialed-in wine list, were early indicators that I was in for a treat  that evening.

So, I was in the position of ordering wines for the table but Joy was paying the bill. Keeping that in mind, I muted my natural tendencies and ordered a 2014 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc from NZ for the white and the 2011 Lapostolle Cuvee Alexander Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile for our red.

The initial wine service was excellent and those high standards were maintained throughout the course of the evening. It was especially satisfying to receive Victoria and Albert's and Enoteca Pinchiorri levels of wine service in the Jamaican hills. The wine steward (Eric Facey) brought the bottle to my seat, presented the label to ensure that he had brought what i had ordered, opened the wine after receiving my approval, and poured at the perfect level into my glass for me to taste (By the way, the glassware was truly befitting of a high-end, wine-friendly restaurant.). After I nodded approval, he went to the female diners and asked if they were drinking whites. If they were, he carefully and professionally poured the appropriate amount into the glass. He then went around the table again, picking up the men this time. Once he had poured every other diner, he topped my glass up to a similar level. Once that bottle was finished, he brought me a new glass so that I could taste, and approve of, the second bottle prior to its deployment in the field. And so on and so on.

Eric provided superb service and had an excellent tableside manner. The Sauv Blanc that he served up exhibited papaya, guava, and sweet white fruit notes, bright acidity, and a dusky, sour finish.

The missing members of our party still had not shown up (truly working on island time) but we had stalled for as long as we could. The show had to commence. I signaled to the Assisitant Server and he began to circle the table with a basket containing breads (wheat, bean, Rosemary), Bami (a cassava flatbread), and Festival (slightly sweet corn meal fritter) and accompanying condiment choices (Escovitch Sauce, Olive Oil, Pumpkin Cream Cheese).

The food menu (which we had been perusing over this period) ran to two pages and the food choices presented therein were described as "Simply Contemporary Caribbean." It contained all of the meat choices you would expect to find in a high-end international restaurant except that these offerings would be enhanced by "all of the Caribbean's rich influences" and "mouth-watering melange of flavours." Regular menu offerings were supplemented with a number of announced specials.

I ordered a Seafood Chowder as my first course. It was built around a seafood and mixed-vegetables puree thickened with cornstarch. It was served at the perfect temperature. It was of a medium texture and pretty tasty. The Sauv Blanc soared on these wings. Parlo ordered a Romaine Heart Salad which was garnished with a Creamy Garlic Plantain Sauce, Jerk Cashew Nuts, and Breadfruit Croutons. I had to taste it whether I wanted to or not. It was excellent.

The missing guests showed up around this time and we were, of course, very understanding about the fact that they had missed the bus at Paul's home and were on the order of 1 hour late for the start of dinner. They had a lot of catching up to do because the wine had already begun to fuel the conversation. We were feeling good about where we were, why we were here, the quality of the food we had had so far, and the excellent service. It was all good. And darkness was beginning to fall, yielding the added magic of dining under the stars.

The Assistant Server showed up again, this time with an Eggplant Bruschetta palate cleanser, compliments of the Chef.

For my main course I ordered the Rack of Lamb. My tablemates (who were all born in-country) fell out laughing saying that I would be getting Rack of Goat. I asked the Server to check with the Chef as to the source of the Lamb and she came back saying Australia. Medium-rare please. When delivered, the Lamb was accompanied by Homemade Mashed Potatos and Roasted Vegetable Chunks (Carrots, Turnips, Sweet Potatos). Awesome texture, taste, and temperature. Paired admirably with the Cabernet Sauvignon, a dark, fruity red with vanillin notes, a spiciness, drying tannins and a saline aftertaste.

The restaurant had filled up around us by this time (remember we had started relatively early). Most of the patrons were probably from the Half Moon hotel proper or from other area hotels. A number of children were dining at tables with their families. A low-key, two-piece band entertained us with some Jamaican "oldies."

But this was about Joy's birthday so they brought the cake out (she is not 7 years old). After she blew the candle out, she made a touching little speech: how lucky she was to have friends who would come all the way here to share this night with her; how loved she felt; how perfect things had been for her so far; how late her son was for the event (No she did not say the latter. I was editorializing). After which a few of us got up and told her how great she was; how much we appreciated her; and , especially, how much better the food and wine tatsed with her picking up the tab. And shade like that. After which Noel (her husband) got up and delivered a sermon (and the guy is not even a preacher). Waiter, my glass is empty.

After all the speechifying and hugging, I repaired to the wine cellar for a tour (The others repaired to the bar to resume consumption.). The cellar was not Pinchiorian or Tailleventian in size or scope but it was home to a representative sample of First Growths and other leading wines of the world. The wines were comfortably nestled in oversized slots in an appropriately chilled environment. The Somm proudly guided me from rack to rack showing me what each housed and, from time to time, he would carefully and lovingly extricate a bottle from a rack to show me a particularly important aspect of the holding. It was great and I came away happier and more fulfilled than I had been after many a plastic tour.

I joined the others at the bar. The night was still young by our standards.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

1 comment:

  1. My cousin has been to this place in Rose Hall. Though we live here in SF but he told that the experience he had here was something different and which is absent here in local San Francisco restaurants. This made me quite curious about this place and will visit when I get a chance to be there.