By Gary Walther
One of the qualities that makes St. Barth stand out from other Caribbean islands is the ease of venturing outside the resort. Despite some slightly hair-raising up- and downhill stretches of road—not much different from Provence, when you think about it—the island is not hard to explore.
Combine that with a five-star menu of independent restaurants, and you have a meal plan: lunch by the pool at Indigo and dinner out, or lunch out and dinner at Bartolomeo, Le Guanahani’s own fine-dining restaurant.
So here’s a trifecta: an assorted pick of three restaurants that will satisfy you in very different ways—from dress-up (just a bit) to flip-flop (in a dreamy beach shack). Bon appétit.
Creative Catch of the Day: Bonito
Photo credit: Romeo Balancourt; Bonito
Ceviche and tiradito are the fortè of Chef Laurent Cantineaux, who might be called the Nobu of St. Barth. (He’s actually cited Nobu New York as an inspiration.) Cantineaux is French, but spent a decade in Venezuela and has also worked in the kitchens of Troisgros in Roanne and at Daniel in New York.
He’s taken that resume and created what the website calls “world fusion cuisine,” except here the words are not empty calories. He means it, and he does it.
Bonito is perched on a steep side street in Gustavia, so steep that you worry a bit that the parking brake will hold. The modest cottage exterior conceals a svelte lounge of white couches and a curved, open-air dining room overlooking Gustavia. Given the twinkling lights amid the inky night, it could be the backdrop to a late-night talk show. You find yourself holding hands or putting your arm around your companion without even realizing it.
The scallop dishes here are always superb, meaty, and done to a turn. And the wahoo with bok choy and shitake may leave you exclaiming “wa-hoo” sotto voce.
A Towering Figure: L’Esprit
Photo credit: L’Esprit
That’s Jean-Claude Dufour, who stands tall in both height (6’6”) and resume: He was for 10 years the Chef at Eden Rock and has a contrail of followers.
L’Esprit is more like a garden of candle-lighted tropical vegetation with intimate outdoor seating. The landscaping evokes Bali: large frogs carved of wood, manicured plants, and fountains. (By the way, the place is easy to miss: It’s on the left before you enter the parking lot for Saline Beach and is only open at dinner.)
In the kitchen, visible from throughout the restaurant, Dufour mixes up the menu with expert aplomb—he can quote Escoffier or Ferran Adrià and make lots of culinary references in between. There’s simple (sea scallop carpaccio), the lip-smacker (duck spring rolls with cabbage and mango salad), classic (seared foie gras), daring (yellowfin tuna with coco beans), and culinary border-crossing (roasted pigeon with tortellini filled with chestnut and artichoke).
There’s also an auto-pilot option: lobster ravioli. C’mon, you’re on vacation.
The St. Barth of Old: O’Corail
Tired of restaurants over- and misusing the word “authentic”?
Here is the real deal: a vest-pocket beach bar with a mouthwatering view and an ambitious kitchen (duck confit as a special and house-made Chantilly cream for the lavish desserts). Reliable choices are the cod fritters and the tartare du jour, plus Rosé by the glass for only six Euros.
O’Corail is so then-St. Barth that if it were in the U.S., it would end up in the Smithsonian.
*Featured photo credit: Romeo Balancourt; Bonito
About the Contributor
Gary Walther has been a travel journalist for 40 years. He has been editor-in-chief of Departures, Expedia Travels, Luxury SpaFinder, and Forbes Life magazines, and for the past five years a freelancer with a column on Forbes.com called The Hotel Detective. He has passport stamps from 61 countries and is a million-miler on American Airlines. He writes for the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and Departures Europe among other publications.