Graycliff Restaurant

Those who have been tracking my dining patterns on this blog may have been wondering why I had yet to review Graycliff, one of Nassau’s best known fine dining restaurants. Truth be told, I imagined that Graycliff would be priced beyond my budget. It was. Thankfully, it was my 40th birthday, and my mother was in town and offered to take the family out for a special dinner. My mom had done some research and suggested Graycliff as an ideal spot for our celebration. It was.

Once a private home, this beautiful old mansion offers a dining environment that is uniquely elegant. Our Monday night, 7pm, reservation meant that we were the first to be seated in the dining room. Since Graycliff utilizes a team of servers to look after each table, we immediately received great attention. Drink orders were filled quickly, with fresh bread and appetizers following closely behind.

I was pleased to see Conch Chowder on the menu, which made for an obvious choice for my appetizer. Sherry pepper sauce was offered, and gratefully received. I recommend adding just a little splash for some added heat. It was a hearty chowder, with decent sized conch and vegetables. The chowder didn’t have the “wow” that the chowder at Van Breugel’s has, but the taste was excellent and I would readily order this again. Allie ordered a Caprese salad, and the fresh buffalo mozzarella perfectly complemented the heat from my chowder.

As I surveyed the prices of the entrees I felt my heart rate accelerate, but then I reminded myself that mom was paying, and so I went for the 14 oz Certified Angus Beef® sirloin. Don’t get me wrong—mom wasn’t holding back either, as she ordered the lobster entree. My steak was perfectly cooked (medium rare) and appropriately seasoned. I regularly promote to Allie and Anya the importance of fat in steak, for its capacity to impart taste, tenderness, and juiciness to the beef. This sirloin, however, had more fat than I had ever seen on a restaurant steak before. I estimate that I trimmed 4 oz of fat off of my steak—essentially leaving me with a 10 oz sirloin.

The menu at Graycliff is also à la carte. Allie added asparagus, while I added what turned out to be a rather large plate of mashed potatoes. I was a little surprised to find that the potatoes weren’t very warm, but the service had been so good that I didn’t feel comfortable sending back a peripheral item that I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish anyway (I didn’t).

Anya ordered chicken fingers and fries for her dinner. I know that sounds like a pretty standard order for a 10 year-old, but these tenders were excellent. The chicken fingers were nicely seasoned and freshly made.

For dessert Allie ordered Guava Duff and thoroughly enjoyed this Bahamian favorite. I opted out of dessert, but ordered another favorite of mine, a “Bahamian Coffee”. We could hear musicians performing in the next room throughout our dinner, but that didn’t become relevant to our dining experience until the singer came to our table to sing us “Happy Birthday” (my birthday is Nov. 20 and Allie’s is Nov. 26). The server followed closely with 2 strawberry cheesecakes. Good thing I saved room! Allie, on the other hand, was tapped out. We got her’s to go, and I had it for breakfast the next day.

Our experience at Graycliff was an immensely positive one. The tiny hiccups I experienced with the steak and potatoes shouldn’t obscure the fact that the food here is of the highest quality. The team of attentive servers, and the beautiful environment greatly enhances the dining experience. While the price point may delay my return to Graycliff Restaurant, I am delighted to learn that Graycliff’s Humidor Piazza is more within my budget. I look forward to reviewing some of their pizza in the very near future!

Scorecard:
Food 34/40, Environment 26/30, Service 25/30 = 85

Brussels Bistro

Brussels Bistro has an excellent reputation in the community and I learned last evening that it is a well deserved reputation. I’m a bit embarrassed that it took me more than 2 years before dining here—especially considering that Brussels is walking distance from where I work.

Parking can often be a challenge in downtown Nassau during the day and so if you are unable to walk to Brussels from where you are, you will want to wait until the dinner hour when the parking spots open up. Brussels is also quite small (although tastefully quaint) and so I recommend making reservations–which we did, for 7:30, and were the 2nd table to be seated.

Anya (my daughter) began with a Caesar Salad ($12.95) and, while she enjoyed it, willingly offered her father the opportunity to eat half of it (which I gladly did!). Allie (my wife) opted for the Onion Soup ($8.50) and later nicknamed the soup “liquid happiness”. I broke the bank and went for the plate of Smoked Salmon ($18.95) served with white toast, scallions, and lemon. The salmon was extremely fresh and was worth every penny.

For our second course Allie ordered the Chicken & Mushrooms in a Cream Sauce engulfed in Puff Pastry ($20.95) served with Belgian fries. While Allie enjoyed the chicken and puff pastry entree, her response lacked the zeal she had for the onion soup.

Anya and I split a 12oz NY Strip Steak ($36.95), which came with broccoli and Belgian fries. The steak was perfectly cooked (medium rare, of course) and I was pleased that I ordered the green peppercorn sauce (which was outstanding) because Anya complained that the steak was under seasoned (it’s tough convincing 10 year-olds to try green peppercorn sauce).

I previewed the dessert menu on the Brussels website earlier in the day, which motivated me to save room for dessert. Allie went for the Guava Soufflé and loved it. I sampled it as well and concur that it was excellent—light, fluffy, with great flavour. Anya ordered ice cream, which had hot Belgian chocolate drizzled over top. The liquid chocolate eventually became Allie’s second dessert as she repeatedly plunged her spoon into the vessel which contained the chocolate. I am a huge fan of crepes and so the crepe stuffed with vanilla ice cream, with orange sauce and Grand Marnier ($12) became an obvious choice. While I loved the orange sauce, the dish was a bit soupier than I would have liked.

One of my standard service tests is to order something that is off menu, but relatively easy to prepare. Accordingly, I closed the night by ordering a “Bahamian Coffee”, which our server eagerly put together for me.

A note about the website: Brussels’ website is very well organized and was an extremely helpful tool for previewing the restaurant. That being said, the prices on the website did not accurately reflect the prices on the menu. Stella Artois, for example, is $5 on the website but actually cost $7.

Our dining experience at Brussels Bistro was an excellent one. We appreciated the attentive, friendly, service, and throughly enjoyed the quality of the food and the freshness of the ingredients. I plan to return for lunch in the very near future!

Scorecard:
Food 33/40, Environment 22/30, Service 25/30 = 80

Blu Restaurant: CLOSED

One of Nassau’s best downtown restaurants announced today that it is closing its doors. Blu Restaurant was the first Nassau restaurant reviewed by this blog. You can read the review here. Blu was very strong in all of the hard to change areas, such as food quality, location, and environment. The main weak spot that I detected was service, which should be the easiest aspect to correct. The Facebook page for Blu didn’t offer an explanation–only the announcement. I was very much looking forward to a return visit, but now I can only hope that an equally compelling dining option emerges in that particular stretch of paradise.

Ichiban Restaurant

I had modest expectations as we turned in to Ichiban Restaurant for our family dinner on Friday evening. Few of my friends dine here. Trip Advisor had Ichiban ranked quite low (28th) among Nassau restaurants. I had no reason to believe this would be an excellent dining experience. But I must admit now that my expectations were inappropriately framed. Our dining experience at Ichiban was outstanding.

Being a downtown restaurant I was a bit unsure about parking, but Ichiban does have valet parking for their small parking lot. In hindsight, we were early enough that we could have parked on the road, across the street from Ichiban, for free (The valet is free, but you should tip!).

The restaurant has two levels, but wanting a better view of the ocean we opted for the second level patio seating. This is undoubtedly the best choice (weather permitting). I am always impressed and grateful when restaurants use dining room furniture, rather than plastic furniture on their patio. This is the case at Ichiban. The view, as expected, was excellent. On the second level you are high enough to see past the cars driving below and your eyes fixate on the sea and the passing ships.

Having had Tuna Tataki at Seafront Sushi, Allie and I were eager for a comparison. You pay a fair bit more for the dish at Ichiban ($17 vs $10 @ Seafront Sushi), but we enjoyed Ichiban’s version slightly more. Seafront has the tuna lying on top of the ponzu sauce which unduly saturates the fish. Ichiban’s tuna is more thickly sliced and has a much more appealing presentation, with the ponzu as a side dipping sauce.

Allie and Anya shared a Red Dragon sushi roll ($16)–fried shrimp, raw tuna, cucumber and spicy sauce inside and out with masago and sesame seeds. I thoroughly enjoyed the piece I had and, in Allie’s words, “This sushi is crazy good!” We over ordered on purpose and Ayna is pretty pumped about having the leftover sushi for lunch today.

To say that Ichiban’s menu is “extensive” would be a huge understatement. The menu is the size of a short novel. I imagine that food inventory and preparation consistency is a challenge for this restaurant. A bit overwhelmed by choice, I asked the server to tell me the most popular dish from the “Asian Specialties” section.

That led me to order General Tso’s Chicken ($16), described as “lightly battered chicken fried and tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce, garnished with steamed broccoli”. While I enjoyed the dish, and finished every bite, I challenge the veracity of “lightly battered”. The chicken was heavily battered and because the chicken is in small pieces you really feel the heaviness of this dish. As is my custom, I wimped out and ordered the “medium” sauce only to have buyer’s regret, wishing I had ordered “hot” instead.

I was delighted by the selection of specialty coffees on Ichiban’s menu. Allie ordered the Calypso Coffee ($8) and I had my favorite, Bahamian Coffee ($8). While Allie enjoyed trying something new, she did indicate a preference for the Bahamian Coffee. I got a giggle out of Anya’s dessert order as she asked for the “Assorted Ice Cream” ($9). Anya thought that meant they would roll out an assortment of ice cream flavors for her to eat. It was a bit of a letdown to know that she could only get one flavor with her order.

The service at Ichiban began well. We were early enough (6:45 p.m.) that our servers were very attentive out of the gate. As more people arrived, the service did slow, but didn’t become painfully slow until after our entrees as we waited to make a dessert order. The general manager (owner?) downstairs appeared to have a good handle on the operations. She was there to greet us and to direct a host to our reservation, and she was there to say “Good night” and even had an open door for us as we departed.

I can’t explain how Trip Advisor has Ichiban ranked so low. Have a look at how I compare Ichiban with other Nassau restaurants. I can’t believe it took me more than 2 years before dining here. This was a great evening out and I look forward to a return visit very soon!

Scorecard:
Food 32/40, Environment 25/30, Service 24/30 = 81

Current Standings | Restaurant Reviews

I’m a stats guy. As the number of my restaurant reviews increased I knew I would eventually need to create a summary document. It seemed natural to make this document statistical in nature and to organize the restaurants into divisions based on geography.

Four regions (divisions) naturally emerged: Paradise Island, East Nassau, Downtown Nassau, & West New Providence. Eventually, I’d like to create a “Family Islands” division as I have opportunity to review restaurants located on other islands in The Bahamas such as Grand Bahama, Abaco, and Eleuthera.

The summary document (restaurant standings) is linked here and will be updated regularly. Within this document I have also listed restaurants that I have not yet visited, but plan to. If you notice that a grade for a particular restaurant has dropped or increased, this indicates an adjusted score from a subsequent visit.

If you think I have graded a restaurant too favorably or too harshly, then tell me! (but be kind). If you think I’ve omitted an important restaurant, tell me that too! (and I’ll try and get there).

Eventually, I’d like to add some “awards” like “Best Pizza”, “Best Conch Chowder”, “Best Burger” to help those looking for a particular dish. Until then, I hope you enjoy the restaurant reviews and statistical analysis, and that you are encouraged to join me as I dine in paradise.

Van Breugel’s

I have not yet dined at every restaurant in downtown Nassau but, from among those I have tried, Van Breugel’s is my favourite. The food and service at Van Breugel’s is consistently good.

Located on Charlotte Street, across from Coin of The Realm, Van Breugel’s offers comfortable dining on their outside porch and also inside their air conditioned dining room.

Allie calls the mahi-mahi wrap ($16), “The best fish taco I have ever had”. I usually order the perfectly prepared salmon ($24), but on occasion I will order “The Van Breugel Burger”($15). I have yet to taste a substandard dish at this restaurant.

I always begin my meal with Van Breugel’s signature Coconut Curried Conch Chowder ($9.50). To put the quality of the chowder in perspective I need to explain that I’m not at all fond of coconut or curry. But, like the legendary collision between chocolate and peanut butter, which gave us Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, this unique mixture of ingredients has produced, in my mind, the best conch chowder ever. If you truly love the taste and texture of conch, you will be delighted by the size of the pieces within the chowder.

Image from Van Breugel’s website (it’s not the Thai Beef!)

On my most recent visit to Van Breugel’s I felt compelled to try a new dish, and so I ordered the Thai Beef ($24)–beef tips in a sweet and spicy thai sauce, served on a bed of jasmine rice. My thinking is that it would take a supremely talented chef to transform the less desirable beef tips into an appealing entree. I’d give the dish a B+. I ate every bite, but Van Breugel’s has too many A grade dishes for me to go back to this.

The sauce was more sweet than spicy, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. The accompanying vegetables (zucchini, peppers, asparagus) added some different textures to the dish and helped with the illusion that I was having a super healthy lunch. I say that, but somehow an extra side of french fries made it to my table, and I felt it would be poor stewardship to leave them uneaten. The fries were from freshly cut potatoes, and the basic salt and pepper seasoning made this simple side a superstar side in my books.

Our waiter was a young man who had served me a couple of times previously, and he always offers prompt and friendly service without being overbearing or disingenuous.

The downtown location of Van Breugel’s is perfectly suited to attract the business lunch crowd, and I often see the same businessmen here, which leads me to conclude that they are experiencing the same high quality dining that I am.

While there are many downtown dining options for me to choose from, I am delighted to have found a “go to” spot in Van Breugel’s.

Scorecard:
Food 35/40, Environment 24/30, Service 25/30 = 84

Athena Cafe

OPA! is something you’ll hear a lot when dining at Athena Cafe, a Greek restaurant, located in the heart of downtown Nassau. Athena’s offering of authentic Greek cuisine and warm hospitality makes it a unique and attractive dining option for locals and tourists alike.

My friend and I wandered over to Athena following Sunday service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk. We started with the Grilled Octopus appetizer ($18) served with peppers, onions, and balsamic. I’m certainly not a pundit when it comes to octopus preparation, but it tasted overcooked. My friend’s technique for consuming the octopus was to create an octopus gyro with the pita bread side, which arrived with our sodas.

Speaking of gyros, I ordered the Lamb Gyro ($15) while my friend went with the Chicken Gyro. The pita bread was remarkably fresh and was the perfect vessel for this Greek specialty. The tzatziki sauce was on point, and was loaded with garlic (as anticipated). The disappointment was the rather processed lamb strips. Had I known that this was what I would be getting I would have surely opted, as my friend did, for the sliced grilled chicken breast.

The portion size of the gyros and side (fries or rice) was substantial and so, in spite of my desire to write a more thorough review, I had to forgo having any dessert. Thankfully, my lunch mate took one for the team and muscled down an order of Kataifi for dessert. The best description I was given for this dessert was that it tasted like mini wheats dipped in honey and stuffed with nuts. I’m not sure the pastry chef would appreciate that description, but my friend did finish every last bite.

Athena Cafe - downtown Nassau BahamasAthena Cafe has a very unusual layout to their restaurant. To begin with, you enter by stepping inside a jewelry store on the corner of Charlotte and Bay Street and you head upstairs to a choice of indoor and outdoor dining.

The indoor dining room is quite dated and removes you from the feel of being in a downtown restaurant. On the outdoor patio, facing Bay Street, the tables are packed in very tightly and so inevitably you are hearing the conversations of the those sitting near you. There is also a long, single file, stretch of tables that overlooks Charlotte Street.

Athena Cafe, Nassau, BahamasThe most pleasant aspect of my dining experience at Athena has always been the service (This was my fourth time eating here). In an environment where most of the restaurants include %15 gratuity in the bill, the worry often is that the service will suffer because they already have their tip. At Athena, however, you can count on friendly, prompt, and (virtually) mistake-free service.

Athena has the potential to be a great, “go to”, downtown restaurant, but as I consider the dated decor and staid environment I can’t help but wonder if some complacency has set in with the owners. The corner cutting I observed with a couple of their dishes would seem to buttress this hypothesis.

I’m not ready to give up on Athena Cafe, I just hope they aren’t going to give up attempting to improve their restaurant.

Scorecard:
Food 29/40, Environment 20/30, Service 24/30 = 73

Blu Restaurant. Bar. Lounge.

Blu Restaurant might be the most well marketed Nassau restaurant on Facebook. I’m particularly grateful for this as I had a good handle on the menu and location of Blu before setting out for lunch there today. If you don’t map out Blu’s location ahead of time, it can be difficult to find. Even harder to find is parking close by. My wife and I opted to pay $3 for public parking a short walk away.

Blu is an elegant, harbourside, restaurant with tastefully decorated dining space inside, and outdoor dining space that has an impressive view of the cruise ships at port.

Arriving for lunch, Allie (my wife) ordered the Pepper Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna ($24) while I opted for today’s special—Penne Pasta with Beef Tenderloin Tips ($15). Blu offers a variety of soup, salads, and appetizers, ranging from $10-$15.  The entrees range in price from $14 for the Hand Made Falafel Panini, to $45 for the 20 oz Bone in Ribeye Steak.

The wine list is extensive, as is the selection of cocktails ($12 ea), and specialty coffees ($8 ea). I opted for the Bailey’s Irish Cappuccino and enjoyed it immensely.

Allie thoroughly enjoyed the tuna and I was grateful that she allowed me a generous sampling of it. While I agree with Allie’s assessment of the tuna, I did state my objection to her having it cooked medium rare (I prefer rare). The only negative aspect of Allie’s meal was the slightly undercooked potatoes (but it wasn’t enough to keep us from finishing them!).

The penne with beef tenderloin tips was perfectly cooked and sauced. I wouldn’t say that the taste “wowed” me, but it was an enjoyable dish nonetheless and I finished every last morsel.

Our server was friendly and attentive enough, but given the fact we were among the first to arrive for lunch, I was surprised by how long it took for our drinks to come out. Some small details were also overlooked—our table was missing salt and pepper, and both of our water glasses had noticeable chips on their base.

For my wife, I think the dessert was the highlight—Allie ordered the Warm Chocolate Fondant Cake with Chocolate Chilli Gelato ($12). After finishing her final bite, Allie asked me if it was ok for her to lick the plate!

Blu made for an excellent “date” lunch with my wife, but I don’t know that it would be an ideal spot for a family with young children. While virtually every menu item was appealing to Allie and me, I don’t know that our nine year-old daughter would have been thrilled with her lunch options.

Our experience at Blu was very positive and we look forward to a return visit and to recommending it to our friends.

Since this is the first review for Dining In Paradise, I need to explain my grading system:
Food (quality, taste, presentation)  - 40% of total grade
Environment (decor, furniture quality, view) – 30% of total grade
Service (friendly, helpful, prompt) – 30% of total grade

Scorecard:
Food 31/40, Environment 26/30, Service 22/30 = 79/100