A June 2005 trip
to Martinique by MoDean
Quote: Martinique is the perfect destination for those who love the food of the islands—the fresh fish, Caribbean spices, and fruity drinks—but it’s also perfect for those who don’t.
The cuisine on this little island is nothing short of a revelation (and I’m the girl who goes on vacation and plans dinner while I’m eating lunch). It’s a unique mix of Caribbean and French—fresh seafood and local spices enhanced with rich sauces and French culinary techniques. It’s Créole, but much more refined than the jazzy, attention-seeking New Orleans variety. This sort of Créole is focused on freshness and simple flavors, served with unabashed Caribbean joie du vivre.
Though it’s sort of missing the point to reduce the fabulous food experiences in Martinique to a short list, I do have a word limit, and food- and word-lover that I am, I have to reign myself in. So here are the three things no self-respecting foodie should miss in Martinique:
Chili oilThis flavored oil infused with hot peppers—and I mean hot peppers—can be sprinkled over fish, salads, bread, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. This is the kind of good stuff that leaves your lips burning and ignites the flavor of anything it touches. If you’re at all wary of spicy food, steer clear; those who can tolerate it will appreciate the earthy, salty taste behind the spice.
Ice creamThe French invented ice cream, and when you combine this know-how with luscious, impossibly ripe island fruits, well, let me just say I’m pretty sure this is one portal to foodie heaven. Order it whenever possible; don’t even start with the nonsense about being too full for dessert.
AccrasThese are the Martinican hors d’ouevre, appetizer, and snack of choice. I’d imagine you can’t really run a restaurant or even a respectable home kitchen here without knowing how to make them. The funny thing is, while the fried codfish fritters—a mixture of batter and salted cod—will seem far too omnipresent by the end of your trip, you’ll be craving them soon after you return home.
If you’re a fan of sparkling water, order a Didier—naturally sparkling mineral water bottled from the Didier spring (hence the name) in Martinique. It’s rich in magnesium and rumored to have curative properties.
Finally, a fresh chili pepper is often served on a little plate for the table. Just mince up a bit with the provided knife and add it to whatever dish needs a little zing; this is perfect for those who prefer to maintain a little control over the spice in their food.
See my other Martinique overviews for more general info on getting around the island.
Hotel | "Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa"
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 22, 2005
Le Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa
Le Francois, Martinique 97240
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 11, 2005
Hidden away up an inconspicuous driveway in the wealthy Didier neighborhood of Fort-de-France, La Belle Epoque serves up traditional French fare—infused with the freshest Caribbean ingredients, of course—in a beautiful turn-of-the-century home. Classic details are everywhere, from the luxe fabric used to upholster the dining chairs to the antique Victrola that greets visitors at the entrance. The former great room of the house has been converted to the main dining area, but we were seated at a table on the side terrace, surrounded by shady lawn and colorful flowers.
The midday menu was prix-fixe, including an entrée (which means "appetizer", funnily enough), plat (main course), and dessert. Entrée options included foie gras, beef carpaccio, and melon with proscuitto; available plats were roasted duck with herbs and a filet of dorade (mahimahi) with a cream sauce; for dessert was a warm chocolate torte or a trio of sorbets. This seemed like a good place to try foie gras for the first time, so I chose that as my entrée, followed by the duck and the sorbet.
Always a sucker for pretty packaging, I was completely bowled over by the presentation. I don’t usually take pictures of my food, preferring instead to dive into it the moment it hits the table, but this was a special circumstance. While several other people at the table—foie gras veterans—raved about the dish here, I wasn’t crazy about it. However, after trying it a few more times since then, I’ve concluded that I just don’t have a taste for foie gras (and I call myself a food fanatic!). The duck was also beautifully presented, if a little dry; however, the side dishes were fantastic—creamy puréed artichoke was my favorite. Sorbets were served simply, in a wonderful combination of flavors: mango (the standard, but still one of my favorites), mandarin, and blood orange (tangy and refreshing, balancing the sweetness of the other two flavors). Other diners had different combinations of flavors, but all were delicious.
La Belle Epoque’s menu changes every day, at each meal, depending on what catch is fresh and what herbs, vegetables, and fruits are in season. I was slightly more impressed by the environment and presentation than the food; however, I would return in a heartbeat for a taste of another menu. The memorable setting, knowledgeable and friendly service, and solid cuisine make La Belle Epoque a must-visit.
Read its review in Frommer’s for a second opinion.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 12, 2005
We arrived at around 8:30pm on a Tuesday night and were seated at a long table next to the water. Our friendly, helpful waitress immediately took our drink orders and left us with a small chalkboard inscribed with the evening’s menu. From my seat, I was no more than a foot from the water, which was softly lit to reveal fish milling about lazily and sea urchins waving their spiny arms under the surface. It made for a nice diversion while everyone decided on their dinners, and after my first ti'punch, it was positively entrancing.
This being our first dinner in Martinique, and considering our last meal had been airplane food, we had high expectations of the cuisine here. The menu did not disappoint. Entrée options (appetizers) included salade poulpe (octopus salad), chévre chaud (warm goat cheese), and tartare de poisson (raw fish salad), which I chose. Plats (main courses) were equally tempting: filet de dourade (mahimahi), tartare de boeuf (steak tartar), and my choice, duo de crevettes et St Jacques (shrimp and locally caught scallops).
While we waited, we were served a basket of bread with a small bowl of chili oil—a salty, smoky, and extremely spicy alternative to olive oil. A taste or two had my appetite raring to go, and I dove right into my tartare de poisson when it arrived. The fish tasted incredibly fresh, dressed with a light, creamy sauce that toned down the citrus’s tang. I finished every bite.
But it was the duo de crevettes et St Jacques that had me reeling. I like scallops as much as the next person, but these were excellent—perfectly tender, with the coral (the crescent of reddish-orange meat around the more recognizable white muscle) still attached. Complemented by the shrimp, with hardly any sauce, the seafood’s freshness shone through, and I became a scallop convert for life.
Dessert offerings included crème brûler á la pomme (apple crème brûlée), douceur coco au fruit rouge (a creamy coconut dessert with red fruit), and fondant au chocolat (melting chocolate cake), which I chose. Again, it was divine.
By the end of our meal, I had joined Le Ponton’s legion of fans. It’s the perfect dinner spot to enjoy Martinique’s simplest pleasures: fresh seafood, the balmy ocean air, and a friendly, relaxed environment.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 15, 2005
On top of the unique atmosphere and memorable décor, La Villa Créole turns out a delectable dinner. This was the only meal on Martinique where I didn’t order a rum punch (hangs head in shame)— but a few dining companions ordered planteurs and gave them good marks. For my entrée, I chose le feuilleté de chévre chaud, a light, flaky pastry with warm goat cheese in the middle. It was excellent and surprisingly light, leaving me plenty of room for my poisson grille sauce Créole, a whole red snapper grilled and dressed with a spicy sauce. It was a dish very similar to the one I had at Le Ghetto, and although Le Ghetto’s sauce was superior, the fish here was equally fresh and flavorful. Sides of rice and salad were simple and unadorned.
Other entrée choices ran the gamut from la salade de poisson cru au citron vert (raw fish salad with lime) to la salade de foie de volaille (salad with a poultry variety of foie gras), and plats were equally diverse—le magret de canard á l’ananas (duck with pineapple) and les travers de porc aux piments doux (pork with sweet peppers) were a few non-fish options. For dessert, le banana flambée au rhum vieux (banana flambée with rum) and la crème au coco caramélisée were the two most tempting selections, but I went with the coconut crème, which sounded like a coconut-flavored crème brulée to me. It was actually more like coconut flan, but it was delicious nonetheless.
During dinner, our waitress was prompt and amiable, allowing us to focus on the infectious energy of Mr. Bruere-Dawson’s set, which was actually really good, besides simply endearing visitors to the place. The highlight of the evening was a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You"—in French—for a beaming 90-year-old woman whose two sons had brought her to La Villa Créole to celebrate. Come to think of it, they had the right idea; La Villa Créole’s undeniable charm and excellent food make it the perfect place to celebrate a birthday—or just a fabulous vacation.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 20, 2005
New York, New York