Sugar Mill

Spring Farm Dr., Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica •  https://www.halfmoon.com/dining/restaurant/sugar-mill/ • +1 876-953-2211

Sugar Mill, as one might guess, is an old sugar mill from back in the planation days of Jamaica, situated on the stunning Half Moon property (pictured), which pays faithful homage to the history of the island with its grand, Victorian white buildings all the way down to an authentic, antique mill still turning gracefully next to you whilst you dine.

But dining inside or out, the space is beautifully done. And the music comes courtesy of nature itself, as tree frogs serenade you throughout the evening. Also adding to the grace of the experience is the service, which was bar none the best we received on the island.

The other superlative of the night was the rum punch. The best I’ve had since Mata Chica in Belize. So damn fresh and potent after just two glasses it will have you feeling as irie as ganja.

But then the sugar wheels came off as flavorless dish after flavorless dish came out. From a pumpkin soup that could’ve passed as water to a lobster in need of even more salt than the soup, served next to a side of risotto that might be the worst of the three.

It was so disappointing that I starting mooching off of my friend at the table and even her starter was a waste of jaw muscles. And brain muscles as well, because I don’t even recall what it was. Fortunately her entrée was decent, though. A special shrimp prepared in a spicy red sauce.

Also redeeming was the pineapple tarte tatin and the Blue Mountain Coffee Ice Cream. It’s rastafuckingawesome!

So on the whole, Sugar Mill was a surprisingly sour experience, despite all of its charms, because at this level of the game and at this price point there were just WAY too many misses to give it anything more than a deuce.

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Scotchies

Falmouth Road, Montego Bay, Jamaica • +1 876-953-8041 • scotchies.restaurantsnapshot.com
 

Widely considered a jerk chicken legend, Scotchies manages to pack them in from locals to tourists and from sit down to take-out. What I love about the place is that it’s far from touristy. Mostly because I think it would scare them off. It’s a down and dirty roadside shack that seems to have sprouted some outdoor tables and a roof deck.

And while it is definitely an experience, I have to say this chalks up as one of those legends that is better left a myth. The chicken and pork were both dry as the Sahara. Fallout, I’d imagine from the rather archaic grilling method of bamboo grills and a corrugated sheet of aluminum as the lid (pictured). Fortunately though, it was nothing a little jerk sauce couldn’t spice up and moisten in compensation. But the only truly great dish was the roasted fish. I also enjoyed the yams, but everything else from the rice and peas to the breadfruit to the festival (banana and flour) all came off very dry.

The other thing that kinda (sarcasm) took away from the experience was when the machete-wielding cook confronted us for his own tip, asking us why we didn’t give him his own gratis like we did for the waitress? Obviously, this isn’t customary on the island, just as it isn’t a tradition anywhere else in the world, including the most tip-happy culture on earth- America. It is, however, very customary to leave the restaurant with all of your limbs still attached to your body, so we succumbed to the extortion and probably won’t be back here again any time soon.

Rick’s Cafe

West End Road, Negril, Jamaica • (876) 957-0380 • www.rickscafejamaica.com
 
To some, it is a world-renown icon for being one of Conde Nast’s top ten bars in the world. To others, it might be considered a touristy, inebriated Hell on Earth. And to be fair, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, because on the one hand, they do have themselves quite the view, especially during sunset. They also make a pretty decent rum punch.

On the other hand, the place is swarming with a morass of tourists all donning swimsuits, drinking themselves sloppy and smoking the weed, which is a very strange concept when you consider that the other prime attraction here is cliff jumping. Yes, you read this correctly. A lawyer’s nightmare come true, you’ve got a queue fifty intoxicated people deep all clamoring for the chance to hurl themselves off the side of a 45-foot ledge into the aquamarine waters below. And while it may seem like an obviously horrendous idea to have cliff diving and booze in such close proximity to one another, my guess is that it somehow works, because the liquid courage helps shmucks like me muster up the cohones to risk their lives and conquer their fears.

But the real question is, am I glad I did it? No. My ass hurt for weeks.

Rockhouse Restaurant

West End Road, Negril, Jamaica • 1.876.957.4373 • http://www.rockhouse.com/eat
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Nestled on a rocky cliff in Negril sits one of the finest, most beautiful hotels on the island of Jamaica. And within the hotel also lies the best meal I had during three days of breakfast, lunch and dinner. That meal being a lunch in the sun, overlooking the Caribbean Sea whilst sipping on a Humming Bird. No, not the actual bird. That’d be just gross. It’s the name of a cocktail they serve, made with banana, coffee and rum cream. Ya mon!

So skip the rum punch on this one. The bird is the word. And so is the fish, meaning the blackened snapper salad and the jerk calamari. Both have nice kick and great depth of flavor.

Rockhouse is not without its misses, however. I found the akee dip with plantain chips and the fish tacos to be somewhat bland. And while I would also lump the rum cake for dessert in the whatevs bucket too, if you ask them to serve it with vanilla ice cream it rallies strong.

3 teeth

Tommy Bahama Restaurant

9101 International Dr. Ste 1200 Orlando, FL 32819 (321) 281-5888tommybahama.com

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I know. I know. Ferocious, what in the hell are you doing eating in a clothing store? And a fairly cheesy one, no less! Well, it might surprise you to know that what their clothing lacks in taste, they make up for with food. Stop laughing. I’m trying to be serious here (for once). The food is actually pretty impressive and all hand made to order.

At the start, I found their bread to be just okay on its own, but the butter they serve it with makes it a worthwhile event. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg and honey.

The best thing of the meal for me was the coconut crab cake with thai chili. I know everyone on Yelp swoons about the coconut shrimp, but let’s be honest, how hard is it to nail as a dish? Have you ever had a bad one? Crab cakes on the other hand, are more of a skill test, especially this far from Baltimore. But consider this test aced, because it was friggin awesome. Spicy and sweet. Crunchy and tender. And much lighter than one might think.

On the heavier side, but also very good where the Chicken “Lollipops” rolled in hazelnuts with a jerk remoulade. I’m not exactly sure how you can call a drumstick a lollipop, but I’ll forgive them because they were also pretty damn-tastic.

Down from there, I stole a bite of the crab and avocado salad and found it to be decent, but not quite as nummy as the mentions above.

And the only miss for me was the ahi tuna taco appetizer, served on fried wonton shells with spicy mayo drizzle that was more drizzle than spice. That said, if you ask for a side of that thai dipping sauce from the crab cake and dip the tacos in them, then you’re talkin’.

Being that we were quite full at this point we opted for a half portion of the key lime pie to share and while it is also pretty good, it does fall a touch shy of great, because it lacks the necessary tartness that true key lime pies should have. Luckily it doesn’t go too sweet though either.

So skip the Hawaiian shirts and the tuna tacos and you are poised to have yourself a Bahelluva good meal.

3 teeth

Zafra

Dorado Beach Plantation Village Dorado, Puerto Rico • 00646 • (787) 626-1054 doradobeachclubs.com

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If you’re staying at The Ritz Carlton in Dorado Beach and want to mix it up a little from the resort restaurants, don’t. I can completely empathize with the desire for adventure, but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Located in the “Plantation,” which I suppose is Puerto Rican for “clubhouse,” as in the clubhouse you’d expect to find at many a golf resort (not to shit on it too much though, it is a rather grand clubhouse, taking cues from its name and looking a lot like a giant house on a plantation), but a clubhouse is still a clubhouse and our dread started creeping in fast as we approached.

Situated in a corner on the top floor the dining room sorta shat the bed. Totally depressing. Away from the water. By the golf course, part of the clubhouse (can you tell I don’t like clubhouses yet?), the dining room is just small and somewhat dated, populated by a lifeless crowd. So, we opted to sit outside where we were attacked by mosquitoes and a bat (guess this explains why we were the only ones sitting outside), who circled around our table for the entire meal. Lucky for me I don’t have much hair left for it to get tangled in. Wifey wasn’t too happy though.

And the unhappiness only swelled from there. The pork chop was dangerously under cooked and even more dangerously boring. As for the salmon entrée, it was also under cooked with a smidge more flavor than the pork.

On the upside, neither of us was bitten by the bat (just the mosquitoes). On the downside, I shoulda listened more closely to the story of Solla Sollew, by Dr. Seuss, when I was a child. Well, lesson finally learned. Even Nirvana has its misses.

1 tooth

 

Four Ways

1 Middle Rd, Bermuda • +1 441-236-6517 • http://www.fourwaysinn.com

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I know this place is a historic icon, but I can actually think of about five ways it’s overrated. The first being the “elegant décor.” Yes, if you’re idea of elegance hasn’t changed since the 70’s. Second would be the top billing as the best restaurant in Bermuda. I actually enjoyed myself more at the Swizzle Inn and the Ariel Sands restaurant.

Third would be the “award-winning chef,” which is just about the most over-used claim at restaurants apart from “heirloom” and “homemade.” That latter one being a major pet peeve of mine, because if you make it at a place of business and not in an actual home, then it’s “restaurant-made” isn’t it? Just like almost everything else at most restaurants. But back to the “awards.” What awards are we talking here? James Beard? Best of Bermuda? Or third place at a local bake off? Which is technically still an award won, and thus my gripe with the term. Don’t tell me he’s award-winning, tell me which award he won. Otherwise I’m just going to assume he won it for bowling. After all, you didn’t say the award had anything to do with his culinary skill.

And that brings me to the fourth way, the food itself. It’s not anywhere near as impressive as the swoons you’ll read on Tripadvisor. The fish was overcooked and dried out. The dishes were over-complicated and trying way too hard to impress. I’ll just chalk it up to the fact that most people think things taste better on vacation.

While I’m at it, I’ll also chalk up the fifth way, price. Thank god I ate here on an expense account, because the food simply doesn’t live up to the wallet-syphoning cost, which is made only worse by the exchange rate, the island mark-up and the fact that lobster is used in almost every dish except the desserts.

2 teeth

Ariel Sands

34 Shore Road Devonshire P.O. Box 334 Hamilton HM BX, Bermuda • +1 441-236-1010 • arielsands.com

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The hotel is owned in part by the Douglas family. As in Michael Douglas. As in the actor. As in why you’ll see photos of him and Catherine Zeta Jones on the walls around the hotel and all over the website. But don’t let that sway you into thinking this place is a Hollywood gimmick. It’s actually quite charming and dare I say, a bit understated. It’s also very authentic, with it’s colorful, icing-topped bungalows.

But posh it isn’t, so should you choose to stay here, don’t expect anything glorious. Scratch that. Don’t expect anything glorious from the hotel. The restaurant, however serves up a glorious codfish and potato breakfast (pictured). It looks bizarre, no doubt, but somehow it all just works, especially when you mix it all together into a crazy delicious mush complete with spicy tomatoes, avocado and onions.

Unfortunately that was the only meal I had here though, so I can’t speak about much else on the menu. But even so, l will say that it was the best meal I’ve had in Bermuda, both trips combine (which includes a dinner at the widely acclaimed Four Ways), and all meal occasions considered. But don’t just take it from me, take it from the highly aggressive sparrows that will try to steal it right off of your plate should you dare let down your guard between bites.

Oh, the ocean view from the restaurant is mighty impressive as well.

4 teeth

 

The Swizzle Inn

3 Blue Hole Hill, Baileys Bay CR 04, Bermuda(441) 293-1854 • swizzleinn.com

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As the slogan states on the door, “Swizzle Inn. Swagger Out.” And that’s pretty much what I did. After two or four “Swizzles” (their namesake cocktail and potent variation on a Rum Punch), I found myself not only losing count of my Swizzles (pictured), but losing a bit of my balance as well. Fortunately I wasn’t driving or I probably would’ve gotten into a Swaccident.

As I recall, they even have food, which I also vaguely recollect eating, but it’s most certainly not the headliner. As a supporting role however, it’s passable. And a bit of a necessity to absorb the alcohol.

If you go, please don’t drive or moped your way there. Be safe and take a cab. Heck, if you want to be really safe, don’t even ride a bike or walk. Have someone carry you.

3 teeth

Cha Cha Chicken

1906 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 581-1684chachachicken.com

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Perched in the middle of a Bermuda Triangle made from posh Santa Monica hotels like Shutters, Casa del Mar and The Viceroy sits a bit of an odd bird. A chicken to be precise. Named Cha Cha. Which is technically Cuban by origin, but they serve pan-Caribbean fare, including jerk chicken. And it’s served up with such islandy vibe you almost feel like you’re on an island. The weather obviously helps a lot with this, especially because it’s only outdoor seating, similar to Cora’s down the block.

But what makes Cha Cha so odd is that it almost looks like a shack. Not unlike Chez Jay’s, also down the block. But Chez at least has the excuse of having been the first establishment on Ocean Avenue, so one might consider it grandfather in. Whereas Cha Cha came along much later, only about 15 years ago. But whatever works, right?

And it definitely works. As a fun, affordable departure from the more refined eating destinations that are abound in Santa Monica and Venice. Among the pan-Caribbean offerings, you’ll find a few Mexican influences that find their way into their “pan” as well. For example the jerk chicken enchiladas. Call it Jamexican. Served with a spicy-sweet pineapple habanero sauce. Get it with beans and rice, along with some fried plantains and you’ll be dancing the cha-cha. Mostly because in LA Caribbean eats are hard to come by. But by East Coast standards Cha Cha is just So So. The flavors get a little mushy and the jerk could stand a little more Cha, if you catch my drift.

3 teeth