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It’s Spring Break time again, and if Eli is in charge (he is), that means diving. So it’s off to the US Virgin Islands and St Croix for a Caribbean adventure. No wait, life is too slow here for that word. Um, visit? Relaxation racket? Who knows. It’s certainly not the city!

And that’s a good thing, mind you. The island is lush and green. The water is that striking blue that comes in many shades according to depth and coral. The roads are just as bad as they should be (rent a jeep), and driving is on the left.

View of the Cottages from the beach

View of the Cottages from the beach

The Cottages are located outside of Frederiksted, a sleepy little town on the west side. The west side beaches are very nice indeed. If you’re here for the diving, the cottages are an excellent target. Like any ocean front beach rental, things are dated in a charming way. And there is reasonable net, which is always good.

View FROM the cottages (coconut)

View FROM the cottages (coconut)

We chose both coconut and sylvia’s room for our stay. Coconut is a second floor efficiency with a kitchen and a tiny bathroom. Sadly, the shower suffers from low water pressure and that ’80s “your parents” design. But it does offer a spectacular view.

Hmm. Should we just not mention the shower?

Hmm. Should we just not mention the shower?

Then again, there is the view

Then again, there is the view

Coconut

Coconut

Sunsets are so nice on the west side of the island that people rate this particular one a 2 out of 10.

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Of course, all is not perfect here in paradise. A few years back, the world’s second largest refinery (run by Hess) shut down abruptly, and 10,000 people lost their jobs and left the island. Hess left behind a massive ecological disaster in the way that only a large oil company can do. They shed a subsidiary and had it declare bankruptcy. Pretty awful Hess! Anyway, the island is still reeling from the after effect of that closure. Business now seems to have devolved to tourism only. And that is dragging the whole thing down market.

For example, just down the beach from the delightful cottages is this disaster of a prison for chickenshit tourists. Behind a barbed wire topped chain link fence. Astoundingly reeking of no class.

Prison for idiot tourists

Prison for idiot tourists

And there is this, which seems to invade with regularity. The money is great I’m sure, but the herds? Not so much.

Nooooo!  Not a cruise ship that holds 3000 people.

Nooooo! Not a cruise ship that holds 3000 people.

When the cruise ship is in town, everything opens and the streets are filed with vendors of shlock. Steel drum bands play. Tourists are quickly separated from their cash.

When the ship is out, the sidewalks roll up at 9 (well, at least the restaurants start cleanup mode and no longer serve food). More about that in a minute.

We’re here to dive, of course. And so our boat is a bit smaller.

Captain Kay drives the boat

Captain Kay drives the boat

N2 the Blue Dive Shop

N2 the Blue Dive Shop

NPS highly recommends N2 the Blue Dive Shop for some personal, friendly, and impeccable diving. Of our massive two shop sample, N2 the Blue is superior in all ways. (Our experience with Cane Bay Dive Shop was much looser, chaotic, and more random with a small chance of accidental death.) In particular as a newb myself, I really appreciated Haley Hendrickson’s teaching style. Learn from the best and avoid Darwin awards at all costs.

Haley (N2 the Blue)

Haley (N2 the Blue)

Underwater in St Croix

Underwater in St Croix

The diving is great (and relentless when you are with Eli). Our dives:
The Pier – excellent life and a great dive
Sprat Hole – turtle
Swirling Reef of Death – coral farm working on stag’s horn coral
Shallow Wrecks – three big boats
The Pier
The Jungle (north side) – a nice deep wall with Cane Bay
Pavilions (north side) – wall and coral garden with Cane Bay
The Pier at Night – wild in the dark
Armageddon – nice pile of debris with associated wildlife
Little Mill Point – shallow wall with much coral (turtle)
Eli did the Pier at night again

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down

We’ve seen all sorts of everything: turtles, sharks (eating lion fish we killed), eels of all kinds, two kinds of lobster, many angel fish, crabs, seahorses, an octopus and more.

Haley also (N2 the Blue)

Haley also (N2 the Blue)

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Lunch at Turtles Deli

Lunch at Turtles Deli

Rhythm at Rainbow

Rhythm at Rainbow

So on to food. Well, it’s an island. There is some OK, and there is some spectacularly bad. Lets work our way up from the bottom of the barrel.
Beach Side Cafe (Sand Castle) it is next to the cottages, but bad music and bad food
Paradise they may be the only ones open, but skip it and go hungry instead.
Rum Runners like your mall restaurant, only more Disney. nope.
And finally above the waterline.
Norma’s way local in a touristy way. fun bar. get a Wednesday burger.
Turtle’s Deli great sandwiches and cold beer. grumpy owners…or maybe just Yankee expats.
Pier 69 great burgers and seriously quirky staff.
Lost Dog a local dive with OK pizza and lots of characters
Rhythms lunch and/or way early dinner. bar fare.
Savant upscale-ish with great atmosphere and decent fare (good wine)
Zion Modern Kitchen real food, and an actual world class cocktail program

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Frank Robinson at Zion Modern made these.
Mystery Rum Cocktail
2 oz Angostura 1824 rum
.5 oz passion fruit
.5 lime
.5 bay leaf simple syrup
3 dashes angostura orange bitters
stir down. meanwhile sour orange swath and 5 dashes of angostura bitters in glass. ice. strain drink in. float with blackstrap rum.

Mr. Robinson, I presume

Mr. Robinson, I presume

Experimental Gin Cocktail
1.5 oz bombay gin
.5 oz buddha’s hand infused bombay
1 inch think pineapple ring
.5 lime
splash st germaine
.5 simple syrup
tarragon sprig
muddle + pineapple juice in glass. top with ice. strain mix over ice.

On Friday we drove around in our jeep. Up the mountain, through the rain forest. The drive was beautiful. Everything was closed for Good Friday.

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Rent a jeep from Centerline

Rent a jeep from Centerline

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Last time we did an informal foodie experimental test set, Volt won hands down. This iteration, we find Volt neck and neck with Annisa up to the finish line where the crack staff at Volt pulls of a win by a headlength at the finish line.

Wow. Annisa (in the Village in NYC) is fantastic. Soup dumplings with fois gras? Yep. Delicious duck and stuffed pork. The work of Anita Lo is incredibly great. Love the wine list too with lots of fun stuff from Italy. Also a plus, the atmosphere is warm, welcoming and at the same time very precise. The only thing that needs work at Annisa is the bar program which lags pretty far behind the edge. (I called for a Corpse Reviver #2 and the lemon juice was squeezed sometime way before I had arrived at the restaurant. Might even have been concentrate.)

Volt, Bryan Voltaggio’s phenom restaurant in Frederick, MD is also fantastic food-wise. Of particular note on the tasting menu this outing:
MELON heirloom tomatoes from big white barn, pickled rinds of watermelon, shaved surryano ham from surry county virginia, fennel marinated in fresh whey and dressed with oil of arbequina olives

The melon treatment is particularly incredible. Both cantaloupe and watermelon vacuum sealed and compressed.

CHANTERELLE MUSHROOMS preserved ramps from this year’s crop, steel cut oats with kombu and brown butter, sea lettuces dressed with the pickle from the ramps, mushrooms roasted and glazed with an emulsion of beer and fresh yeast

foam! and buttery deliciousness.

PASTA BOLOGNESE calamari and bacon smoked with hickory, stewed with roasted tomatoes and kimchi of daikon radish, ricotta cheese and miso cavatelli with ink from the squid, grated parmigiano reggiano

This was my personal favorite. I am usually not a fan of squid ink, but Voltaggio can pull it off. The bolognese would make any nanna proud.

NUNAVUT CHAR slowly cooked in extra virgin olive oil, green cabbage shaved thin and slightly wilted, rye bread that has been toasted and smoked, mousse made from horseradish, broth from plum juice and dill

So tender.

The food is just amazing. Don’t let the off the beaten path thing fool you. But the service is what made our outing at Volt so great.

Zack started things out properly at the bar with some nicely crafted cocktails including the Cat’s Pajamas:
.25 Countreau
.5 Yellow chartreuse
.5 Brandy
.75 Suze
1 oz Rittenhouse Rye
Stir down. Serve up with a thick orange twist.

TJ the wine guy was so encyclopedic in his knowledge that we all learned something. What a joy to experience (well everything but the Gewürztraminer). The entire staff is not snobby at all, just knowledgeable and fun. Our waiter was also a blast, especially when after hearing about the latest two pigs we’re raising opined that we should call them “Mountain Dew” and “Spider Monkey” or maybe “brioche” and “biscuit.” Awesome. Real people, great food. You MUST go.

Volt Entrance (3a)

The best part of all was that the Volt thing happened spontaneously based on a gig I had in Frederick. Best excuse to blow all the gig money and then some that I have ever had! (Thanks to Michael for squeezing us in at the last minute.)

Well pickled okra anyway. In a martini. At circa 1922 which is a pretty good restaurant in Wilmington, NC, but nowhere near as good as they think they are. (The Dixie Grill is still the best thing in town.)

Okra martini (pickled) from Circa 1922

Okra martini (pickled) from Circa 1922

Okra beats this.

Rectangular building paying homage to parking lots and puddles.

Rectangular building paying homage to parking lots and puddles.

But you already knew how I felt about the Wilmington Hilton. Somebody build a real hotel down here!!

Preferably one without bathroom consoles like this.

Curvey.

Curvey.

One showerhead for Wilmington Hilton. Only stay here if you have to.