Icoa restaurant has been synonymous with breakfast, brunch and lunch – and their delicious deli and pastries – for many years. The restaurant-cum-kitchenware store at Seven Mile Shops now adds evening dinner and drinks to its repertoire.
With a sleek new bar at its center, Icoa has transformed itself into an evening haunt for tourists and residents alike.
In another change, Chef Jurgen Wevers, who has been with Icoa since 2005, decided to develop a colonial-inspired menu, incorporating flavors and ingredients that would have been discovered by 15th century European maritime explorers of Dutch, British, Spanish and Portuguese heritage during the colonization of what was then the Orient. As the menu states: “These unexplored virgin lands offered a rich bounty and new cooking methods. The best influences of these worlds led to a hybrid style of cuisine.”
The dinner menu is creative and ambitious. Chef Wevers, who is Dutch, blends these worldly influences into a cuisine that gives some ingredients precedence over others, such as chili seasonings, cucumbers, raisins and dates; and ingredient pairings that seemingly would not work well, but somehow do.
My guest and I recently sampled the new menu. To start, we ordered a couple of exotic handcrafted cocktails: Marrakesh and Paloma.
The Marrakesh consists of saffron ginseng-infused gin, Maghrebi mint tea, vermouth, cinnamon syrup, bitters and coriander tincture. Its bold, strong flavor could “add hair on the chest” of anyone brave enough to order it, according to my guest, and its generous alcohol content certainly kick-started the evening. Paloma’s ingredients include bird chili-infused tequila, pink lemon juice soda, grapefruit juice and chili salt. The combination of bitter and spice gives the cocktail an equally strong kick, which quickly had me level with my dining companion.
The eclectic array of handcrafted cocktails included gin, brandy, tequila or vodka, but rather oddly for these islands, no rum.
In both the appetizers and mains on offer, seafood and meat dishes feature heavily. If you are a vegetarian, as my dining companion was, Icoa requests you call in advance so that Wevers can prepare some options for you. Unfortunately, we did not do that. However, Icoa’s breakfast and lunch menus do have many vegetarian options, so the chef whipped something up on short notice, using various ingredients he had at the ready for other dishes.
We began with kesra – semolina almond bread – which includes serrouda, a chickpea and saffron spread; kahrmus, an eggplant and ras el hanout dip; and harrisa, a Tunisian chili sauce. The chickpea spread, although inventive, felt like a colonial-inspired hummus, while the kahrmus was the chef’s own take on a Middle Eastern baba ghanoush. However, without the key ingredient of tahini, these spreads lacked a certain punch. The home-made almond bread, however, was excellent and warm, and reminded me of an upmarket cornmeal bread in its wholesome goodness and texture. The server also brought us a vegetarian breaded pekora-style fritter with a savory potato filling. It tasted divine, and its warm, soft inner texture melted in our mouths.
Two more appetizers arrived. First was a cucumber medley, aptly called “Cucumber Textures,” which was prepared in different ways (cucumber mousse, shredded cucumber, pickled cucumber, etc.); it came with celery juice, which the server poured on top in front of us. The presentation was beautiful and my partner enjoyed the combined tastes and textures.
The “Duck Rice Crepe – Banh Cuon” that I ordered was flavorful and juicy. It consisted of steamed rice paper (similar to dim sum or dumpling texture) with minced duck confit wrapped inside. Shiitake mushrooms, fried shallots, basil, cucumber and hoisin lemongrass broth added to the savory taste.
For the mains, my guest was presented with an eggplant curry, which included coconut milk that is often used in southern Indian cooking. Though he wasn’t expecting eggplant to be the only vegetable in the dish, after a few bites, he decided it was indeed delicious and something he would never have attempted at home or ordered had he seen it on the menu.
I ordered the “Lam Randang,” an Indonesian lamb curry consisting of toasted coconut, lemongrass kaffir lime, cucumber, peanut and rice. It also came with three large papadoms elegantly presented upright on a display plate.
I had requested a mild to medium curry, but it was intensely spicy. The waiter graciously took it back and created a milder dish (without the jalapenos). It still had a kick but was flavorful, especially paired with the basmati rice, and the portion size was very generous – enough for me to take home and have for lunch the next day.
Our shared dessert was the “Chocolate Hazelnut Crisp” with pistachio gelato, praline, pailleté feuilletine and chocolate mousse. It had a nice selection of berries to go along with it – a great way to cleanse our palates – and it was devoured in seconds.