Hands up: Who’s guilty of getting stuck in a food rut? Whether it’s that weeknight pasta dish we always make on auto-pilot, or the restaurants where we can reel off our order without so much as a glance at the menu, it’s always easy to revert to tried-and-tested favorites. They are comforting, consistent and frankly, the easy option when we’re pushed for time. Still, it does us good on occasion to have our minds, and taste buds, broadened.
This is the spirit in which I accepted a glass of Austrian white the other night at West Indies Wine Company, the first stop on Camana Bay’s revamped Flavour Tour.
Normally, I give wines from this region a wide berth in favor of a flinty Sancerre or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, assuming they will be overly sweet. But the Loimer 2014 Langenlois Kamptal surprised me: Dry, refreshing and lively, it has an unusual green pepper note along with hints of grapefruit, green apple and peach.
In fact, after sampling the second wine in our tasting session – a far more familiar Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand – it was the Loimer I wanted a refill of. Its wonderful high acidity is, I discovered, a signature of Grüner Veltliner grapes, which are Austria’s most widely planted and celebrated variety. Only 6:30 p.m. and my eyes had been well and truly opened.
Held every Wednesday evening, the Flavour Tour visits a series of restaurants and bars in Camana Bay, most serving a small plate and drink pairings for the all-in price of US$89. It has been going strong since 2014, but this summer the organizers decided to shake up the format. For example, the tour used to kick off with a simple glass of bubbly at West Indies Wine Company, but now this has switched to a sommelier-led tasting of two contrasting wines. New venues such as Pani Indian Kitchen have also been added to the lineup, which changes slightly each week to ensure even repeat customers enjoy some variety.
Food, glorious food
The Brooklyn Pizza + Pasta was the second stop on our tour. Seated al fresco, we sipped Lemon Drop Prosecco cocktails and tucked into a Caprese salad, composed of locally grown tomatoes and basil along with fresh mozzarella, a balsamic reduction and truffle honey.
The use of fresh local produce is typical of the Flavour Tour, with the chefs selecting ingredients from the Camana Bay Farmers and Artisans Market taking place right on their doorstep that same day. In fact, the tour was originally conceived to celebrate and highlight the market’s produce.
“Each week I usually decide my menu dishes based on what is available at the Wednesday market,” says Will O’Hara, head chef at Abacus. “I sometimes like to showcase some dishes that I already have on the menu so that people can come back and enjoy the dish again if they really like it. I work closely with local fishermen and farmers, so a lot of items on Abacus’ menu use local ingredients already, making them an easy fit for the Tour.”
Maybe the Lemon Drop had something to do with it, but soon everyone in our group of six was chatting away on first-name terms. The communal, social aspect of the Tour makes it as much a night to remember as the food and drink. I discovered that the couple opposite me had just flown in from Canada on a surprise visit to the girl’s mother, who in turn chatted to me about the monthly book club held at Books & Books.
Shepherded by guide Casey Chisholm, we proceeded to the next course, pausing to admire the Breezeway’s coral-patterned mosaic walls and fountain-filled Jasmine Court. Thanks to her knowledge and clear enthusiasm for the surroundings, even those of us who live in Cayman were able to learn a few facts about Camana Bay’s lesser-known charms or quieter corners. Take, for example, the colorful murals of marine life that decorate the stairway to the Observation Tower; they are composed of more than three million Venetian glass tiles, don’t you know?
Abacus had prepared a seafood risotto, paired with a glass of Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. This was possibly my favorite dish of the evening – generous pieces of shrimp, lobster and fresh tuna, with perfectly al dente rice, all bound in a rich, flavorsome fish stock.
For the tour’s final savory installment, Mizu Asian Bistro served a fragrant Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken dish featuring sweet peppers, onions and bok choy from the farmers market. This was accompanied by a punchy Long Island Iced Tea, containing an unmentionable number of spirits.
Then came the stop I’d been most looking forward to all evening: Gelato & Co. In the spirit of discovery, I forewent my usual scoops of pistachio and blackberry in favor of the new flavors: Roasted Pineapple and Kroc Choc (a hazelnut gelato with crunchy almond and chocolate chip pieces).
The evening drew to a close with a digestif at The King’s Head. Gathered around a table on the pub’s waterfront terrace, we raised our glasses of spiced chocolate martinis to toast new friends and good food.