When it was confirmed that I’d be heading to St. Maarten to experience their annual spring Carnival celebration, one of my first thoughts was, I wonder what the food is like there. I soon learned that St. Maarten is not only a gorgeous island with gorgeous people, it also serves up a melange of delicious dishes to satisfy any appetite. This is partly because people come from all over the Caribbean to work in the island’s tourism industry, which is St. Maarten’s mainstay. With them they bring their cooking traditions, so it’s not uncommon to see Creole, Latin and even familiar Jamaican-inspired dishes on restaurant menus. And, of course, there’s also the influence of the Dutch and French island culture.
My first night on the island I had the pleasure of dining at Temptation, one of St Maarten’s best upscale restaurants. Owner and chef, Dino Jagtiani, is a native St. Maartener who studied at the renowned Culinary Institute of America (he’s said to be the first and only graduate from St. Maarten to date), and worked at the 5-Star Le Meridien Waldorf in London under chef Mark Harris. It was always his dream to open his own restaurant in St. Maarten and, today, he’s not only the chef/owner of Temptation, but also an adjoining steakhouse called Rare.
His bio states: “Through his culinary exploration and creative approach, Dino coined the phrase Nouveau Caribbean and has labeled his cuisine ‘freestyle’”. Temptation promises to “awaken the senses” and creative dishes like Curried Goat Tacos and Seared Foie Gras PB&J (as in peanut butter and jelly) are apt examples of Jagtiani’s inventive cooking style.
I started my meal with the Carmelized Georgia Vidalia Onion Soup. With ingredients like beer and cognac it’s definitely a twist on the traditional French soup. It was flavourful and perfectly heated. That means it was very hot. I can’t stand when soup is served luke warm, even if I’m in a hot place like the Caribbean.
Though Temptation offers some Caribbean-inspired appetizers, like the Coconut Curried Lump Crab Cakes, most of the main dishes, like the Whole Red Snapper with Asian Veggies and Citrus Glaze, creatively bring together the world’s best cuisine. I chose the Rack of New Zealand Spring Lamb with Sautéed Spinach and Polenta. This dish is usually served with Truffled Mashed Potatoes, but I was “tempted” by the description of the cheesy polenta that accompanied another dish, and the server willingly allowed me to make the switch.
Did I mention that they have great service? Well, they do. That, plus a calming neutral décor bathed in soft lighting and a piano player serenading us from nearby made for a very enjoyable dining experience. By the way, my lamb was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and was very tender, the sign of a strong kitchen.
Later chef Jagtiani came out of the kitchen to greet us and even took a seat at our large table for a while. It’s clear that he loves what he does and it shows in the preparation of his food and the overall experience he delivers. All in all, my evening at Temptation was a fabulous way to kick off my stay on the island. Now I was ready to kick up my heels at the St. Maarten Carnival festivities …