Grand Cayman: Grand Dining

by Paris Permenter & John Bigley

After a day of shopping, watersports, or beach fun, many couples look to the Grand Cayman's fine dining as the evening's entertainment. Caymanian cuisine reflects the riches of the sea. Traditional Caymanian food includes turtle, brought to the table in the form of soup, stew, or steak, and conch (pronounced konk), the mollusk that produces the beautiful pink and white shell seen throughout the islands. Conch is a versatile dish as an appetizer in the form of fritters, a soup prepared as a chowder or thick with onions and spices as a stew, or even uncooked, marinated in lime juice as ceviche.

The influences of nearby Jamaica are seen on island menus as well, especially in the jerk seasoning which ignites fish, chicken, and other meats. Other Caribbean favorites found in the Cayman Islands include breadfruit (similar in taste to a potato, and served in as many ways), cassava (another potato-like vegetable), fish tea ( a broth-like soup), johnny cake (fried bread), patty (a meat pie that's a Caribbean standard as popular as an American hamburger), pumpkin soup (using Caribbean pumpkins, which are not sweet), and saltfish (dried and salted codfish) and ackee (a fruit that tastes somewhat like scrambled eggs and, for breakfast, is served with saltfish).

With residents and visitors from around the world, however, the Cayman Islands also offer many types of cuisine, especially on Grand Cayman. One top choice is Lantana's Restaurant and Bar, which features creative cuisine serve with innovative presentations. Menu choices here include spicy Cuban black bean soup, jerk pork tenderloin, grilled yellow fin tuna with cilantro linguine, and more, followed by tropical coconut cream pie with white chocolate shavings and mango sauce or frozen Cayman lime pie with raspberry sauce and whipped cream. Benjamin's Roof Seafood Restaurant, an elegant eatery often cited as one of the island's best, serves turtle steak, lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops, and a full line of meat and pasta dishes including NY strip, lamb chops, chicken cordon bleu, and fettucine alfredo.

Other good choices are George Town's Lobster Pot, which serves up seafood accompanied by an extensive wine list and a harbor view, and The Wharf, at the start of Seven Mile Beach. A favorite with couples, this seaside restaurant and bar features continental and Caribbean cuisine and is best experienced as a sunset spot.

Although most of Grand Cayman's fine eateries are located in George Town and along Seven Mile Beach, others make the drive worthwhile for those ready to head off the beaten path. In West Bay, the beauty of Ristorante Pappagallo hints at the specialness of a meal here. A thatch roof, made from over 100,000 thatch palm leaves, shields a building designed from bamboo, local stones, and marble. Parrots, cockatoos, and macaws lend their voices to create an exotic atmosphere that's echoed in the setting: the restaurant is perched on the shores of a small natural lake in a bird sanctuary. Meals here are special as well, featuring Northern Italian cuisine and fine wines. On the island's east end, two restaurants continually draw favorable reviews. The Lighthouse, housed in a building that once warned sailors off the rocky shore and nearby reef, serves up lunch and dinner with a menu featuring seafood including conch chowder, jerk shrimp pitas, and seafood Caesar salad. Travelers heading to Rum Point for a day of fun in the sun can end the evening with an elegant meal at the Rum Point Restaurant, open for dinner only. This eatery offers island favorites like shrimp, lobster, and conch as well as pasta dishes, prime rib, and chicken.

Although Cayman Brac is mostly known for its small, casual restaurants, Little Cayman is quickly developing a growing reputation for its fine dining. Although the island is home to only one stand-alone restaurant, the excellent Hungry Iguana, fine dining is found at several resorts. Pirates Point showcases the talents of Cordon-Bleu trained owner-chef Gladys Howard and serves up gourmet cuisine. While guests may enjoy roughing it during the day, at night they enjoy gourmet meals as elegant as those found at any of the Caribbean's finest resorts. Gladys boasts that "my kitchen never closes."

Diners and shoppers find that the means of exchange is the Caymanian dollar, exchanged at a rate of $1.20 US to $1 CI. The US dollar is also accepted in shops and restaurants, along with travelers checks and most major credit cards. Grand Cayman is the fifth largest financial center in the world, with over 500 banks, so currency exchange and ATMs are not a problem.

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