The Escape Artist
In Aruba, the cuisine draws crowds as much as the weather.
Sun-deprived residents of the Commonwealth make up a large percentage of Aruba’s visitors, and it’s easy to see why. In less time than it takes to fly from Logan to LAX, you can jet to the former Dutch colony, where thermometers are locked in the 80s year-round thanks to its location outside of the hurricane belt. Honeymooners love the adults-only resorts where they can dine on white-sand beaches while admiring Rothko sunsets; families appreciate the all-inclusive hotels with meals and activities designed to keep tykes entertained; and seniors enjoy the idea of an exotic vacation without forgoing the amenities of home and grappling with another language. But Aruba is more than a convenient paradise. It also boasts some of the best cuisine in the Caribbean due to its multiethnic population, proximity to South America (Venezuela is a mere 17 miles away) and penchant for spice.
Base your culinary tour at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. This sprawling property set on one end of Palm Beach underwent a $50 million makeover in 2009, which saw the construction of the Tradewinds Club, an adults-only floor with upgraded amenities, including its own beach area, food-stocked lounge and evening open bar. Even if you’re not on the Tradewinds level, you can still take advantage of the 100-square-foot balconies (the largest on the island), and any guest over the age of 18 can access the H2Oasis pool with its private gazebos. Although you can spend your whole vacation on-premises, snacking on fish tacos on the beach or bellying up to the buffet at the Italian-leaning La Vista, more adventurous and authentic dining is a short car ride away at Zeerover.
An island gem in the fishing town of Savaneta, Zeerover (the Dutch word for “pirate” or “sea-rover”) serves only shrimp and the fish of the day, easily deduced from the haul carted from the boats tied at its dock. You might get mahi-mahi steaks, lightly seasoned and fried, mounded over French fries and plantains and accompanied by pan bati, a cross between a pancake and corn bread, and house-made pica de papaya, an Aruban hotsauce consisting of spicy peppers and papaya. Washed down with a bottle of Balashi, the island’s light beer—with the sounds of men playing dominos and billiards in the background—the meal satisfies in its simplicity.
For cooking that showcases Aruba’s modernity, check out White Modern Cuisine, located a short walk from the Marriott in the Palm Beach Plaza Mall. Chef/owner Urvin Croes skillfully incorporates his multicultural background, European training and El Bulli–inspired techniques in his deconstructed dishes, all of which are listed in quotation marks on the menu. Thankfully the punctuation doesn’t portend pretentiousness, because offerings, like “wonton soup” or “pan-fried duck,” not only look beautiful, but also combine novel textures and tastes that draw from familiar components.
Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between basic and elaborate resides Papiamento, a romantic restaurant famed for its lush garden and antiques. Located in the capital of Oranjestad, the Ellis family’s eatery has been serving Aruban cuisine for 20 years, and is a dining destination for the Queen of Holland and her family on their visits to the island. Order the keshi yena, a traditional dish made with chicken tossed with a dozen herbs and spices and baked in Gouda, or anything from the hot-stone section of the menu, where options like lobster or beef filet finish cooking over a sizzling stone, tableside.
Whether you prefer to dine among locals, foodies or European royalty, one of the 150 destinations on this culinary island will certainly meet your tastes.
Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
101 L.G. Smith Boulevard, Palm Beach | 800-223-6388
270 Savaneta, Savaneta | 011-297-584-8401
White Modern Cuisine
95 L.G. Smith Boulevard, Unit 2, Palm Beach Plaza, Palm Beach | 011-297-586-1190
61 Washington, Oranjestad | 011-297-594-5504 | facebook.com/PapiamentoRestaurant