An Italian Feast In Jarbacoa
Today we took a trip up into the mountains of Jarbacoa to visit a farm-to-table concept restaurant owned and operated by a family of ex-patriots from Chicago. Our bus handled the curves and turns up the dirt road until we reached the pinnacle of the mountain, at which point we were greeted by an absolutely breath-taking view! Before meeting the owner herself, a woman named Lisa, we stopped for some photos and to explore the land. The restaurant itself was situated at the top of the mountain, built into the cliff-sides.
The architecture was very tastefully done; stone, wood and ceramic everywhere with floor to ceiling windows all around to emphasize the expansive view. Lisa, an artist, has found a way to combine her interests with an ecology project for one of the issues people face in the Dominican Republic. The problem that I refer to is that of fresh, drinkable water. Lisa explained to us that silver actually has natural anti-bacterial qualities. Through her sculpture and pottery, Lisa has created large casks made of sawdust, clay, and silver, that she then fires and paints. The casks filter water providing a safe option for people to drink! Each batch of her product is inspected and certified.
Next, came the meal. On this particular day, we got the opportunity to dine in her restaurant, the only rotating restaurant in the country. We sat at a long table on the top floor and were introduced to her son-in-law, Wesley, who is in charge of management. He informed us that they made a special tasting menu for us and that the kitchen would start sending out three plates of each dish. I had absolutely no idea what I was in store for.
We were all given fresh passion fruit juice along with a basket of varying breads and accompanying spreads. There was an herb-infused oil as well as a vegetable garlic spread that seems to be popular here. Next was amuse-bouche plate of cheese and heirloom tomato skewers, which also had miniature raviolis on them and a pesto topping.
Following the cheese was an appetizer of breaded shrimp cocktail dipped in a remoulade sauce.
At this point we were introduced to the chef. As it turns out, he has spent a number of years studying in New York before going to D’Aosta in Northern Italy to complete his culinary training! Even though we were in the Caribbean, most of the dishes we ate had a distinct Italian influence.
Next was a light salad with grilled shrimp, shaved parmesan, pimentos, almonds and a strawberry puree vinaigrette. By this point some of the students were already rubbing their full stomachs, but I was ready for the long haul!
Our primi course consisted of linguini with a light and fresh heirloom tomato sauce immediately followed by the surprise of the day for me.
Filet Mignon!!! Who would have thought I would get the opportunity to have one of my favorite luxury options, usually I only get to eat delicious steak on special occasions. The filet came out perfectly cooked at medium rare with a red wine reduction and a side of creamy Portobello mushroom risotto. My only criticism thus far is that the Arborio rice was certainly undercooked, if only I could have hopped back into the kitchen…By now, most everyone else was too full to go on so my friend Molly and I had everyone send the extra steak to our side of the table. Call me the garbage disposal.
The next dish was julienne style vegetables wrapped in chicken and baked. The plate was topped with a cream sauce and came with an accompanying side of garlic mashed potatoes.
The last and final course was grilled salmon with hollandaise and two pureed vegetables. We were supposed to follow this with dessert but seeing as most of us were clutching at the table edges and becoming a little too aware of the rotating room, we decided to go visit the garden before finishing the meal.
We all piled back into the bus and headed down the mountain to the family farm. Wesley gave us a tour of their mixed perma-culture and bio-intensive farmland. He stated that the entire practice took about $25,000-$30,000 to put together, not including land costs. As a side note, the garden and restaurant is really only in existence because Lisa and her husband bought the land hoping to develop it for sale. At first, they were shocked to learn that it was selling much more slowly than they had expected, so the family decided to build a restaurant to attract awareness to the area as well as to show off the beautiful views. The restaurant is out of the way but it does excellent business, mostly attracting a clientele of well-to-do Dominicans as opposed to foreign tourists. Lisa’s original project has since evolved to be much more focused on the farm and restaurant, though they are still working to sell land at $50,000-$200,000 per plot.
The farm contained everything from herbs such as cilantro, mint and lemongrass to vegetables such as broccoli, eggplant, yucca, and lettuce. They have twenty orange trees and one hundred citrus trees in addition to hundreds of plantain trees that are situated in a circular formation with a strategically placed compost pile in the middle. Everything that is grown here is used in the meals served at the restaurant.
It was finally time to say goodbye to our hosts and head back to the restaurant for our final experience, desert.
Desert was not as big of an ordeal as the main meal. We only had a brownie, and slices of cheesecake, apple pie and pecan pie. All fantastic, my favorite was the pecan pie with cinnamon ice cream. It was freshly baked, still steaming and not overly gooey like so many pecan pies tend to be.
The day was an unexpected treat to say the least. I had no idea that we would be eating so much fine cuisine, or even so much at all for that matter. It was comforting to get another taste of Northern Italian cuisine, even if the goal here is to experience the local foods.
Six hours of driving later, we arrived back to our home at Altos De Chavon, just in time to catch the end of a wedding taking place on the cobblestone, overlooking the cliffs and Chavon river.