An Insider's Guide to the Red-Snapper Ceviche and Luxury Snorkeling of Aruba

Ariel Cheung | September 10, 2019 | Lifestyle National

Aruba’s culinary delights prove as alluring as the island’s luxury resorts and verdant Caribbean scenery.

Aruba’s signature leaning divi-divi trees are a sight to behold.

I hardly expect that what would enchant me the most about Aruba would be the food—it only takes one decadent meal at The Kitchen Table by White to convince me otherwise. At this cozy spot—located off the sunset-facing private beach of the Blue Residences and a short drive from my island home base, The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba (executive suites from $900)—chef Urvin Croes showcases the traditional dishes and flavors of his native country with an upscale eight-course tasting menu that changes monthly. “Everyone else here is doing Italian, French or steaks,” he says. “Nobody is actually focusing on the island.” Croes uses family recipes and local cookbooks for inspiration as he crafts stunning renditions of island favorites with precision worthy of a Michelin star.

The complex bread pudding proves to be a gastronomic delight at The Kitchen Table by White.

Our evening starts with a trio of amuse-bouche that plays off typical Aruban snacks, among them a superb Peruvian-style red-snapper ceviche paired with a crisp wakame seaweed salad. Next comes tender grilled octopus resting on quenelles of quinoa salad, light and creamy; lemon-marinated tuna playing off truffle-infused whipped goat cheese; and shrimp bisque with custard masquerading as kernels of charred corn—all of it featuring the ocean-fresh product you’d expect on an island. Other proteins meet this high bar, as evidenced by Croes’ smoky, sturdy pork cheek and his Cajun-marinated sirloin with pickled shiitake mushrooms, crisp polenta and a zesty bell pepper sauce. Throughout the night, we delight in displays of gastronomic wizardry, particularly with the beautifully rendered take on Aruba’s favorite dessert, bread pudding, which is tucked in soft beds of perfectly sweet cinnamon brown butter powder and sage foam. “We developed dishes that are very authentically Caribbean or Aruban,” Croes notes, “or we invented dishes that showcase the traditions and flavors of Aruba.”

Tourism groups like De Palm Tours offer off-roading excursions.

There is equally as much to love at Papiamento, a family-owned restaurant housed in a century-old villa in a nearby borough farther inland. Since 1983, Papiamento—named after the island’s native language—has used local produce to craft dishes such as its superb oven-baked mushrooms, blanketed in Muenster cheese au gratin. Chef Edward Ellis deftly utilizes French techniques to produce tasty morsels like keeshi yena, a Dutch-leaning dish of minced tenderloin and chicken buoyed by pungent flame-broiled cheese, prunes and cashews. The best entrees are the stone-grilled specials, delivered sizzling hot. I find myself unable to choose a favorite between the Caribbean shrimp and the New Zealand lamb chops—the latter is marinated in red wine and presented with chimichurri—both of which are deliciously charred and full of flavor.

The soft white sand at Eagle Beach allows for a relaxing respite.

With so many sumptuous bites around the island, it’s fortunate there is ample opportunity to work up an appetite. Tourism groups like De Palm Tours offer coastal explorations aboard utility task vehicles—slightly souped-up, two-person versions of all-terrain vehicles. With rampant Mad Max vibes, riders zoom past sculptural rock formations (often dotted with lounging mountain goats) and cactus-strewn scenery. Our excursion includes a visit to the Rock Wish Garden, where tourists stack stones, sometimes 20 high, for a uniquely Seussian effect; and a chat at Black Stone Beach with local forager Frank Kelly of Taki Tour, who prepares a tasty snack of seared snapper with wedges of masala-basted bread. Another day is spent aboard the Monforte III teak schooner, which Monforte Luxury Cruise stocks with a full premium bar, snorkeling gear and lunch. We take in the beauty of Aruba’s coastline and explore coral reefs, where a rainbow of fish drift about peacefully.

A Monforte Luxury Cruise experience lets guests dive among resplendent coral reefs.

In between the memorable eats and adventuring, recharging proves all too easy back at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba. Spacious rooms are outfitted with cozy feather beds, balconies and tranquil ocean views. Recently opened inside the hotel, Casa Nonna, an outpost of the New York City original, is more than capable of providing a good meal. The spaghetti pomodoro, in particular, is a satisfying—if not exactly local—end to an action-packed day. Divi wood installations anchor the lobby, where guests are greeted by the hotel casino and the Divi Sushi Bar & Lounge. It’s fun to sip on a local favorite like the Cadushi, a cocktail made with cactus puree, white rum and triple sec; then meander outside to experience the blissful relaxation offered by the reservable cabanas, which feature food and drink service. Like most of the resorts lining the northwestern tip of the island, The Ritz-Carlton has its own exclusive beach access, allowing you to drift on a cushy raft or bask in the sun without care. At least, that is, until it’s time for dinner.

Photography by: beach photo by greg lord | dessert photo by kenny theysen |
both photos courtesy of aruba tourism | off-roading photo by bettie grace miner | all photos courtesy of aruba tourism