Although we only had five days (lunches) and four evenings (dinners) in Bonaire, we tried, as always, to make the most of our dining opportunities. And since we were on an island, the vast majority of our meals consisted of seafood. This, however, did limit our choices, since the only four types of fresh fish that were available were mahi mahi (which we do not enjoy), tuna, wahoo and for dinners (but not lunches), barracuda.
For dinner, after trying the three most highly recommended restaurants on the island, we were so impressed by one–Chez Madeleine–that we decided to return to our final evening. The three restaurants, in declining order of our experiences, were:
- Chez Madeleine, a French/Belgian restaurant founded by a Michelin-starred Belgian chef (Jean Buyens) who moved to the island and, after working at the Four Seasons, opened his own tiny, six-table restaurant. Our Michelin-level experience began with a complementary baby shrimp salad amuse bouche and a knowledgeable hostess with a friendly, easy manner and an inherent need to please. Then came our excellent entrees: barracuda wrapped in lightly smoked salmon with a mousseline sauce and vegetables (Joyce loved the dish as it was: I preferred the barracuda with the wonderful mousseline, with the salmon on its own); and scampi with small strips of prosciutto de Parma and mango sauce with basmati rice. Both went well with bottle of Pinot Blanc. Then came an equally delicious dessert: a molten chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream, a dollop of raspberry sauce and fresh fruit–a perfect end to a wonderful meal. How could we have ever expected such an experience on the small island of Bonaire? We couldn’t.
To ensure that the wonderful food, atmosphere and service wasn’t a fluke, we felt compelled to go back again (something that we rarely do) on our final night on the island. The evening’s amuse bouche was a Parma ham wrapped cantaloupe with tomato and chive. After a bison carpaccio appetizer with arugula, parmesan and quail egg, we had two entries: grilled tuna with béarnaise sauce and veal prime rib with a cream truffle sauce sprinkled with black truffles (both came with the same vegetables as the previous night), and surprise: both the food and the service were superb. We would whole-heartedly recommend this restaurant to anyone who wants to experience a small intimate setting, great service and great food.
- At Sea is a another very popular al fresco seafood restaurant on the commercial street that runs along the waterfront. After an amuse bouche of tuna tartare with cream of parsnip and jalapeno on a potato chip, we had two entrees from the very limited fresh seafood menu that we found on the island for the week we were in town: tuna, barracuda and wahoo. Joyce always goes for the tuna. I usually go for one of the others. Not necessarily because I enjoy them more than tuna (both are somewhat dry for my taste). But because I do enjoy them and I seldom find either in the States. Joyce had her tuna with saffron mayonnaise and couscous with tastes of two vegetables—broccoli and pumpkin– each prepared three ways. Tom had the barracuda with hollandaise sauce (which one would not recognize from the taste) and potato roti with two different vegetables (onion and carrot), each prepared three ways. While the food and the service were both somewhat better than that at It Rains Fish, we wouldn’t rush back.
- It Rains Fish. The highly regarded restaurant had great promise. It has its own fishing boats and fish market, serving fish that it catches the previous night. We had three dishes, along with a bottle of French white Burgundy. Wahoo Ceviche had more red onion than it did wahoo and the fish tasted more like vinegar than lime, While the grilled barracuda was cooked properly and tasty, the saffron sauce with which it came was nondescript. Joyce, meanwhile, hit a high by default, as the restaurant was out of her original order of jumbo Caribbean shrimp with curry coconut garlic sauce. Her substitute dish, a very lightly grilled tuna with salt, pepper and a soy and brown sugar dipping sauce was delicious.
When we are on an island or by the shore, we get into something of a lunch rut: We love going to atmospheric, outdoor, shoreline restaurants with views to eat grilled sandwiches with the freshest fish. The only exception–where we have a chance to experiment with good local food, which we did at Posada, where we had one of our favorite lunches
- Posada, one of the better local restaurants located just outside of Rincon, is an open air restaurant with a ceiling but no walls (except around the kitchen and the restrooms) with views in all directions–including down to the goats that are destined to be on subsequent days’ menus. Although Tom was very disappointed that they did not have either iguana soup or stew on the day we visited, we both enjoyed the atmosphere and the food that we did have. Tom had the goat stew (a bit tough, as is typical for goat, but very tasty), Joyce went with the grilled tuna (also very good). Both meals came with rice, squash, plantain, polenta and salad. Overall, a very nice alternative to Kralendijk’s tourist restaurants.
- Bistro de Paris, a causal restaurant on the harbor, was a perfect spot for a quick lunch before our afternoon Sea Cow snorkeling trip. We had a view that not only surveyed the harbor, but was also directly over the boat on which we were about to travel to Klein Bonaire, We both had wahoo sandwiches while we watched as the crew meticulously prepared the boat, masks and snorkels for our upcoming trip. The service was good and Tom generally enjoyed the sandwich (other than for the general lack of moisture that is characteristic of wahoo). Joyce, however, typically prefers a milder tasting fish.
Two Food Trucks. Yes, Bonaire has them also. We split a lunch between two trucks:
- Cactus Blue, a small truck with a very friendly, helpful owner which specializes in burgers (on which we passed) and a sandwich of one particular fish that we had to try–fillet of lion fish (the invasive species that a growing number of chefs are serving to encourage fisherman to target these pests). Unfortunately, while the fish isn’t bad, it has very little taste.
- Kite City, a very big, well established food truck which offers a wide variety of burgers, salads, and fish sandwiches. While we were temped by a few, we had to try the Dog Snapper, a beautifully firm white fish that has a texture and taste between grouper and red snapper. Very, very good. Unfortunately, the workers, who favor extraordinarily loud music, appear to have little to no interest in engaging with their customers. But they do cook a mean dog snapper fillet sandwich.
- Karel’s is one of the oldest tourist restaurants and bars on the island, and was one of the few decent restaurants during our first visit a decade and a half ago. It’s longevity has apparently allowed it to gain a monopoly on its superb location–the only restaurant out in in harbor on a pier that provides a 360-degree view of the island, the sea and Klein Bonaire. It appears, however, that this advantage has given the restaurant an opportunity to rest on its laurels. True, the location and atmosphere are wonderful and our meals (grilled tuna sandwich and slightly seared, sesame-encrusted tuna tataki with teriyaki dipping sauce) were quite good. The service, however, was sorely lacking. After we and our neighboring tables waited interminably for someone–anyone to come to our table to offer menus and take our drink orders, we ended up ordering at the bar. When we asked for tarter sauce to go with the sandwich, it never arrived. Nor did anyone to ask if everything was okay or to pay our check, again, we had to go into the bar. This being said, one person, did his best to turn lemons into lemonade. We decided that that particular lunch called for marguerites. When we tasted them, all we could taste was lime. The server said that since they were made with a mix, there was nothings she could do about it. The bartender, however, took our dislike of the drink as a challenge. As a means of salvaging the drinks he had already made, he began modifying it, and offering us tastes. After three iterations, Melvin returned with a concoction that tasted nothing like a marguerita, but was pretty good nonetheless. He did this by adding amaretto, banana liqueur and Sambuca and blending in some banana and strawberries. Not exactly a drink we would have ordered, but Melvin turned a bad drink into a good one.
- Between 2 Buns is a casual sandwich shop in a small strip mall on a main road. Our hotel highly recommended it for its sandwiches in general, and its fish sandwiches in particular. The good news, is it did have outdoor seating and it did offer a fish sandwich. The bad news is that our seats faced the strip mall with our backs to the main road and the only fish it offered was mahi mahi, a fish that we virtually never eat. Since Tom had his heart set on a fish sandwich, he choose the mahi mahi, which was okay as that fish goes, but dry and far from inspiring, Joyce, having more will power, chose a meatball sub that was actually pretty good, with just the right spicing.
Bellafonte Oceanfront Hotel
We stayed at the Bellafonte Hotel, which is just a short 5 minute drive from the airport and within walking of one of the popular snorkeling beaches in Bonaire. You do need a car to go anywhere, but you need a car to go anywhere in Bonaire unless you plan to miss the beauty of the island and just stay in town. Plus, driving around is very easy. We had wanted a junior suite, which was unavailable the first night so we settled for the entry level room the first night and then transferred to a junior suite. The difference in the rooms is basically additional space with a separate living room and a view, with the junior suite giving you a beautiful water view. Upgrade if you can. Both do have a small cooking area, coffee maker, refrigerator and toaster. The junior suite also had a stove top. As you would expect in a place where people are very friendly and helpful, the staff at the Bellafonte were A++. Every single person was friendly and very helpful, patiently answering our millions of questions, recommending snorkel spots and restaurants. All in all, we were very pleased with this hotel and highly recommend it—as long as you have a car. And, if you are getting a car, ask the hotel if they have provide any discounts (we got a discount through the hotel by booking in advance).