Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dreaming Of Drinks & Dinner In Aruba

Warm sunshine on my face, the sound of palm trees rustling in the light ocean breeze, and the sound of ice clinking in a cocktail glass. . . Just a few scenes from the movie I've been playing in my head since the start of winter storm Juno. The snowbank outside our door is up to my shoulders and we've got more snow on the way. I'm not sure where it's all going to go or how long the contents of our wine fridge will last.

Aruba is blessed with perfect weather year round, it sits just outside the hurricane belt and you could easily make it through your vacation never swapping dollars for Aruban florins. It's a very busy port for the mammoth cruise ships traveling from the East Coast and you can get cheap, direct flights from most major cities. If you're looking for a quiet, relaxing Caribbean island, Aruba is not it. Chain restaurants and cheap bars assault your senses as soon as you exit the arrivals hall (or step off the boat) but in true C&G fashion I found some small local gems on our visit last November.

An absolute must visit is Gelatissimo, a cocktail bar AND a gelato bar. What a brilliant combination, who would have thought? You can't miss it on the main hotel strip in Palm Beach, a purple and white oasis between Señior Frogs and the Hard Rock Cafe. Pull up a wicker lounge chair and order a mojito or a mangotini while the kiddos go press their little noses against the gelato case.

There's a small panini menu at Gelatissimo but Amore Mio and Gianni's Restorante Italiano are next door and both offer delicious and authentic Italian cuisine. If you're too comfy with your cocktails and gelato all three restaurants share the same owner and our waitress said we could order food off any menu without leaving the lounge.

Amore Mio is a tiny and popular spot for thin crust authentic Neapolitan pizza so if the lines are long stay put and order while you sit in Gelatissimo. Gianni's Restorante is huge with plenty of tables to choose from, indoors or out. Our dinner at Gianni's was delicious, sometimes when we're away from home I just want a big, comforting bowl of pasta and the rigatoni ai quattro formaggi was perfect. For a real treat order the spaghetti al formaggio parmiggiano (serves two) and a giant cheese wheel is brought table side and your dinner is cooked and flamed (thanks to a few dashes of whisky) right in front of you.

Local favorite Madame Janette requires a rental car and a very good map (even with 4 phones and GPS we got lost) or better yet have your hotel call you a cab. But the adventure is totally worth it for their classic European cuisine with a touch of Caribbean flair. When you make your reservation ask for a table in the back pebble garden, very little wind makes it this far inland and the rooms up front can be very stuffy. Bring bug spray for your ankles but if you forget the staff is happy to share.

Madame Janette is known for their saucey dishes, locally caught seafood, and famous plate-sized schnitzel. Ask them to downsize their schnitzel for the kiddos or order just plain pasta, there's no kids menu but the friendly staff will happily accommodate picky eaters. Big C&G had a caesar salad with steak and Little C&G ordered the shrunken schnitzel, but as you can see from the photo above it was still almost as big as his head. Save room for dessert, because the other part of my "escape to Aruba" movie always ends with Madame Janette's delicious coconut cream cake . . .

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