How can you not fall in love with a country whose flag features three frolicking dolphins?
Anguilla, a tiny eel-shaped island off the coast of St. Maarten, is known as one of the Caribbean's most exclusive islands. It shares much in common with nearby St. Bart's -- luxury properties, fine restaurants, moored yachts and celebrity sightings -- but it's prized for its low key, laid back vibe. On a recent visit, though, Martha Stewart and Starr Jones were both on island, and not a single paparazzo materialized.
The emphasis in Anguilla is on quality over flash. This is best reflected in the food. With more than 100 restaurants on the island, Anguilla has become the leading culinary destination in the Caribbean.
At the epicenter of this foodie movement is CuisinArt Golf Resort and Spa.
Its restaurants, Le Bistro at Santorini, Italia and Tokyo Bay, have set the standard for island cuisine.
Recently, Jasper Schneider, the property's new Executive Chef who was previously Executive Chef at le Bernadin, has taken the helm, elevating an already lofty reputation.
There's a fine line between a chef expressing his creativity to the mystification of guests, and a chef who delivers original taste that actually please diners. Too often, smart chefs get so creative that the dishes fail in all but the most abstract of ways. Schneider gets this and walks that tightrope, creating memorable dishes that pack extra layers of flavor into familiar dishes. Try dishes like grilled lamb chops with red miso and Japanese eggplant, king crab in an aji sauce and a splash of chile oil and mahi mahi, served with a plantain puree and oxtail pot-au-feu.
Schneider, an affable New Yorker, strolls the dining rooms of his restaurants, even at breakfast, to get a read on how guests are responding to the menus, answering questions about ingredients and technique.
One of the best ways to capture Schneider's enthusiasm for food is to book a cooking class with him. Each week he offers a one-hour lesson that includes lunch and glass of wine. Guests gathered around his intimate demo kitchen, Schneider gets even the most inexperienced chefs, cutting with right-inch chef's blades and tasting obscure British salt and swigging astringent balsamic.
Another way to tap into this epicurean bounty is to book seats at CuisinArt's weekly chef's table. Up to 16 people gather reach week to share an eight-course meal that Schneider prepares. Dishes range from creamy burrata sprinkled with currants and pine nuts, to tuna tartar topped with caviar and paired with meyer lemon foam. Wine pairings are thoughtful, not to mention plentiful. On a recent night, the pairings include an oaky California Chardonnay, a refreshing French Chablis and a flirty Italian rose sparkler.
A great chef is only as good as the ingredients he's given. At CuisinArt Resort there is an on site greenhouse, where hydroponic vegetables, like plump cherry tomatoes, voluptuous eggplants, butter-soft lettuce and sprightly wheat grass, is grown.
In fact, CuisinArt's greenhouse has become gold standard for Caribbean. The hydroponic program was launched by Dr. Howard Resh, a tall, rail thin horticulturist, who oversees the operation. He leads daily tours for resort guests, explaining the growing principles, the challenges (think heat) and the successes. The restaurants on property are the beneficiaries of the greenhouse bounty.
There is also an herb garden at center of the resort that's overflowing with chives, basil and mint. Kitchen staff dashes out with shears in hand each afternoon to clip snippets of herbs for the night's dinner.
For die-hard foodies, it's hard to imagine anything better than being able to trace the origin of your meals just up the lane from your room.
More about CuisinArt Golf Resort and Spa:
Beach: Anguilla's food is rivaled only by its beaches, which are the stuff of legends. Many a writer has penned odes to these beaches, employing adjectives like sugary, pristine and velvety. All of these are accurate, but none do the beaches justice. The grains of sand here are so fine that no matter how the hot the sun becomes the sand remains cool, and the beach never scorches your feet. CuisinArt Resort is blessed by its location on Rendezvous Bay, which tumbles along the coastline.
Spa: Plan to book some time to lounge in the waiting room at the CuisinArt Spa, which is perched on the second floor of a dome-like building that offers wide vies of the ocean. Try locally based treatments like a warm shell massage and Thalasso seaweed body wrap.
Rooms: Most of the spacious rooms have water views. Waterfront rooms have patios or balconies overlooking the ocean. There are seven multi-bedroom villas, some with private pools. Rooms start at $550 per night.
Golf: Gorgeous ocean vistas grace this Greg Norman-designed course. Anguilla's leisurely island pace means that golfers can weave amid sea grapes and palms, over saltwater lagoons, from hole to hole without feeling rushed. And, in the spirit of laid-back island life, golfers don't typically need to arrange tee times in advance (except for the busiest season, like Christmastime). Show up and play.