It’s rare that you travel out of New York City and have an experience largely unlike one you’ve ever had as a native — but that’s exactly what happened when we were invited for dinner at the Kitchen Table by White at the Blue Residences in Aruba.
General Manager Jan van Nes knows a thing or two about pleasing his guests: For five years, he served as director of tourism for the island that has a residential population of just 110,000 people. Each night, dinner starts with a meet-and-greet period over drinks so guests can get to know their fellow diners and watch the sun set before being lead to the dining studio, where all of the magic happens.
Each month, Executive Chef Urvin Croes, born and raised in Aruba, and his team create and execute a seven-course menu based on a different theme.
When we attended, we experienced a meal of Dutch-Caribbean influence, infused with the “flavors of Aruba” and painstakingly shaped into works of art so beautiful, detailed, and elaborate that many of us hesitated to dig in; seriously, one chef laid eight teeny-tiny leaves atop a piece of meat with tweezers — for all 16 plates.
Fortunately, the flavors matched the high precedence set by the attention to detail in the presentation of dishes like red snapper with sweet peas, bacon, asparagus, onions, parsley, and remoulade; and lamb served with sauerkraut, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and green beans. There were virtually no knives requires for the tender “Kalsstoof met boerenkool,” a stew made of veal that was braised for eight hours.
“You’d think we’d eat light, summery foods, but here at home we eat a lot of soups, stews, and heavy foods,” chef Croes explained. “If you haven’t eaten this veal stew, you haven’t been to Aruba… or at least, you haven’t eaten what we eat.”
Chef Croes trained in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and returned to his native Aruba with the dream of opening its first fine dining, modern gourmet cuisine restaurant, which he did in 2012 with White Modern Cuisine. When approached by Blue Residences to open a culinary studio, chef Croes saw an opportunity to enhance the ‘White Experience’ with a 16-seat Kitchen Table experience.
Typically, the meal comes with a carefully selected wine pairing, but our host was thoughtful enough to make sure that our waters and sodas were refreshed just as frequently with each course.
Dessert literally looked almost too good to eat (once again), with tiny pieces of panna cotta formed into Lego pieces, and tiny toy robots to accompany the apple tarte with cinnamon, vanilla, raisins, and mint… but honestly, these descriptions just don’t do it justice. You have to try it — and see it — for yourself to truly understand what exactly is happening in this kitchen.
When you do, you’ll also understand why there’s typically a standing ovation at the end, and why we named Kitchen Table by White the No. 20 best restaurant in all of Latin America and the Caribbean.