By Baz Dreisinger
There is a lot to love about the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, Cayman Islands: Kimpton’s first international resort and Grand Cayman’s first new property in a decade. As the tallest building on island and Kimpton’s foray into the luxury market, the hotel cuts a dramatic figure—and a stylish one; from the modish décor, teeming with color and texture, to the swanky oceanfront bungalows, sprawling Seafire Pool and staff’s uber-chic uniforms—“can I buy one?” I begged a hostess, ogling her jean dress—the 266-room beachfront property sashays into the hotel scene with bravura.
What I loved most about my stay there, though, was not swimming, kayaking or contemplating the cerulean sea from my balcony. It was eating. This is an activity I’ve long relished in Cayman, a small island with big culinary offerings; the 135 nationalities represented here mean dining options run the gamut from high-end Italian to side-of-the-road Jamaican. A thriving locavore scene has developed lately—thanks to a weekly Farmers Market at Camana Bay and another one in George Town, farm-to-table dinners at eateries like the outstanding Cayman Cabana have become a culinary staple—while January’s Cayman Cookout annually attracts the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert.
All of which is to say, when it comes to cuisine on Grand Cayman, the bar is high—and Seafire’s debut officially sets it higher. Here’s how the hotel and its Executive Chef, Massimo De Francesca, have cemented Cayman’s place as a Caribbean culinary capital.
I was the very first diner at the 9-seat chef’s counter in Avecita, Seafire’s showpiece restaurant. I did not know what a blissful big deal this would turn out to be. Built around a wood grill, Avecita is a restaurant-within-a-restaurant focusing on Spanish-style plates; the chef’s counter allows for a birds-eye view of kitchen magic. Giving the menu a once-over I spied meat—lamb, ribeye with chimichuri—but Chef Remy had other plans.
“Let us do all fish and veggies,” he said. “Lots of local.” “Local” is my middle name, so I happily obliged; “happily” turned out to be the operative word. Dish after dish left me blown away by the innovative marriage of flavors and textures, and the freshness of ingredients—no easy feat on an island where much is imported. There was pan con tomate nuevo, a smoked tomato terrine with Caymanian sea salt that might give tuna tartare a run for its money. Divine white gambas came from Argentina; scallops with white beans and morcila herb dressing were impeccably charred; grilled hearts of palm were served with paprika hollandaise, pistachio, poached egg and lemon. The crown jewel was berenjena en escabeche, charred eggplant with burnt rosemary and my new favorite food find: blue cheese ice cream.
When I asked about wine pairings, Juan Man appeared.
“Anyone can pair with wines. We will pair with cocktails,” declared Seafire’s in-house mixologist, with a hand flourish. More than mixologist, really—the effervescent Juan, who just moved to Cayman from Madrid, essentially has a Ph.D. in spirits and a love for his craft that transcends mere passion; my dinner suddenly became part history class, part cocktail theater. I learned that Spain played a vital role in rum history, that Dos Maderas rum is exceptionally smooth, that there is a proper technique for infusing a drink with grapefruit peel, that “local” applies to cocktails, not just food.
“I want to use the sea in my cocktails,” said Juan fervently. “I want people to sip my drinks and know they’re here—in Cayman.” He then showered me with tastings: a sublimely crisp “botanist gin and tonic,” infused with rosemary and grapefruit; a “cobblestone,” from lustau fine sherry, Tanqueray 10 gin, peach basil shrub and dry vermouth; a “heart and sol,” tequila infused with mango, honey, lime and cayenne; a “gazpacho extreme,” featuring “celery-cucumber air” (air never tasted so good!). My dining companion could not stop admiring his “Dante’s Third,” a cognac, rum, maple, vanilla, bitters and smoke concoction served in something I imagined a genie might emerge from. It was a perfect match for my chocolate y lima desert, which married lime and chocolate ganache with marshmallows that took marshmallows to a whole new level.
Throughout, I was entertained—in myriad tongues; with 52 nationalities represented in its staff, Seafire boasts a crew of chefs slinging directives in French, Spanish, Portuguese and more—and they’re a crew I’d happily hang out with. The hotel knows this, offering guests the opportunity to book a scuba diving expedition with the chefs to catch lobster and conch. Next time, I told myself.
Seafire’s primary restaurant has a remarkable ability to transform itself. In the morning it’s a casual outdoor breakfast eatery, serving up a feast: Jerk chicken and waffle and the Cayman scramble are flavorful plays on local dishes, while a brioche breakfast sandwich and banana nut waffle are sheer indulgence. By night, though, Ave is a dimly lit fine-dining haven specializing in coastal Mediterranean food but also toying with Caribbean flavors—always, of course, with an emphasis on local. Among my favorites: a rich oxtail & foie terrine, grilled calamari with eggplant puree and zesty chorizo scramble, marinated scallops on a bed of truffled cauliflower with star fruit relish, salt cod fritters made from pumpkin flour. There’s plenty of international flavor represented, too, from a NY steak to the decadent spaghetti carbonara with jerk-parmesan sauce and piri piri glazed chicken.
Coccoloba Bar & Grill
You will spend most of your time at Seafire on its flawless stretch of Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach—which means you will sample plenty of food from Coccoloba, a casual-chic beachfront eatery in homage to Mexican street food. And who doesn’t like eating tacos on the beach? The chicken tacos have just the right amount of tomato marinade; the fish ones taste freshly caught. Ceviche is nicely seasoned and the delectable crab and spinach dip is a perfect snack. seafireresortandspa.com