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Bahamas - Fresh, plump, ripe eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions,
pumpkin, sweet potato, yam and even spinach... all locally grown... all
served up in restaurants and hotels and sold in grocery stores around
the country... Can you imagine that? A partnership between the Ministry of
Tourism's Culinary Division and the Ministry of Agriculture, and the
'Buy Fresh, Buy Bahamian' campaign, aims to make this a reality.
a recent trip to Andros where local chefs, purchasing agents, food
store owners, food wholesalers and farmers came together to not only see
first-hand the quality of local produce and livestock, but to discuss
ways to get those products in local restaurants and in local stores,
that reality is one step closer.
Atlantis Executive Sous Chef Michael Adderley, who also currently serves...
Vowing that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will "put Bahamians back to work", PLP Deputy Leader Philip Brave Davis said in Grand Bahama on Friday night the party would "raise work permit fees for jobs Bahamians are qualified to perform" if it wins the next general election.
"We are ready to revive Grand Bahama," said Davis during his party's formal introduction of its Grand Bahama candidates at Our Lucaya Resort.
Davis said the PLP would establish a program to identify Bahamians who are qualified to fill jobs when work permits that are now granted expire.
He added, "We will significantly cut taxes at the airport and harbor.
"The PLP will reduce hotel taxes by 50 percent for a period of five years for existing hotels and 10 years for new hotels in Grand Bahama.
"You can hold us to that. We are serious about bringing about a rebirth on this island."
Davis also said a PLP government would promote local entertainment on Grand Bahama.
"We will provide incentives and technical support for restaurants, nightclubs, local craft markets and support to develop bed and breakfast lodgings," he said. "We will awaken this magic city."
Davis said a PLP government would also provide incentives and subsidies for airlift of tourists to Grand Bahama, including targeted scheduled flights and charters for the provision of airlift for seasonal and event-related tourism.
"Your next PLP government will upgrade the Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board, to improve promotion of Grand Bahama in international markets," he said, vowing that, "It is Grand Bahama's time."
Davis also announced that the PLP is committed to extending duty free concessions to East and West Grand Bahama.
He said Grand Bahamians must decide whether they want to continue on the FNM's path of "job losses and failed opportunities".
"The better choice is the PLP with plans for job creation and empowerment that will put you first," he said.
The PLP currently has only one MP in Grand Bahama, Obie Wilchcombe, who represents West End and Bimini.
The other five existing seats in Grand Bahama are all held by the Free National Movement.
After the next election, there will be five seats in Grand Bahama, as a result of boundary cuts.
The PLP will again run Wilchcombe in West End and Bimini.
It will also run Julian Russell (Central Grand Bahama); Tanisha Tynes (East Grand Bahama); Gregory Moss (Marco City) and Michael Darville (Pineridge).
Davis urged Grand Bahamians "to come home with the PLP".
"Come with us as we set a course to put Bahamians back to work," he said.
"Come with us as we point young Bahamians into an era of prosperity and growth.
"Come with us as we build our nation and restore opportunity to the thousands of our countrymen and women."
This month will mark the halfway point of the most recent Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) term in office. Perry Christie, at 71, has been the PLP's leader for 17 consecutive years. He has led the party to two election wins, losing the 2007 poll in-between.
Christie has been in frontline politics for 40 years and has many critics inside and outside of his party. He has been called weak, indecisive and afraid of conflict and controversy.
These terms can be heard regularly on talk radio. They can be seen in the newspapers. But as we survey the political landscape halfway home to the next general election, another term may be better suited to describe the veteran politician: unbeatable.
How it ended in 2012
Christie's PLP took 29 seats in the May 2012 general election. The PLP gained one after the North Abaco by-election. The three-way race between the PLP, Free National Movement (FNM) and Democratic National Alliance (DNA) kept the PLP from securing a majority of the votes cast (48.6 percent), however. The FNM's haul (42.1 percent) combined with that of the DNA (8.5 percent) surpassed the PLP. In our first-past-the post system, the FNM was only able to win nine seats and the DNA none.
Hubert Ingraham, the man who led the FNM into the 2012 election, resigned shortly after his party's defeat. The FNM selected Dr. Hubert Minnis, the Killarney MP, to replace him.
Minnis is not a good communicator. He doesn't have the natural instincts of a political leader. He also looks uncertain on major matters of policy - take for example his multiple positions on gambling and the gender equality referendum. Right-thinking Bahamians would agree that the FNM has not gained ground under Minnis.
It's harder to assess the DNA's trajectory since we last voted.
The party is essentially two things: a New Providence-based protest movement against the rule of the PLP and FNM; and, a vehicle for Branville McCartney's ambition to be prime minister.
We have a crime problem; failing public schools; an illegal immigration problem; a bloated and inefficient public service. These challenges have persisted for years under both major political parties. There are many Bahamians who want a new type of leadership, with new ideas. For some of these people, the DNA is a sign of hope. It would seem reasonable to suggest that the DNA is still a factor in our politics and may be able to win somewhere between six and 15 percent of the vote.
The split opposition and the Christie path to reelection
In our parliamentary system, it does not matter what percentage of the vote parties receive. What is important is winning the majority of seats in the elected chamber and being able to form a government. With two opposition parties, Christie and the PLP can afford to fall off from where they were in 2012 and remain in power.
Let's use the Golden Isles constituency, a swing seat, as an example. Michael Halkitis won with 2,220 votes, defeating Charles Maynard (now deceased), who secured 1,813 votes. The DNA's candidate, Farrell Goff, received 581 votes. In percentage terms Halkitis received 48.1 percent, Maynard 39.3 percent, and Goff 12.6 percent of the votes cast.
An uninspired FNM led by Minnis would fall off from the 2012 total it received under Ingraham. A DNA believed to be a better option would rise. Imagine this scenario at the 2017 general election in Golden Isles. The PLP's candidate drops to 42 percent of the vote. The FNM's candidate drops to 35 percent of the vote, and the DNA's candidate rises to 23 percent. While nearly 60 percent of voters would vote against the PLP, its candidate would still win the seat.
Such scenarios could play out across the swing seats of New Providence - poor FNM leadership driving voters frustrated with the PLP to the third party. The DNA could again win no seats, but this time with a higher percentage of the vote. The large combined opposition vote in this scenario indicates that the FNM would win these types of seat if it were the only opponent to the PLP.
For Christie, his easy path to victory is a poor FNM leader combined with the presence of the DNA. It is in Christie's best interest for Minnis to defeat Loretta Butler-Turner at the FNM convention on November 21.
Perfectly timed jobs
The $3.5 billion Baha Mar Project is expected to open in 2015 in stages. The resort will employ thousands. This version of Baha Mar was negotiated by the FNM, but the PLP will be in power when it opens, reaping the better economic times it is expected to bring.
The other recently announced good news for the PLP comes from downtown. China Construction America (CCA) purchased the British Colonial Hilton property and land to its west in heart of the Downtown Nassau. CCA is a subsidiary of the largest construction company in the world, China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC).
CCA will develop the vacant property to create a luxury hotel and condominium unit. The hotel will also include a multi-storied garage with rooftop garden and banquet rooms, a high-end retail shopping center, restaurants, gym, marina, movie theater and boardwalk.
The investment is expected to create 250 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs for Bahamians. An additional 500 jobs in the amenities and commercial components will be created, according to the prime minister.
This project is expected to start next year and should run through 2016.
Further major construction could occur downtown if the government satisfies the demands of the Bahamian owners of the old shipping properties, leading to the erection of medium-rise condos where these shippers formerly were.
Come the next general election Christie could be at the center of a perfect reelection storm. A weak and divided opposition and falling unemployment would make it easier for the prime minister to win again. Let's also not forget that the PLP legalized web shops. The numbers men should donate generously to the party's reelection effort.
There are barriers, though, that can stand in Christie's way. There is no guarantee that Minnis will defeat Butler-Turner. She is a more marketable candidate for the FNM than the good doctor. A win by her could reenergize the slumping official opposition.
The other major roadblock is value-added tax (VAT). The new tax is scheduled to come into effect on January 1 at 7.5 percent. The cost of living for Bahamians will go up. Will consumer spending significantly fall off? Will there be job losses? We won't know until early next year.
Then there are the party's missteps in governance.
Christie and the PLP stumbled through the gambling referendum and the legalization of web shops. They are stumbling through the gender equality referendum process. The prime minister has had to fire three of his new generation MPs (Renward Wells, Dr. Andre Rollins and Greg Moss). We had the worst summer in recent memory with blackouts thanks to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC). Crime is still a problem.
But despite all this, all in all, things are lining up for the PLP leader. Ingraham and Sir Lynden Pindling were able to win back-to-back terms in their political careers. Christie thus far has not. In winning the next general election he would join his mentor and friend in this regard. Christie would also tie Ingraham in having won three general elections.
As mixed-up as Christie may appear at times, I wouldn't count him out. The conditions are ripe for the boy from Centreville to win one more before heading off into his political sunset.
Scores of students who call the Elizabeth Estates Children's Home their home are returning to school this fall semester equipped to take on another year of classroom learning thanks to Team Mosaic.
In an effort to give back and show their love and appreciation for the Bahamian community, team members from Mosaic Restaurant banded together and hosted a back-to-school drive in support of the youngsters at the home.
"We at Mosaic -- Front of House division -- have committed ourselves to the effort of giving back and we all agreed that the best focus we can have is on our nation's youth, the future of this great country called The Bahamas," said restaurant manager, Shawn Saunders.
"Back-to-school is an important time for so many youngsters. We all fully understand that our economy is still in the process of recovering and so we decided to put our attention to those youngsters who are less fortunate, specifically those at the Elizabeth Estates Children's Home, and help them prepare for the start of another school year," he said.
Book bags, books, pens, pencils, pens, rulers crayons and notepads were among the items donated to the thankful youngsters and staff.
"We all firmly believe that if you willingly give from the heart, the benefits are bountiful and bountiful were the smiles on the faces of those kids. Both the kids and their guardians expressed a high sense of gratitude which we truly appreciated. This is what can happen when we all come together for one goal," said Saunders.
The Pointe gives back
Although small in size, the team at The Pointe decided to lend a helping hand and give back to the community through a donation of school supplies to Great Commission Ministries located on Wulff Road.
Great Commission Ministries is an organization which assists the less fortunate on a daily basis wherever possible. The donation is the team's way of making a positive impact, albeit a small one, in the community.
Revealing that the government forewent $683 million in import duty for this fiscal year in the form of concessions and incentives, which it sees as necessary to remain competitive as a destination for investment, Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle said this should generate a $2 billion revenue windfall in return.
Pointing to the "real structural" and profitability challenges which investors in this country face as part of the rationale for the incentivizing concessions, Rolle said that for each dollar of revenue foregone in this manner the government expects to recoup $3.04 in return.
"There is a perception that major developers do not make a significant contribution to The Bahamas economy in exchange for the incentives received. Based on the estimated total value of approved concessions as at May 2013, for every $1 in concessions provided by the government, in 2013 alone these hotels are expected to generate $0.52 in taxes/fees and payments made to government and its corporations, and $0.83 in salaries, wages and employee benefits for 10,000-plus employees, 98 percent of whom are Bahamians. It is also estimated that direct spending in the economy is $0.69.
"The country front-loads a promissory note to an investor for a dollar and we get $2.04 back at a later date. So essentially we get $3 back because we don't come out of pocket.
"Overall, these annual payments represent more than seven percent of GDP (gross domestic product), before the full opening of Baha Mar," he added.
Rolle was addressing Parliament when he made his comments as part of his contribution to the 2014/2015 budget debate.
His comments come as U.S. consultants for the government, Compass Lexecon, disclosed in its study on tax and fiscal reform needs in The Bahamas that this country ranks 92 out of 98 countries when it comes to its tax-to-GDP ration, collecting just 40 percent of its maximum attainable revenue in this regard, in part because of concessions given to investors.
Earlier this week, Guardian Business reported that Oxford Economics, consultants to the Coalition for Responsible Taxation, pointed to a 46 percent "effective collection rate" for import duty in The Bahamas, due to a combination of evasion, concessions and other factors.
Rolle disclosed that approvals for duty-free importation under the Hotels Encouragement Act increased by almost four times this fiscal year, from $138.5 million to $683 million.
Turning to the common refrain that Bahamians do not benefit from concessions as foreign investors do, Rolle said that duty-free concessions under the Hotels Encouragement Act between 2012 and 2014 for new construction, additions and renovations for hotels with Bahamian ownership or part-ownership amounted to $304 million.
The vast majority of these concessions related to Exuma, where $274.5 million in concessions was provided in relation to eight hotel properties.
"Bahamian entrepreneurs are investing in the tourism sector of our economy. Some are in joint-venture partnerships with other Bahamians and others with foreign partners. Island by island Bahamian investors are developing boutique resorts and other tourism and industrial businesses which play an important economic role, particularly in the Family Islands, where the impact of these investments creates multiple jobs and opportunities for Bahamians."
Rolle pointed to an amendment to the Hotels Encouragement Act in 2008 and 2009 - to include entertainment facilities, nightclubs, restaurants and shops in designated areas - as one which has been well-received by Bahamian entrepreneurs in particular.
"They are taking advantage of the import duty concessions to assist in jump-starting their business and help reduce the challenges associated with start-up costs," he said.
Concessions granted to businesses under this amendment total $926,370 for May 2012 to June 2013 and for the following year - July 2013 to May 2014 - the total grew to $6.2 million.
Laying out the rationale for such concessions, Rolle noted the findings of a recent study commissioned by the government on concessions and incentives regionally, which looked at how those offered by The Bahamas compared to regional competitors' regimes to encourage investment.
The study was commissioned as the government considered how it might "rationalize" the incentives and subsidies it currently offers to investors in The Bahamas, and how this might impact investment inflows into the country.
Among the key findings, Rolle suggested, was that most countries have a program of subsidies and incentivizes for investors in place "supporting the basic assumption that it is a requirement to be a globally competitive player".
In addition, hotel profitability in the Caribbean lags that of the United States, while profitability in the Bahamian hotel sector is believed to lag both.
'Real structural factors'
Developments in The Bahamas move ahead in the face of significant "real structural factors", said Rolle, commenting on the findings of the study.
He said: "In addition to demand-side pressures on the top line in the resort sector, the study suggests that several key operational and structural issues confront the sector across The Bahamas, regardless of location or size. They are as follows: the high cost of energy - Bahamas Electricity Corporation's rates are amongst the highest in the region; challenges related to workforce development, driven by a gap in basic, technical and soft skills; productivity continues to be problematic, and concerns around tax reform."
Resorts operating outside New Providence face further challenges including even higher operating costs; limited affordable and available airlift; shortages of skilled labor; more costly marketing and greater infrastructural needs.
"While data on current Bahamian hotel profitability is limited, it is believed to lag both the United States and Caribbean performance due to: higher salaries and in some cases lower employee productivity; higher electricity rates, and higher pilferage and wastage rates.
"It should be noted that industry profitability is measured on a pre-tax basis," he added.
Rolle noted that the study revealed that regional competitors use a wide range of incentives to encourage tourism development. Of the jurisdictions reviewed, the most consistent investment incentive offered, with the exception of Cancun, was the reduction, or abatement, of import tariffs on materials and equipment used in the construction and fit-out of hotels.
Where a number of other countries contrasted with The Bahamas was in the fact that they limited the ability to access these incentives to specific time periods, projects of a certain size, or location.
"A variety of approaches are taken to incentives related to real estate taxes including limiting the exemption to improved value (Barbados) and reducing the stamp duty/transfer tax on property sales (Cayman Islands)," added Rolle.
City of Nassau
The minister said that there was a decline in applications for concessions under the City of Nassau Revitalization Act for the period July 2013 to May 2014, with the total for duty-free concessions for this period standing at $2.2 million.
"The preceding year, May 2012 to June 2013, the total concessions approved totaled $9.96 million. However, I believe the decline in applications is due to an increase in the number of applicants under the Hotels Encouragement (Amendment) Act," said Rolle.
He added: "The Bahamas is one of the many destinations for investments. Even though this is a very emotional topic because of the imbalance between local and foreign investment, the reality remains that foreign direct investment (FDI) is needed for us to survive as a nation.
"Until such time as someone a lot smarter than most of the global population can provide the world with a viable alternative to FDI, we should work towards extracting greater benefits and greater alignment for local investors."
However, Rolle noted that while it is clear that large scale developers make a significant contribution to the economy there is, nevertheless, room to standardize and restrict the concessions granted.
In the next few months, The Bahamas will see the rise of a new fast-food chain courtesy of AML Foods, as the company moves to refinance its preference shares to free up capital for the expansion.
Carl's Jr., a franchise under the CKE Restaurants Inc. umbrella, came to an agreement with AML Foods late last week. The deal will mean the construction of the first restaurant near the end of the second quarter, followed by possibly four more in the coming years.
The long-term investment for AML Foods should be in the range of $4 million, according to Gavin Watchorn, the company's CEO, and create up to 100 new jobs.
"The attraction to this is we think it will be a profitable business in its own right," he told Guardian Business. "We have a lot of existing infrastructure in place. We have logistics and back office staff, so our learning curve is not as steep. That's a great benefit to us and a strength. We'll be able to share costs with other parts of the company, such as Domino's, and yet generate a wider sales base."
After paying an up-front cost for the U.S. franchise, AML Foods will serve as a sole investor in the restaurants in The Bahamas while paying a standard fee based on sales.
As part of the announcement, Watchorn said the company has entered into an agreement with preference shareholders to restructure its preference share debt. The maturity date of the shares was extended from December 2015 to December 2022, with a reduced interest rate of 8 percent to 7.25 percent.
Watchorn told Guardian Business the move secures long-term funding for the company.
"It allows us to use operational cash flow for growth rather than debt repayment. We can grow our business," he explained.
Adding that it will ultimately result in higher returns for shareholders, the AML Foods chief emphasized that the preference shareholder group has continued to play a pivotal and supportive role. Not all of the freed-up cash goes toward Carl's Jr., he added, with some held in reserve to give the company liquidity "to take advantage of the marketplace".
AML Foods also issued a further $4.28 million in Class B preference shares under the revised terms.
Turning to the new product itself, Watchorn said the company spent the last 15 months researching a new fast-food franchise to bring to The Bahamas. He felt Carl's Jr., joining an already robust industry, will be a product Bahamians should "flock to".
Ned Lyerly, executive vice president of Global Franchise Development for CKE Restaurants, said The Bahamas as an attractive "quick service restaurant market".
"AML's strong track record in consumer retailing and the food services industry makes them an ideal partner for us," he said in a statement. "We share their core values of exceeding consumer expectations of quality, value and service and know that the Carl's Jr. brand will be well received in The Bahamas."
Watchorn added that "we have to build a competely new store" and negotiations are ongoing with a landlord. At this point, he could not reveal the location of the first Carl's Jr. franchise.
Hands For Hunger's Paradise Plates 2014 lived up to its promise this year to be the biggest and best "night of culinary compassion" ever held, drawing the best food and beverage purveyors on the island, 700-plus guests and rave reviews.
Paradise Plates, now in its sixth year, was held on September 27 in the Grand Ballroom of Atlantis resort and is the signature fundraiser for the Hands For Hunger (H4H) organization. H4H is a humanitarian organization committed to the elimination of unnecessary hunger and the reduction of food waste in The Bahamas. Based on a recent report from the Department of Statistics, as many as 34,000 Bahamians face chronic hunger or food insecurity. The good news is that the problem is surmountable. Through the reduction of food waste in our community, unnecessary hunger can be eliminated.
This year, Paradise Plates guests experienced an epicurean adventure of diverse palates, bold flavors and traditional favorites from 29 food and drink stations showcasing their best fare, including sushi, tapas, pork belly, ceviche, hummus, dessert, sky juice, rum and wine, to name just a few. Guests were also entertained by live music. A Junkanoo rushout by the Marina Village Junkanoo Troupe capped off the night.
Chef Monica Hutchinson, a Food Network-affiliated chef, presented a rescued food demonstration, transforming KFC chicken and peas and rice into tasty dishes. There was also a dramatic Chinese noodle demonstration by Atlantis.
For the past two years, Paradise Plates has been used to introduce the public to Nassau's current or newly launching restaurants. In 2012, Graycliff Chocolatier launched its artisan chocolates and bon bons to the delight of guests and just last year Palm Cay's Billfish Grill was a huge hit among the curious "foodie" crowd at Paradise Plates. This year guests were introduced to Lukka Kairi, a new restaurant featuring traditional Bahamian flavors with a fresh, contemporary approach.
The live and silent auctions had guests brimming with excitement as many attempted to win at least one of more than 50 fabulous prizes, experiences and adventures. The star of the silent auction this year was an X4 BMW. Other items up for bid included local and international vacation packages to destinations such as Portland, Ore., Washington D.C. and the Family Islands, along with fine jewelry, art and sculpture, and designer items.
"Every year, in an effort to raise over $100,000 to sustain Hands For Hunger's programs and operations, we rely on our valued partners to ensure the success of this night of culinary compassion," said Anna Bancroft, Paradise Plates Committee lead and communications manager, Hands For Hunger.
The 2014 Paradise Plates event involved a number of companies collaborating to make the event a success. Atlantis, Creative Relations, Zamar, and Wildflowers Events and Occasions provided in-kind donations to transform the venue into a magnificent space. In addition to corporate partnerships, the event would not be possible without a dedicated group of volunteers working with the H4H staff. The event also allowed College of The Bahamas culinary students to practice their skills while giving back. For the last six years they have assisted executive chefs at the participant stations.
Royal Bank of Canada and SkyBahamas both served as presenting sponsors of Paradise Plates this year. BMW was a connoisseur sponsor of the event this year.
The $25 million Heritage Village has attracted at least one key investor, Guardian Business can confirm, with more support "on the horizon" for the West Hill Street project.
Graycliff executives expect to begin construction by the end of this year.
"There are a couple of other investors thinking about it. Now that we have at least one investor on board, it is imminent," said Paolo Garzaroli, the president of Graycliff.
"It is very close on the horizon. I can see it starting before the end of this year."
Heritage Village, including a market, restaurants and attractions, is being billed as "the vision of what historic Nassau should be".
The development includes an entire stretch of West Hill Street. Whereas Heritage Village was originally divided into two phases, the decision was made by Graycliff to accelerate the plans to draw the crowds needed to give the project the right forward momentum.
Garzaroli purchased the buildings on the north side of the street four years ago in anticipation of closing down traffic in the area and creating a destination for tourists and locals.
The opening of an interactive chocolate factory, now slated for the summer, is being seen as an essential step to establishing that first attraction to get tourists excited about the area.
"Nobody is going to come here just for shopping. The chocolate factory will already start bringing people to the property. When this happens it will be a major add on. There are a lot of elements to Heritage Village that are very cultural once it is a village environment."
An events calendar will be created with at least two or three "happenings" to create structure and help drive tourism and cruise traffic.
Garzaroli told Guardian Business Heritage Village should benefit from being a "controlled environment" for families and tour groups. He said the development will "reinvigorate" the whole area, and with the recent decision by the Bacardi family to transport the Buena Vista restaurant into a rum distillery, a variety of "satellite" businesses are entirely possible.
The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas and a new studio opening by Antonius Roberts also lend the area a cultural and historic feel.
Heritage Village will include the chocolate factory, a coffee factory and a Bahamian marketplace.
Graycliff Hotel should remain the centerpiece of the development. An additional 50 to 75 rooms are planned once the development is up and running.
Most Bahamians look forward to the days-on-end marathon shopping trips when they travel -- and I'm not going to lie, I do too -- but unlike most people, a quick pop into a fast food joint or a meal at the food court to keep their energy level high for the next day at the mall won't suffice for me. There are some favorite restaurants that I've simply got to hit. Better yet, if it's someplace I've never been before, I do my research to find out exactly what restaurant I have to go to and what is the not to be missed dish.
One place I've heard about for years is Legal Sea Foods, a Boston-based seafood restaurant group, but never having been to Boston -- I'd never dined at Legal Sea Foods. So when I found out I would be traveling to Boston the other day, my mind was swirling with thoughts of where I'd eat and what I'd have at the end of my workdays. I knew I had to have a steamed Maine lobster ... oysters (seeing as I would be so close to their source and all, and they would definitely be at their freshest), New England clam chowder, crab cakes made with Maryland lump crab meat ... and of course if I spotted a P.F. Chang's (one of my favorite Asian jaunts) I had to indulge in the chicken lettuce wraps, some dumplings, and whatever else struck my fancy.
In the first of two visits to Legal Sea Foods, I enjoyed the Rhode Island style calamari (crispy Montauk calamari with peppers and garlic, you can also have them served Thai style, with pineapple and peanuts), a New England clam chowder (the recipe that had been served at past presidential inaugurations), and Legal's signature crab cakes with wood-grilled shrimp and scallops.
The calamari was to die for. Their crispness and the heat from two kinds of peppers were the perfect bite. Being a true-true Bahamian, the heat was perfect.
Having made clam chowder many times before at home, the cream and tomato version, I was actually excited to sit down to a bowl in New England itself, made by a New Englander. It was good, but if you've made it before at home, don't despair your home recipe probably tastes just as good.
And I couldn't wait for the crab cakes, actually passing up the steamed Maine Lobster to have them. The cake looked absolutely delicious, and was served as a combo with grilled shrimp and scallops. Avoiding the shrimp, I dove into the crab cake. A quick flick with my fork, revealed the truth that I'd heard so much about -- that Maryland crab cakes were indeed chockfull of perfect pieces of lump crab meat and practically no filling. The sweet meat was almost a divine eating experience. The crab cake took so much of my attention that I only got a taste of the scallops and avoided the shrimp entirely.
And just because I was in Boston, I did the traditional thing of ordering a Boston cream pie for dessert. The round cake that is split and filled with a custard or cream filling and frosted with chocolate isn't one that struck me as something that I'd like, and the Legal Sea Foods version which was more flan-like in texture, proved it's something I definitely don't like.
On my second foray to Legal Sea Foods, I went with the raw oysters. With six varieties on the menu, I ordered one of each. The result was a plate with three Cape Cod oysters (Welfleet, Merry Oyster, and Big Rock Oyster); and three from New York (Naked Cowboy, Cotuit and Wianno).
Disregarding the rest of the menu -- no matter how good it sounded -- like the nutty Atlantic salmon, or the cioppino (lobster, scallops, shrimp, calamari, littleneck clams, mussels and scrod in a light tomato broth), or the lobster casserole (freshly shucked lobster baked with buttery crumbs), or the lobster bake (calm chowder, steamers, mussels, chorizo sausage lobster), I went straight up and ordered a steamed lobster. At Legal Sea Foods, these steamed lobsters range from one-and-a-quarter pounds to two-and-a-half pounds. Having seen some big boys hauled out of the kitchen, and people struggling to get through, I erred on the side of caution and got a medium one in the range of one-and-a-half pounds to one-and-a-quarter pounds, with mashed squash and asparagus. And like a "crazy" tourist I tied that plastic napkin around my neck and enjoyed. The lobster meat was sweet and buttery and just delicious. All hail the Maine lobster!
Actually that was my last meal on my final night in Boston, and if I hadn't eaten anything else, I would have been quite happy.
As you can see I had a long list, and I satisfied every craving I had going to Boston. Making the trip extra special was the opportunity to enjoy a meal at Bonfire, a steakhouse restaurant by celebrity Chef Todd English, who is one of the most decorated, respected and charismatic chefs in the world. (And that was thanks to the fact that airport dining has gone more upscale). I stumbled across Chef English's restaurant in Terminal B at Boston's Logan International Airport as I was walking to my gate, and since I had a few hours to kill before my flight, you know I made a beeline for Bonfire.
Perusing the menu I was stuck between the Kobe beef hot dog (with jalapeno slaw, Dijon mustard and Parmesan fries), portobello quesadilla (roasted corn salsa, queso blanco, chimichurri and avocado crema) and the grilled bonfire burger (garlic aioli, smoky bacon, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese and Parmesan fries). I was leaning towards the portobello quesadilla, when the waiter walked up and I asked for his recommendation. He steered me into another direction -- the brioche chicken sandwich (garlic aioli, cheddar, caramelized onions, avocado and parmesan fries) -- I was a little skeptical, but I went with it. I stuck to the advice that I usually dole out, which is that chefs and waiters won't steer you wrong.
And he certainly didn't! That first bite was an explosion of flavor so intense that when I said wow, I don't think it was just in my head. The tender grilled chicken, topped with the buttery avocado and the flavorful garlic aioli really made the sandwich. Even though I didn't have intentions of eating any of the Parmesan cheese-flecked French fries tossed with sweet roasted garlic and crisp fried sage, they were addictively good (so much for watching those calories). A cooling side of Pico de gallo, and that meal at English's Bonfire Steakhouse was the perfect way for me to end my first visit to Boston. With eating that good, I intend a return trip. And if you're ever in the area, a meal at Legal Sea Foods which has been around since 1904 is a must-do dining experience.