Getting Lost in the French Polynesian Islands and eating your way home.
Part One

Just four hours beyond Hawaii, and hundreds of years back in time, we discovered heaven on earth, French Polynesia. Simply put, if there is paradise right here on earth, this is it. Due to the islands exotic nature, sun-blessed climate, interesting history and unspoiled natural beauty, the draw to this part of the world has been immeasurable. James Michner, “Anyone who has ever been there, wants to go back.”

Intercontinental Hotel, Papetee, Tahiti

“Tahiti” has become synonymous with all the islands of French Polynesia, as it is in fact the gateway to the area. However, it is really the name of the main island; much the way that there is an island named “Hawaii” and yet the chain consists of many other islands, and yet that one name has come to signify the entire chain. With Papeete as it’s capital (and the capital of French Polynesia), it is both commercial on the one hand with an international airport shuttling worldwide visitors and a port loading and unloading cruise ship passengers, and beautiful on the other hand, with waterfalls in the interior and stunning views of Moorea just across the sea. Papeete is a recent invention, founded in 1812, and is very much a provincial French town with a distinctly Pacific flavor. In addition to Polynesian, you’ll find French, Chinese and a host of other influences, all of which have affected the flavor of the foods as well.

Reputed to be the nicest restaurant in Tahiti (although there are others, including Coco’s and the Pink Coconut, but they do not measure up to Le Lotus), Le Lotus is located in the nicest hotel on the island, the Intercontinental Hotel, which is about 10 minutes from the ship docks and 5 minutes from the airport. All the flights are set up so that one has to stay on Tahiti either coming or going on your trip, so our suggestion is to stay here and get one of the best overwater bungalows, which are bungalows 507 through 511 (although 511 is currently under construction and without a deck and all of the interiors are in dire need of a remodel); 510 is the best, affording fabulous views of Moorea, and allowing a ton of privacy for naked sun bathing and swimming.

The “restaurant gastronomique” as it is referred to, is towards the end of the property, and located down a short pier, dangling over the water. There are two circular platform areas that hang over the waters edge, holding about 8 tables each and enjoying spectacular views of Moorea across the sea. There is also an inner restaurant area on land which is utilized when the waves in the lagoon act up and splash directly into the over water dining areas. To add to the already fabulous atmosphere, there is a pianist most nights that affords tickling of the ivories over the sounds of gentle splashes. Crossing the bridge into the dining area, myriad fish swim towards the surface, hoping for a handout from the patrons.

Frank David, Vice Best Chef of French Polynesia, along with the Chef of Le Lotus and L’auberge de Li’ll have established a three star gastronomic dining experience that they themselves tout as “the summet of the gastronomic world”. Although a bit lofty, the claim is mostly substantiated and the dining experience, albeit it according to French Polynesia time (which is either terribly romantic or terribly slow), is wonderful. Once again, if you’re in a rush, try a different part of the world.

The restaurant offers a packaging of sorts for a better price benefit, and it is indeed wise to choose one of these offerings as a la carte can run you a small fortune. We suggest the “Gourmet Menu” which allows you three courses; a cold or hot starter, a main course and finally a dessert (approximately $90 per person). There were several starters that proved to be wonderful and beautifully displayed on unusual plates. The Duck Carpaccio (from the lunch menu) was fabulous; an entire plate of thinly sliced duck was covered with a thin layer of fresh fruits resulting in a dynamic presentation and taste treat. Michael enjoyed the cold foie gras “pressee”, which was half cooked duck foie gras, toast of gingerbread, apple and walnut chutney and served with a light and fluffy slightly toasted brioche. Even though the Duo had sworn off foie gras for “political reasons”, Scott just couldn’t help himself and ordered the warm pan friend foie gras that was laced with vanilla and pineapple. Both foie gras dishes were cooked to perfection, so much so that it almost made you forget exactly from whence it had come.

The main courses offered a variety of selections. Michael sampled the veal fillet medium rare, which was tasty but a bit tough. It came with a side dish of fresh ravioli, mozzarella and tomato confit, which enhanced the overall dish; that said, it would be a pass for something better the next time. Scott enjoyed the fresh “red” tuna with “acidulous flaveur and soya”, which was an unusual concoction of flavors that we have still yet to figure out. The fish was tender and fresh, but the overall dish lacked inspiration and was also probably not worth a repeat. What was amazing was the lunch main course selection, the sautéed lobster tail, which was fresh, tender and succulent, and was served with a side dish of a pastry wrapped around a ratatouie. There is little question it was just fished from the waters under the restaurant and the amount offered was perfect. Although it did not appear on the dinner menu, the folks here are very accommodating and we suggest you insist on this entrée.

Desserts are fabulous here so make certain to order several (who cares about calories…the Polynesians like hefty looking folks anyway). The presentation is just as exciting as the flavors. All the restaurants in these islands seem to be big on “molten chocolate cakes”, but that said, Le Lotus did a particularly good job. They call it a chocolat fondant with crème anglaise. The chocolate used is a rich quality and is divine, and of course, the ice cream is home made with the local fresh vanilla. Another noteworthy choice is the white chocolate and passion fruit duo served on a bed of fresh bananas and pineapple, and then laced with vanilla. The Lime cheesecake was a bit overcooked, but it came in a pastry crust that made it unusual. It was also served with a “strawberry milk-shake” which topped the charts as to the best we’ve ever tasted. Finish off with a port, and your set for the night.

Of course, the best desserts are the bellmen in the lobby who meet your car while shirtless and wearing a skimpy parea. That’s sure to satisfy any sweet tooth, no matter what your taste buds yearn for.

Next Week: Eating your way around French Polynesia continues with exotic Bora Bora...

Posted by The Dining Duo | 9:46 PM | , , , , | 0 comments »

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