Sunday

French Polynesia: Somewhere in The middle of the South Pacific.


We have just emerged from the satisfying fog of a Balinese style massage in the 30,000 foot edifice with seven treatment rooms that comprises the spa facility at the St. Regis Hotel, Bora Bora. As our therapists smoothed into our skin the coffee and vanilla flavored oils, our minds drifted far, far away from the myriad problems of the fast life in Los Angeles, and settled into the calm induced by the fluttering of the palm frawns overhead. Slowly we remember what it is like to be human again, and this experience accentuated by the most beautiful surroundings on earth.

As we sit on our extensive balcony virtually floating on stilts over the electric turquoise waters of the Bora Bora Lagoon, a tour boat jettisons past while the guide announces that “those bungalows (Royal Over Water Pool Bungalow at 3455 square feet) over there are where the rich people stay”, and everyone starts waving; it’s not true, but we wave back knowing we’re living like them, if only for a few days. It’s nice to live like the super rich, and it certainly couldn’t get much better than this.

Bora Bora is a verdant jewel of an island set within a wide barrier reef. Like many of the islands here, it consists of the eroded cone of an extinct and extensive volcano, which is dominated by the spectacular basaltic mysterious looking mountain peak named Otemanu, which means the sea of the birds. Michener was inspired by Bora Bora, Gauguin painted it, and countless sailors, adventurers, poets and romantics have claimed it as there own piece of paradise. The Dining Duo has been added to that list.

There are 100 bungalows at the St. Regis Bora Bora, and each of them cost over a million dollars to construct. Many of them have their own private swimming pools, and Jacuzzis. You can stay in one of the two 3,455 square foot over water villas with private swimming pools for $5,000 (Bungalow #202 is by far the nicest on the property, with dead on views of Mount Otemanu, as well as the setting sun, and with total privacy from other bungalows; bungalow #103 comes close and is smaller and a fraction of the price), or you can share the same bed where Nicole Kidman slept (13,000 sq. feet) for $15,000 a night. Now that’s where the rich people stay. Other notable celebrities that have visited since the opening last June are Maria Shriver, Ronaldo, Tim Allen, Eva Longoria and Tony Parker, and of course, The Dining Duo.

The Lagoon Restaurant, by Jean Georges:

It’s hard to go wrong when you are supported by the beauty and elegance of the St. Regis Bora Bora; and yet, so much of the dining experiences in French Polynesia indeed seemed to have missed the boat. Once the locals stray from the fabulous array of fresh fruits, including bananas, pineapples, mangos, watermelon, grapefruits and more, the dining experiences become a bit more challenging. Some have attributed this to the difficulty of obtaining supplies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; others to the Unions and laws protecting the people of French Polynesia. Whatever the reasons, the St. Regis has made a valiant attempt at bringing food sensations to match the natural beauty of the region.

Located at a breathtaking promontory overlooking the giant enchanting peak of Otemanu of 14 square miles of the island of Bora Bora (in fact, the resort is located on a Motu, or the equivalent of a sand bar, created by erosion from the cliffs of the actual island of Bora Bora, and then raised by the creation of corals and accumulation of sand), the restaurant décor is a perfect compliment to the surrounding views. Formed from sleek yellow willow woods from Malaysia and walls of glass, the interior is designed as a smart and hip environment, suggesting that the food is to match as well. The roof of this and all the other buildings are lined with hand woven “Pandanus”, a local reed that gives the appearance of a thatched roof, and immediately sets the tone of tropical paradise.

The real magnificent tables are outside, and unfortunately there are but a few, approximately seven, along with some chairs and tables from which a few couples can also enjoy cocktails ad appetizers. Reserve ahead for one of the outside tables as the world outside is just too magnificent to be indoors, if even only separated by glass. We suggest asking for the table closest to room 101, at the end of the dock (and please be careful of the odd placement of uplights in the middle of the walkways or you may also be experiencing the warm waters).

Jean-George Vongerichten of Paris fame, and 16 other restaurants worldwide, including “V” in Las Vegas, was asked to add his name and influence to the menu here, and it shows. The kitchen itself is run by Chef Romuald Feger, who had previously worked at New York’s Le Cirque. Having experienced mediocrity for several days, it was exciting to be viewing a menu of interesting, albeit limited, choices. We sat on the edge of the South Pacific and sipped on a glass of non-descript Syrah and Bordeaux, both of which were quite nice, although we would have preferred a more extensive selection of wines by the glass (they only offered two reds available).

We both started with appetizers as they all looked enticing. The crispy Shrimp (from just off the coast) wrapped in smokey thick bacon (from New Zealand) was extraordinary and we’re drooling for more as we write this (all menu prices are in French Island Francs, so throughout this article we will quote approximate USD $ rates$35.00 ). Of equal note was the Rice Cracker Crusted Tuna placed in a citrus emulsion ($36.00) that consisted of fresh tuna sashimi coated with a thin layer of crispy rice crackers. The Dining Duo is trying to eliminate Foie Gras from our dining experiences, but being in a French territory, well, c’est la vie. However, although we had great expectations, this dish for about $42 was tres disappointing; the use of fresh lychees and passion fruit gave it a bit of a bizarre and unsettling flavor.

The entrees (be careful, in all French speaking countries, “entrees” are equivalent to appetizers, and not the main course) were equally creative and tasty. That said, there was only one special the first night, and no special offerings the second night, which we found a bit disappointing. With only eight entrees on the menu, it was also disappointing that they did not have the Chili crusted rack of lamb in stock; apparently living on a motu in the middle of the ocean has it’s challenges. What we did eat we found spectacular. Do not miss the grilled Mahi Mahi which is cooked in a white sesame vinaigrette and served with a crunchy salad ($45). The fish was so fresh, Scott thought he saw it swimming to the table (by the way, once you fill up on the wonderful French fresh breads brought to the table, you can toss pieces over the edge and watch the hordes of fish gobble it up while you dine on one of their cousins on the table). Also of note was the charred Chicken. It was baked with spiced freshly picked pineapple, grapefruit and lime, and coated with coconut caramel ($46).
Nothing screams Tropical Island more than a mélange of fresh fruit. And speaking of fresh, while you dine, there’s always an assortment of young fresh waiters and waitresses to make the evening more interesting.

The service on various visits was rather odd; the same waiter who apparently serviced the cherished outside deck was distant and ill-trained, but somewhat pleasant. When we asked for descriptions of certain dishes, his responses were robotic and disinterested, making us wonder if he had memorized a script of sorts, or just couldn’t be bothered. Perhaps it was his training at the Sheraton in Papeete, or maybe it’s just attributed to “island-slow”. Whatever, too much of the overall external experience overshadowed this aspect, but as we all know, service can certainly add tremendously to a meal. (cut and pastes this par to go after the desserts).

Finally, there are the desserts, and you will not be disappointed. Chocolate is always the Duo’s preference and Jean-George delivers with a warm chocolate cake supported by a “boule” of homemade vanilla ice cream. By the way, Le Taha’a, the world’s largest supplier of real vanilla (most of what we get in the States is manufactured vanilla), is just a stone’s throw away, so vanilla ice cream here is a tastes sensation in and of itself. With seven different dessert selections, all of which were yum, we voted the Carmelized Banana Cake with praline crunch and slightly salted caramel ice cream as the second runner up. We would love to describe it in more detail, but we devoured it so quickly that all we remember is that was sensational. All the deserts are approximately $5.

It’s a long way to go for a fabulous meal, but once you do go, you’ll be counting the days until you return; we certainly are.

Keep your eyes open: The St. Regis just opened their new sushi restaurant, and although it was too new for the Dining Duo to review, the space was clean and very attractive, if not a bit too sterile. Michael did try their tuna sampler, which was exquisitely presented and as fresh as sushi could possibly be, a heavenly rapture of tuna and toro. Once they work through their infant stage, this little spot shows great promise for a different dining alternative on the island.


La Villa Mahana
Chef Damien Rinaldi Dovio


Do not go to Bora Bora without putting La Villa Mahana on your map. In fact, put Bora Bora on your travel plans, just so you can experience La Villa Mahana, which was single handedly the best restaurant we experienced in French Polynesia, hands down.

Chef Rinaldi, who hails from Corsica just off the Southern coast of France (think Napolean), cut his chops in France, and then landed the choice position first as Sous-Chef of Los Angleles’s Grande Dame, L’Orangerie, under our friend and gastronomic wizard, Ludo Lefebvre; and then stepping up as main chef once Ludo moved on to Bastide, When Rinaldi decided to move on, he took over Food and Beverage at the Pearl Beach Resort in Bora Bora, and then looked around at the gold mine that existed in this island paradise. It didn’t take long before he found the perfect little home on the coast of Bora Bora and transformed it into a Paul Gauguinesque cottage that accommodates only six tables; and outside, up a few dozen steep steps is a hidden one more table just perfect for lovers. From here, you can look down onto the garden patio, and over a small and private swimming pool that may end up as an after dinner treat for those more adventurous.

In the main cottage, a local artist has painted the ceiling with drawings of Tahitians dancing around you. At each table, there is a framed colorful piece of art, and some beautiful items of local jewelry; all are available for purchase, if you wish. Over the beautifully polished marble floors sits six charming tables, dressed in colorful cloths and set as if a group of friends were coming over. At the back of the room, the 31 year-old chef has his little kitchen from which he alone creates some of the most magnificent taste treats we’ve experienced in these South Pacific islands, let alone elsewhere in the world.

We suggest the tasting menu as it is the best way to experience what Chef can do in that little kitchen of his and without any help (by the way, if the Chef is ill or on vacation, the restaurant will close, so there is never anything less than perfection; otherwise, he keeps his restaurant open seven days a week, and we highly recommend making reservations way in advance from home by using his website at: www.villamahana.com; especially if you want the romantic table up the flight of stairs, then plan on reserving at least six months ahead).

The “Menu Discovery” for 85 Euros (or about $100, a true bargain in this part of the world) is nothing less than extraordinary. We began with the Amuse Bouche (“amuse your mouth’) which consisted of delicate crab on a salad of mesculin greens and sprinkled with some shaved parmesan cheese. Yum. The service was impeccable and the timing between courses also perfect (and something our restaurants in L.A. could learn from). Before we knew it, a little plate of fresh marinated ahi tuna arrived with vanilla oil dribbled on top. Oh my god, what more could we say that would translate onto the page? Following this, we devoured the Mahi Mahi (it’s dolphin fish, not the mammal dolphin, so don’t be scared off by it) baked with curry and coconut cream, the most amazing mashed potatoes we’ve eaten and garnished with a sliced banana on top. The local vanilla and coconut creams accented the entire dish such that the curry spice was a complimentary taste sensation.

As you know by now, Scott doesn’t eat red meat, and Michael had had his share of it at the moment, so we asked Chef (who came to our table himself and described the dishes prior to our ordering) to substitute something for this dish. He graciously accepted doing so, and suggested a lobster risotto, laced with parmesan cheese. The dish was so rich and exceptional that we both devoured it and almost couldn’t finish it, creating our first food oxymoron. We sipped on our bottle of Chateau Pez from St. Estephe 2000, a Bordeaux that complimented everything Chef served up to us. An appropriate ending, if this were not enough, two hot mouton chocolate (comprised of only the finest European chocolate) fondant cakes smothered with fresh homemade vanilla ice cream were delivered to our table for rapid consumption. And just when you thought it was safe to leave the table, the waiter whisked over a plate of petits fours for the road.

Between the atmosphere of this charming maison and the preparation and delivery of extraordinary dishes, we took the water taxi back to our motu across from Bora Bora, barely walked to our overwater bungalow, and fell swiftly asleep to the tune of the water lapping underneath our bed. Divine.


Next week: The Dining Duo visits yet more exotic island destinations and food sensations in French Polynesia. Come back and enjoy the voyage with us.

Posted by The Dining Duo | 9:13 PM | , , , , , , | 0 comments »

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