A Vegetarian in Aruba - Papiemento
A vegetarian-friendly sounding menu doesn't guarantee a satisfying meal, and a vegetarian-unfriendly one doesn't forebode a bad one. I have been to Papiemento on the island of Aruba before, and I can't tell you what I had. But I do have pleasant memories of the place. It is a stunningly beautiful outdoor setting, nestled in an 19th-century Aruban farmhouse. Many small tables surround an elegant blue swimming pool. The other tables are scattered beneath tropical trees that fan out in all directions. Basket lamps hang from branches. I wonder what they do if it rains. It did rain lightly when I was here four years ago, but we didn't get wet. This year the weather was perfect for an outdoor dining adventure.
The menu offered a cream of mushroom soup, but no other vegetarian dishes. But I didn't worry. I knew something good would happen. I started out with my new favorite tropical drink, a Caipirinha, made with fresh, muddled limes, and a Brazilian rum-like liquor. I was in charge of the wine this time, and I selected an old vine Zinfandel. I've already had enough white wine to drink for the rest of the year. Yes, I know, the night before was only one glass. But since I'm in charge, it's going to be red. I dislike white wine, but I hate zucchini more, so my friend Brian insisted that I tell the waiter I'm allergic to it. So I did. He said that the chef could offer me a pasta dish with vegetables and a red or a curry sauce. As I chose the curry, my friend Gregg blurted out, "And he's allergic (big emphasis on allergic) to zucchini!" The waiter asked me if I would eat yellow squash, which to me isn't much different from the green kind. I told him that I would eat it, but I'd rather not. He looked at me intently for a few seconds, then left.
My soup was delicious. Creamy, but not at all salty like the mushrooms I had had the night before. The wine came. It was perfect. Dry. Smooth. And red. Yes, red. A deep, dark red. The kind that belies the old in old vine. Not long after the soup was gone a Caesar salad came. I should say, "Caesar" because the dressing was mild and bland, kind of like ranch. Not that I've had ranch recently. Then came a large black bowl with just a few pieces of penne, lots of yellow and orange pepper slices, two huge and thick asparagus stalks, and broccoli di rape, all in a light coconut curry sauce. I was riddled with delight. I guess my allergy to zucchini will be taking hold.
After the main course I took a trip to the men's room. I include this here because it is one of the highlights of a visit to this restaurant. Not to diminish the food or decor in any way, but there's a palm tree growing in the men's room, right up from the cement floor and out a hole in the ceiling. There's a sign next to it asking guys not to, um ... water it.
As others at my table ordered dessert, I asked the waiter for a Mamajuana. His eyes lit up. He brought the bottle and proudly showed it to me and the rest of the table. The bottle was filled with what looked like wood chips. Mamajuana is a liquor from the Dominican Republic. It's made of red wine, honey, and over forty herbs, spices, and roots and bark from various tropical trees and shrubs. It was delicious, and made my lips numb. I'm sure it's illegal in the US. I will find out when I get home. Aruba is indeed One Happy Island.
Papiemento is at Washington 61, Noord, Aruba