The Turks & Caicos are appended to the very bottom of the Bahamas archipelago, almost an afterthought. But the little country that could has come front and center for celebrities looking for a quick getaway — just six hours from New York — with a down island vibe. Those flights touch down in Providenciales, the most developed island in the chain, and the influx of sophisticated palates has helped nourish a cadre of excellent restaurants.
While seafood is the undisputed king, with fresh fish landed daily from the profoundly productive water just offshore, you don’t have to look far to find Italian, Indian and other fare, either. Most of the restaurants are strung out along Grace Bay Road, with some notable exceptions.
There are both splurge worthy fine dining establishments with deep wine lists and beach shacks that specialize in cold beer and rum punch — you should try both while you’re here. Wherever your tastes lie, this is one tropical island where you can pack your big city discriminating palate along with your Valentino bow thong flip-flops.
This elegant white tablecloth restaurant has a deep wine list and a deep menu to go with it. Walking into the arched entry, the wine cellar is to your left and, judging from the offerings crowding the shelves, you could spend a week here touring Napa, Europe and South America without ever leaving your bar stool.
The bar itself is done up in sleek black and gray tones with bright red lighting accents. It’s more Rat Pack cool than down-island casual. There’s a small stage area for solo and duo musicians, which is something else the island has in fulsome measure. If you’re in the mood for serenading, an inside table near the big glass windows allows you both the comfort of air conditioning and a clear view of the patio. However, if the weather’s right ask for a table outside on the patio. While it’s not on the beach, the stone floor and profusion of plants transports you to a magical tropical garden. There are modern loungers and small tables scattered around the space plus some larger tables on a lanai.
Favorite Bites: The appetizers are so good you may never make it to the entrees. Skip the conch ceviche — it’s excellent, but you can get that elsewhere — and go for some Opus specials. Chili steak wraps, yellow fin spring rolls and the smoked salmon Napoleon layered with dill caper cream cheese. For dinner, the mahi en papillote with shitake mushrooms and the jerk pork tenderloin are hard to resist.
Among the signature offerings at Opus is the seared yellow fin tuna with leek-fried Jasmine rice, crispy garlic & ginger, grilled bok choy and rum-soy dipping sauce. Photo: Ocean Club Resorts
Da Conch Shack
If you were looking for a movie location that called for a beach bar, this would be it. This is the Mark 1/Mod 1 beach shack and entertainment palace. The Shack is run by the gregarious Karel Rodney while Jamaican chef Mark Clayton mans the kitchen. A wooden archway separates the open-air restaurant from a small parking lot, and once through the gate, the sidewalk opens up onto a beachside paradise shaded by towering palms. There are three small pavilions if it’s raining, but most of the seating is at turquoise-, pink- and white-topped picnic tables on the sand.
When I say the conch is fresh, it couldn’t be any more fresh. At intervals, a free diver trails a little kayak out toward the reef and fills it with big queen conch. Then he brings it in and removes the conch from their shells right on the beach. From there, it goes into the kitchen. What happens in the kitchen is some kind of mystical transformation, the conch meat — which can be tough and chewy if not handled right — is turned into the best conch fritters I have ever had, bar none. And I’ve had fritters throughout the Caribbean, Florida and the Keys. Clayton’s fritters are light, fluffy puffs of bread studded with moist, tender morsels of conch served with a spicy dipping sauce — you’ll dream about these fritters.
Favorite Bites: The fritters, of course, but also the lightly fried fish and the blackened grouper. If you’re blowing your diet anyway, go ahead and get the Johnny fries — drizzled with black bean sauce and local pepper gravy.
The atmosphere is kick-back casual at Da Conch Shack. Seafood doesn’t get any fresher than the local conch, which is pulled right from the waters of Grace Bay. Photo: Mermaid Pictures/ Da Conch Shack
Located almost in the center of Grace Bay in a small plaza, Caicos Café is a Mediterranean-themed bistro with the insouciant charm of a casual island eatery. Up three steps from the courtyard, the tables are laid out on a tree-shaded deck with strands of lights twinkling overhead. It’s hard to picture a “cozy and romantic” restaurant that overlooks its own parking lot, but the Caicos Café pulls it off. Especially at night, the soft lighting on the deck obscures everything beyond the railing and you feel like you’re floating on an island — an island with really good food.
While the menu is certainly seafood-centric with the Mediterranean style seafood casserole is popular with seafood lovers, there’s much more to choose from: house-made pasta, dishes with artichokes, escargot, duck foie gras. It’s all delivered with efficiency and charm. The owners, Chef Max (Olivari) and partner Marco (Zanuccoli), circulate around the deck to make sure everyone’s enjoying their experience.
Favorite Bites: The roasted pumpkin tortellini has quickly become a favorite on the island, but for something more local, try the ravioli stuffed with grouper; to get the ravioli just right without overcooking the grouper — al dente outside, flaky inside — is impressive. For starters the grilled calamari with beans is a favorite. The house-made tagliolini pasta with Pernod flambéed fish is also special.
Caicos Café serves up original creations such as their broiled sea scallops with an almond-herb and pancetta crust, served over roasted beets and fennel-Pernod sauce. Photo: Caicos Café
From the outside, Coco Bistro is not all that promising — a squarish Tuscan red concrete building with a single door. But push through the small bar and dining room out to the courtyard and you’ll feel like you’ve arrived at the central palazzo of a villa in southern Italy. Towering palm trees strung with ropes of lights shade the courtyard, turning it into its own universe once the sun goes down.
Chef/owner Stuart Gray has created a very romantic setting for his food. Successfully, it seems, since the Bistro has acquired a certain reputation around the island. As my cab driver, Velma, put it, “You go to the Coco Bistro and you’re going to want to get busy, you know.” It seemed to me that must limit dessert sales, but Velma corrected me: “You got to stretch it a bit and enjoy the atmosphere; you don’t have to go on duty straight away!”
The setting is charming and the Gray’s food is terrific and inventive: How about martini-scented conch ceviche or grilled shrimp satay on sugarcane skewers with banana chutney? And those are just the appetizers. The house mascot is Coco the cat, who’ll likely stroll to your table to check on your dinner; she’ll likely be followed by Gray himself. There’s a modest but well- chosen wine list that covers all of the bases and provides a few splurge bottles as well.
Favorite Bites: The Peking Duck egg rolls are served with mango hoisin dipping sauce and a swagger — because the waiters know how good they are. For a main, try the tandoori rubbed mahi or house made conch ravioli with grilled sweet peppers.
The outdoor courtyard at Coco Bistro provides one of the most romantic dinner settings on the island of Providenciales. Patrons are drawn not only by the ambiance, but also by an innovative menu. Photo: Coco Bistro
If you want to dine with the jet set, this is the place, but you’ll need to plan ahead and make reservations at least two days in advance. There’s zero walk-in traffic as it’s a long way from Grace Bay and there’s a guarded gate at the resort’s border. Amanyara is one of the places celebrities frequent on the island (others being Parrot Cay and Grace Bay Club). Amanyara is ultra under the radar, and many of the local residents don’t know much about it. What they do know is that it’s very exclusive and mega yachts have been seen hooked up on the wall in front of the resort.
The restaurant doesn’t even have an official name but it does have outstanding food and atmosphere. The Asian-inspired surroundings are echoed in the Asian fusion food, which varies daily but normally includes seafood, beef, chicken and lamb choices. Set against a backdrop of Asian pavilions and an infinity pool, it’s dramatic. It’s also pricey, even by Provo standards: With $75 steaks and $30 Margherita pizza as a baseline, you can see that a nice piece of fresh fish and a bottle of wine can add up pretty quickly.
Favorite Bites: You can get the vibe — if not the full Amanyara experience — with drinks and appetizers at sundown. The beach faces the sunset and if conditions are perfect, you may see the green flash. The mojitos are crisp and refreshing when paired with coconut ahi tuna ceviche.
Understated elegance is the order of the day at Amanyara. Cloistered within one of the island’s most excursive resorts, the restaurant specializes in Asian fusion cuisines. Photo: Amanyara Resort
Coyaba has a “secret garden” style location — not on the beach but, with the foliage, comfortable wicker furnishings and twinkling lights, the only thing missing is the sound of the surf. What’s definitively not missing is food: carefully crafted dishes presented with more than the usual amount of flourish.
Chef/owner Paul Newman (not that Paul Newman) keeps his very capable hands very much on the product and it shows: deconstructed beef Wellington presented vertically, stacked foie gras terrine topped with chunky fig jam, ribs served with a hillock of Haitian fire slaw. There’s a modest but well-rounded selection of wines with some nice Italian and California bottles and plenty of expertise to help you find the perfect pairing.
Favorite Bites: The Jerk Wellington chicken with sautéed callaloo and ackee is Jamaican on steroids, and the ossabucco stuffed tortelloni with Stilton foam and almonds superb. If you haven’t yet gotten enough conch, the 12- hour merlot braised conch bolognese is unique.
The chefs at Coyoba delight in innovative presentations, such as this bay scallop cerviche with hijike seaweed salad, spiced marie rose, tobiko caviars and crisp ginger. Photo: Nick Brown/Coyaba
This is one of the restaurants that’s not on Grace Bay. Instead, Salt is a few minutes farther east, at the Blue Haven Marina near Leeward-Going- Through. The Marina is a full-service cruising destination designed to attract big yachts — the entrance channel has over eight feet at low tide and the slips stretch to 220 feet — and there were several there on the day I visited. There’s a condotel development on the property with its own bar, and, right next door at the marina, Salt. For boaters, you don’t need to get a car and drive anywhere, you can belly up to the South Beach-style bar inside and then roll back down the dock and fall down the companionway. Easy.
But if you’re staying elsewhere on the island, it’s still worth the drive. Inside is nice — very nice — with two big screen TVs going day and night, but outside is a big covered deck that provides enough shade for a comfortable lunch even in the sizzling summer months. It’s also big enough for a little dancing if you’re so inclined.
Favorite Bites: How about favorite sips first? The Blue Haven (triple sec, blue curacao, tequila) is good, but the Dark and Cloudy (Blue Haven’s answer to Bermuda’s Dark and Stormy) is a delicious mix of pineapple juice, light and dark local rum with lime. From there, proceed to the Salt appetizer sampler and, before anyone else chooses, grab all of the grilled pimento cheese sandwiches. You’ll make it up to them later. Follow that with cracked (fried) conch and truffle fries.
Salt is a favorite gathering spot for boaters who tie up at nearby Blue Haven Marina. Land-based visitors can catch a taxi from resorts along Grace Bay to enjoy the bar’s signature libations. Photo: Blue Haven Resort