We ordered the Carte Blanche menu at Screaming Eagle and settled in for a great evening. It started with an amuse-bouche: a gazpacho shooter accompanied by a Parmesan, sesame and curry biscuit.
Then came the Swiss Tête de Moine cheese shaved to look like a flower, with sun-dried tomato tapenade, brioche and truffle mayo, all balanced by a semi-sweet Mosel Reisling. And this was all before the appetizers: a tasting platter of lionfish ceviche; deconstructed Peruvian mashed potato causa with avocado and shrimp; caramelized Asian pork belly with creamy bacon coleslaw; lobster bisque; and a tuna tartare so fresh that it melted in your mouth.
Screaming Eagle’s Dutch chef, Erwin Hüsken, is a master of the tasting menu. After years of coming up with new specials every week, he can pull a lot of dishes out of his chef jacket sleeve. His Carte Blanche menus aren’t for the faint of heart – or the small of appetite. Tastes are bold, they’re international with a French pedigree, and the main course platter combines generous servings of five completely different dishes. The night I visited, there were lamb chops with rich and creamy risotto; skirt steak on ratatouille with crispy polenta and truffle sauce; mashed potatoes with grainy mustard pitchforked with a home-made potato chip; and the pièce de résistance: duck breast cooked medium with confit cherry tomato, caramelized onion compote and an aromatic red wine-vanilla sauce. The paired glass of 75, a California Cabernet Sauvignon from Tuck Beckstoffer. Perfect.
Meat and fish-heavy as the tasting menu might seem, Erwin’s vegetarian and vegan versions of the Carte Blanche menu are far from afterthoughts. “More vegetarian and vegan people kept asking for it,” he says. Guests with these dietary preferences are treated to dishes like portobello mushroom stuffed with spinach; crispy cornmeal with ratatouille and green asparagus; and Peruvian potato causa with avocado and pickled red onions.
Some just order a bottle of vintage Veuve Clicquot Champagne and the catch of the day – pan-fried local grouper on the plancha with clarified butter – and sit at the hardwood wraparound bar. Others soak in the Miami Beach club vibe with a bowl of Aruban rock lobster carbonara eaten from a wooden dinner-in-bed tray while lounging on one of the white linen-draped beds in the elevated dining area just past the bar. Bed or no bed, the dark chandeliers and red under-bar lights make for a romantic atmosphere indoors, while the spacious patio makes for a more panoramic experience outside.
But if you skip the Carte Blanche, you’d miss out on that cheese, that tartare, and that duck breast. And the trio of desserts that follows: a mini crème brûlée (brittle on top and creamy, warm and delicate inside), a quenelle of home-made ponche crema ice cream (a locally made liqueur that tastes like eggnog) and an indulgent slice of New York-style cheesecake.
In the ten years since Screaming Eagle opened, Erwin and business partner Sven Schneider have built a highly respected establishment. Though both were born in Europe, they met while working at the Flying Fishbone restaurant in Savaneta. The decision to stay on the island was an easy one, says Sven, who won’t be moving back to Bavaria any time soon. “Of course, you meet the woman and have kids,” he says.
The woman he’s referring to is Screaming Eagle’s bar manager, assistant manager and Moscow Mule mixologist extraordinaire, Joanne. “We do late nights here and I’m usually the one taking care of the kids in the morning, but when it comes to eating, she has to cook because I cannot,” says Sven, laughing. “I decided early in my life that there are better people to do that.”
Erwin – one of those better people – also met his wife on Aruba. They now have two kids. “She cooks Colombian food at home and she makes great food. She also likes almost everything I cook for her,” he says.
“That’s love!” says Sven, who admits he’s more comfortable in a wine cellar than a kitchen.
He does, however, juice an extraordinary amount of fresh ginger daily for Joanne’s popular Moscow Mules. She used to not be able to source ginger beer on the island and ended up juicing a lot of the gnarly root by hand one night for special requests for the vodka and ginger beer drink. Sven has essentially saved her forearms from a lot of suffering by taking over the juicing. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
Another important element of the restaurant’s success is its well-trained staff. Our knowledgeable server José, for example, has no problem filling us in on the menu – which is quite a feat when new specials are added every two weeks.
“This is the fifth year we’ve been doing the specials,” says Sven. “The first three years we did four appetizers, four main courses and a dessert every week. That’s 500 dishes every year! It’s a little less now, but it appeals to the creativity and ability of the chefs in the kitchen, so they’re not getting bored or always repeating the same things. Now, every other week they have to reinvent themselves.”
Erwin says his specials are based on what’s in season in Europe, from morel mushrooms and pork shank in fall, to bison and reindeer around Christmas time. In high season, the Dover sole is popular. “The server debones it in front of the guest at the table with a fork and spoon and plates it with mashed potato, green asparagus and glazed carrots,” says Erwin.
Some dishes have earned a permanent place on the menu, like the other dishes served tableside (or bedside), including the tenderloin with freshly crushed pepper sauce and the crêpe suzette with flambéed orange-Cognac sauce and vanilla ice cream.
As for the wine list, it’s always being reinvented. The restaurant stocks 2,000 to 3,000 bottles and has more than 250 types of wine, says Sven. “We carry eight or nine vintages of Screaming Eagle. It’s probably the only Screaming Eagle collection of that depth in the Caribbean. But I’m dreaming of the biggest wine list in the Caribbean. And another Wine Spectator award of course,” he says. For now, he’ll content himself with the biggest line of Macallan single malt scotch.
And lionfish ceviche in bed.