All Conch’d Up
by epicurejunkierealstore Admin
Wow, what a weekend!
I’ve recently returned from a last minute trip to the Bahamas for two nights and three days. The truth is, I only had one thing on my mind, and it wasn’t fun in the sun. It was CONCH.
If you aren’t familiar with conch, it isn’t Bahamian slang for a part of the female anatomy, (munching conch), nor is it a word describing what happens when one’s wet bathing suit sticks to unsightly regions, (forming a “conch”), although it may read that way. A conch, pronounced, “conk,” is a larger sized sea snail that is native to the Bahamas. Its flesh is tough, rubbery, sometimes crunchy, and used in dishes like salads, soups, and fritters, just to name a few. The flavor is briny, but lacks in taste. You are definitely eating it for its texture, over its flavor.
Conch has been affectionately labeled the “viagara of the sea,” and is one of my top five favorite foods. It’s a must-try when visiting the Bahamas. Conch, that is – not viagara. I’m talkin’ seafood, not sexual stimulants.
I arrived at the Cove Hotel shortly after one in the afternoon on Friday, and within the hour, I was a devouring a conch salad poolside. Conch salad is my favorite of all the conch dishes. It contains diced live conch, tomatoes, green pepper, onion, goat pepper (for heat), celery and cucumber and is finished with salt, fresh squeezed lime, and orange juice. It is the epitome of freshness. The Cove conch salad was mediocre, but I still enjoyed it, as it had been a few years since I’ve had one.
I washed my conch salad down with the Cove’s outstanding Pina Colada. It’s prepared with a dark rum and is as rich and creamy as it should be; It’s taste reminiscent of the aroma of Hawaiian Tropic lotion. Warm, sweet and sinful.
That night, I decided to check out Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay’s restaurant in the Cove Hotel, even though I’m not his biggest fan. My beliefs about Bobby were reaffirmed; all show, no go. For a chef of his stature, I would have expected more. The food just lacked, and was generally unimpressive, period.
Saturday was my day of reckoning. Breakfast/Lunch at the Poop Deck consisted of Cracked Conch (Lightly dusted and deep fried), Conch Salad, Conch Fritters (diced conch in deep fried battered balls) and conch chowder. It was a feasting of conch. Heaven! Exactly what I needed.
First came the conch chowder, which is like a Manhattan chowder with Caribbean seasoning with large pieces of conch. Next came the cracked conch and conch salad. The cracked conch is similar to deep fried calamari; lightly floured conch, deep-fried and served with a spicy mayo dipping sauce. It was superb. No complaints about the conch salad either – fresh as can be.
Finally, the fritters arrived. The well-seasoned, flavorful dough, shaped into balls with little pieces of conch were served with the same spicy mayo as the cracked conch. I must say, they were mind blowing: crispy on the outside with chewy morsels of conch inside. Absolute perfection.
On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by my favorite spot for conch salad. (Yes, immediately following the meal at the Poop deck). Under the bridge that connects Paradise Island to the main island, there are vendors who prepare all the local seafood specialties, including the conch salad. There is no question that the best conch salad in the area can be found there. I have eaten conch salads everywhere on the island, including the Fish Fry, (another local hot spot), and nothing even comes close to these vendors. It’s where the locals go. You’ll see very few tourists there, if any at all. If you haven’t been, you must go. It’s the real deal.
Once I arrived under the bridge, I proceeded to a vendor and ordered my conch salad. He prepared the whole salad in front of me on a cutting board, and it truly was an incredible site. First, he takes the conch, shell and all, and whacks it with a mallet, releasing the flesh from its shell. The flesh is pulled out, washed, trimmed and cleaned. It’s then scored and chopped. Next, he dices the tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, green
peppers and goat pepper and adds the colorful mixture to the chopped conch. He then sprinkles with salt. After a quick toss, the ingredients are placed in a bowl and finished by squeezing fresh lime and orange juice over it. Organic, simple, andoverwhelmingly refreshing. There is something about having a delicacy prepared right in front of you, in the birthplace of its origins, that can’t be paralleled on any Floridian menu. By this point, the abundance of conch I had already consumed was taking its toll on me. To say I was starting to feel all “lovey,” is an understatement.
Dinner Saturday was an obvious. Nobu. It’s always a treat. Yes, I had the standard: Toro Tartar, Rock shrimp and Miso Black Cod. Every dish was delicious, as always. But, the black cod was orgasmic. I’m still not sure whether it was the fish itself, the preparation, or the fact that I was all conch’d up, hot and bothered, but the result can’t be disputed: Or-gas-mic. The cod was delicate, sweet, and rich. Even though that dish has become over-popularized over the past ten years, served in every Japanese-fusion-confusion restaurant in the western hemisphere, Nobu still does it better than anyone else.
The sushi and other dishes were solid as well. I do have one question though, and don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Nobu:
Is it really worth all that money? Maybe. Maybe not.
Anyways, my trip was winding down, and on Sunday morning it was time to say goodbye to the Bahamas. But before I did, I needed one last fix of conch. So, on the way to the airport, I asked the driver to take me under the bridge for my final feast. I ordered a conch salad and a scorched conch, which is the same as a conch salad minus the tomatoes, cucumber and green peppers. The ride to the airport was bittersweet.
So there we have it kids: Three days and two conch-packed nights in the Bahamas. I munched it poolside, devoured it on the Poop Deck, and even sampled a strange vendor’s conch, ‘cause that’s just how I roll.
Now get your buttocks down to the Bahamas for conch!!