cocovan Providenciales, Turks & Caicos IslandsRestaurant Reviewed Summer 2017
cocovan’s airstream lounge, fast casual dining under the palm trees
Leave it to the dynamic duo of Stuart Gray and Steven Murray of Coco Bistro fame, to create Providenciales’ newest culinary sensation, cocovan. The inspiration behind this original and ingenious concept evolved and developed from their fascination with the food truck phenomenon. An exploding and monumental trend in the food industry, its success and appeal lies in its simplicity. It’s a casual, spontaneous, affordable and fun alternative to sit-down, conventional restaurants. And here on this island of perpetual summer, what’s not to love about the concept?
Our host for the evening, General Manager and co-owner Steven Murray, explained how the concept came about. “We [together with Stuart Gray, Executive Chef and co-owner] knew we wanted to do another restaurant, but we didn’t want to do something the same as Coco Bistro. We wanted to do something more casual. We didn’t want to try to compete with ourselves, or with what we were doing next door. Food trucks are so popular in the U.S. and Canada now, so that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted something iconic … so it’s a 1974 Airstream.”
Stuart’s wife, Jo, is the mastermind behind the genius name. Steven explained they had been toying with names, and had a few frontrunners, but really didn’t like any of them. Then one day he received a text message from Stuart. “Jo said, what about cocovan?” “Yeah, that’s it!” Steven laughed.
Tuna Tartar at cocovan’s airstream lounge
Purchased and refurbished in Ohio, the 27-foot Airstream’s renovation involved cutting serving hatches, a huge roof vent, and reinforcing the floors to accommodate the heavy kitchen equipment. Then cocovan was driven to Miami where they custom-fitted the kitchen and finally, shipped here.
The sight of the sleek iconic Airstream is quite an eye-catching spectacle in itself. This American-made brand of high-end luxury trailers are easily recognised by their distinctive rounded silhouette and gleaming silver colour. The year was 1974. Everybody was doing a brand new dance called The Locomotion, Blazing Saddles had everyone in stitches in theatres, the Rubix cube was stupefying the world, and this particular Airstream rolled off the assembly line in Ohio. No one could have dreamed its final destination would be the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Fried Shrimp Mac n Cheese Balls become Lobster Balls in season
There’s plenty of seating surrounding cocovan in the beautifully lush, landscaped setting. Spread out and spacious, you’d never guess they can seat 70. “We knew we wanted people to stay here and enjoy the environment. We wanted to create a nice seating area with the same kind of ambiance as next door, but obviously more casual with the picnic tables, no reservations needed, and it’s more affordable. Everything on the menu is 16 bucks and under,” Steven acknowledged.
A self-service concept, you place your order at the Airstream, get a number, pay, return to your table and your food is brought to you. While you wait, enjoy watching the live action in the ‘kitchen,’ sip a cool beverage and nibble on a basket of Sriracha Lime Popcorn, it’s outrageously tasty and totally addictive.
Drinks from the bar (also self-service) include beer, wine, cocktails and a Tequila Well. In keeping with the concept, drink prices are also reasonable, and as Steven joked, “You can never have too many umbrellas in your drink.” Tonight’s Special Cocktail offerings were Rasta Rum Punch, a Jamaican style rum punch layered with Myers Rum and Blue Curacao, and Lime in the Coconut, a refreshing umbrella drink made with lime juice, coconut puree and local coconut rum.
Enjoy Gorgonzola fries or Poutine in a coconut grove
The rooster theme is yet another genius idea – the staff livery even includes French berets. Tables are decked out with lanterns, a roll of paper towels (you’re gonna need ‘em) and a large squeeze bottle of Sriracha Sauce.
The contemporary and trendy menu offerings are created by Executive Chef Stuart Gray and rotate about once a month. The vibe may be casual, but this cuisine is elevated, sophisticated offerings you’d expect to find in a major metropolitan city.
It’s a small-plate sharing concept much like tapas, beginning with Asian Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna Tartar. This dish was elevated in more ways than one. Two incredibly crunchy rice cakes were the flavourful foundation for mounds of soft and tender tuna tartar. A generous drizzle of Spicy Aioli is the piece de résistance of this outstanding dish.
cocovan’s top notch Open-Faced Lamb Flatbread Sliders
Classic Poutine (pron. pou-tin) is the ultimate decadence. Originating in Quebec, Canada, crispy French fries are buried beneath melted cheese curds and savoury gravy, creating a ridiculously rich and gooey dish of deliciousness.
I considered the Gorgonzola Fries with aged Port Syrup to be an avant-garde and cutting-edge version of Poutine. These French fries were smothered with melted morsels of gorgonzola cheese and drizzled with a luxurious and extravagant aged port syrup. Undeniably love at first bite for me, Steven admitted, “At the start, the Gorgonzola fries were a really slow burner, and now we get people coming here just for that.”
cocovan’s fabulous Sweet Chili and Sesame Beef Tacos
There is no denying the taco has experienced quite a renaissance and cocovan serves up three terrific pairs of tacos. First up, and the current best seller, Sweet Chili and Sesame Beef Tacos. Tender slices of beef in a nice and sticky sweet chili sauce. This was a great combination of textures with crisp and crunchy slices of cucumber, radishes and cilantro.
The Peking Duck Tacos were bursting with plenty of shredded duck in a pungent, sweet and salty hoisin sauce, and topped with crunchy cucumber and green onions.
And, Blackened Shrimp Tacos with coconut hummus, mango slaw and piña de gallo. This hummus had a flavourful twist and featured toasted coconut and coconut milk. The piña de gallo was a pineapple salsa – fresh and fruity with a kick of cilantro.
The Fried Shrimp Mac & Cheese Balls were out-of-this-world, absolutely crispy on the outside with a savoury filling of butter-poached shrimp. The Mac & Cheese was made with a béchamel sauce, and scented with truffle oil. Served with a delish dip of Sriracha Mayo this was a scrumptious creation. What’s more? In season, it’s made with lobster.
The Open-Faced Lamb Flatbread Slider was the unanimous favourite tonight. And we don’t often agree unanimously. About 15 spices go into these incredibly spiced lamb patties, served on flatbread and topped with a fabulous spicy yoghurt sauce, refreshing fresh mint, pickled cucumber and onions.
Casual dining under the palm trees at cocovan, enjoy dessert of Churros
We barely had room for Churros. I think Steven nailed it when he said, “When you do one dessert, you know it’s good.” And he was so right. Fantastic, deep-fried fritters coated in cinnamon sugar were served with a dark chocolate dipping sauce and vanilla ice cream.
Opening at 5:00pm has made this a favourite for families. The Kids Menu features a Cheese Quesadilla and Fries or Hot Dog and Fries. It has become a popular late-night venue, and take-out is available. cocovan serves food until 10:00pm seven days a week and until 11:00pm on Friday and Saturday nights.
Steven admits the response has been really good. “This is a completely different concept. We’ll get people come there [Coco Bistro] and then they’ll come here [cocovan] for a more casual evening.”
And he’s not kidding. In fact, we were compelled to return to the scene of the crime the very next night. We teased about coming back for quality control purposes, but Steven knew why we were back. Smitten like everyone else who experiences the simplicity, flavour and cool vibe of cocovan.
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