Lemon Café Providenciales (Provo), Turks & Caicos Islands Reviewed May / June 2011
North African Ground Lamb Moussaka is a favourite at Lemon
Lemon Café emerges as somewhat of an oasis in Grace Bay, flourishing and prolific with tropical flora in the midst of this otherwise ‘Savanna–like’ tropical dry forest. Owner Natalie Zaidan affably recalls the ‘grounds’ beginnings... “It was a flat pancake when we started, so I am pretty pleased with how it turned out!” The property’s transformation is an indisputable homage to Natalie’s innate creativity and artistic ‘green thumb’ with Environmental Arts, her landscaping company.
This is a rare find indeed... an upscale, trendy and hip eatery with a distinctive Moroccan vibe. Enjoy cocktails and/or dining in the natural garden sanctuary beneath gazebos or under the stars where evenings take on a dramatic ambiance illuminated by an abundance of candles, wall sconces and hammered metal hurricane lanterns. Through beautifully carved wooden doors, a décor evocative of a Bedouin tent awaits, replete with ornate lanterns and dazzling chandeliers. Dark wood tables with rustic, antique chairs flank cushioned, bench–style seating bejeweled with the vivid colours and geometric patterns that adorn a multitude of decorative pillows.
The Cold Antipasto Appetiser Plate
A “modern take on Moroccan cuisine with Mediterranean influences” Lemon Café is provocative and captivating. Far–flung scents infuse the air and arouse your palate compliments of Chef John Tsavalas who brings his experiences in Greek, Moroccan, Italian and French cuisine. It’s a combination of aromatic herbs and fragrant spices like ginger, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, saffron and mint; and John’s special house–made blends like Ras el Hanout – a traditional and aromatic blend of herbs and spices used in Moroccan cuisine and Harissa – a sizzling chili paste made from a base of sun–dried tomatoes. He also preserves his own lemons... a three month process of ‘pickling’ them in salt and their own juices for use in many of Lemons dishes like Chicken Tagine and B’Stilla.
A bastion of the Mediterranean diet, tapas are pre–main course indulgences; small, appetizer–type dishes designed to open up your appetite. Indulgences indeed! Sharing can help ease the indecision; giving everyone an opportunity to experience the faraway and exotic tastes. Hummus for the table was a foregone conclusion... unwavering in our philosophy that a Lemon experience is not complete without it. Eager to plunge the warm and crispy toasted pita into this richly textured and fragrant Middle Eastern staple... John surprises you by topping it with a dollop of olive tapenade... “That stuff’s addictive” brought about agreeable and enthusiastic nods all around. The Grilled Kabobs – Chicken and Beef Kafta, both rank among the 3 most popular Tapas. My dining companion opted for the Beef Kafta, a long–time aficionada of its nice, mild spice, perfectly matched with the side of Cucumber Mint Sauce. The Chickpea, Date and Sweet Corn Fritters round out the trio of best sellers – served ‘mini–pancake’ style, they were a wonderful combination of textures; sweet and crunchy corn; and soft and chewy dates, with that refreshing cucumber mint sauce on the side. The Grilled Calamari is remarkable; talk about your ultimate flavour profile! A pair of tender and mouth–watering calamari, stuffed with harissa spiced beef, olives and basmati rice – my husband was interminable with his praise and admiration for “such an intense combination of flavours”, my token tasting leaving me pleading for more. I opted for the Parsnip and Coconut Soup... drawn by the unusual union of ingredients. The parsnip added a lovely subtle dimension to the sweetness of the coconut while John’s dash of harissa, parsley and EVOO created an entirely singular taste sensation. Salads include the fabulous and famous Tabouli; a Greek Salad made with layered roasted vegetables; a Three Bean Salad with red peppers, feta and an artichoke dressing; mixed local greens and a cucumber salad with pickled radish.
Blackened Salmon with House Rub
After glimpsing a Moroccan wine on the Wine List, I was insistent it accompany our Tapas... a 2005 Chateau Roslane Cabernet Sauvignon–Shiraz from Meknes was “fruity” with “a lot of pucker power” and a lot of tannins. We knew that BIG flavours were on their way so we opted for a ‘meaty’ Malbec to pair with our main courses. Contented with our 2007 Clos de los Siete from Argentina, we immediately picked up on its spiciness – particularly the cinnamon... which turned out to be a most fabulous marriage with the Moussaka – as well as our other robust dishes.
My husband’s vacillation over the marvelous main dish choices prompted me to suggest the Chicken Tagine – knowing he would be enamoured of the unusual flavours that the olives would impart. Heartfelt thanks and gratitude were mine with his instantaneous and unreserved “That was a good call” followed by “a delectable ensemble”, zealously regaling us with the tagine’s melt–in–your–mouth and falling off the bone attributes. Across the table, North African Lamb Moussaka was being enjoyed for the umpteenth time. I think my fellow diner is attempting some sort of Guinness World Record. A generous portion with a pleasurable and definitive ratio of more lamb than eggplant, Chef John makes it with 14 spices; including his own Ras el Hanout. I quickly abandoned the futile initiative of attempting to get my fork in there for a tasting... I think he had some sort of force–field around his plate... but the singular fact that this dish tempts this discriminating diner each and every time is evidence enough. When I ‘called’ the Braised Lamb Shank, an undivided and all–knowing nod came my way as my dining companions are well aware of my absolute and unequivocal passion for this cut of meat; eagerly anticipating the melt–in–your–mouth, tender meat coupled with John’s magical blend of seasonings. I don’t know how John managed to remove this shank from the pot in one piece, as the moment I touched the bone, it simply fell away from the succulent and juicy meat. A sprinkling of grilled sesame seeds, a savoury spice combination and prunes made for a lovely medley of tastes and textures. Across the table a Rib–Eye Roast proffered a flavourful sumac rub, a tangy and tart spice essential in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Grilled Chicken Kabob Platter at Lemon
My dessert was the House Specialty – Date Phyllo. A rich and intensely flavoured date confit with orange water rolled in delicate phyllo pastry and drizzled with gooey honey and roasted almonds – a fabulous and unforgettable blend of exciting, far–away tastes. We also espoused the appetizing virtues of the deliciously ‘tart’ lemon tart, incredibly creamy with a gorgeous crunchy crust. The mixed berry coulis was a wonderful accompaniment, balancing the tartness of the lemon. And, as for the very decadent Chocolate Pie, a shared critique of, “There are no words to describe this.”
It’s no secret that John’s talents extend far beyond the boundaries of his kitchen; and if you have chosen to dine at Lemon on their special evening, Arabian Nights, after he has excited and thrilled you with his culinary talents, he will amaze and astound you with poi spinning. For those of you not versed in the art of poi spinning, John spins fire for fun...
Chef John Tsavalas entertains with fire spinning on ‘Arabian Nights’
If you didn’t get your fill of hummus this visit... and quite frankly, who can? Or, if you get an irrepressible hankering for other popular Lemon specialties like Baba Ganoush, Stuffed Vine Leaves, Tabbouleh or Marinated Olives – you can satisfy these and a few other Lemon longings at the deli counter at Graceway Gourmet.
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