L’Esprit Jean Claude Dufour
On the island that is the undisputed culinary capital of the Caribbean, packed with many fabulous restaurants, there is one that stands out from that wonderful pack and that is L’Esprit. Chef-owner Jean Claude Dufour took over this place 5 years ago and developed it into what I would definitely call a Michelin star quality restaurant. Too bad that Michelin Guide does not rate St. Barths!
The adventure starts with the setting in a beautiful tropical garden next to one of the best beaches on the island, the Saline. You step into this open air restaurant through an arched doorway that is subtly reminiscent of Asian architecture and exudes serenity.
Once through, take in the expanse of open air seating area flanked by the kitchen on the right and a bar on the left. Casual yet elegant tables and wooden chairs are set in groupings on a teak deck surrounded by palm trees festooned with colorful garlands of lights. Inexplicably and almost immediately you feel uplifted and instinctively begin to smile. Wow, and that’s just the beginning, you have yet to try the food.
Chef Jean Claude rules his kitchen with aplomb, discipline and superb creativity. He uses traditional French culinary directional methods and integrates local ingredients as well as delicacies flown from overseas (pigeons and foie gras, harvested for the Chef in France) with subtle Caribbean feel effortlessly and without compromise. Pictured is my amuse-bouche with compliments from the Chef of briny watermelon gazpacho and maki of the local wahoo fish.
As an appetizer I went for is this elegant king crab and potato salad marinated with citrus. There is this refreshing juxtaposition of flavors- the complex, delicate taste of the sea from the king crab and earthiness from the potatoes. This dish is what I want to eat after a long day running around Gustavia in search of the latest fashion trends on the island. It is light yet complex, spicy and moist. Garnished with marinated shallot, cauliflower and carrot slices.
And speaking of fashion, L’Esprit is a chic place packed with local clientele and people who appreciate fine-dining experience dressed elegantly in island-appropriate fashion. I choose this stunning Lolita Jaca dress with exquisite beading of oriental motifs along with earrings to match provided by the store. I am obsessed with brand’s general direction of bohemian and 60s London styles.
If you love the decadent taste of seared foie gras, try Chef’s version served in langoustine broth with turnip puree on the bottom. As you slice into foie gras, your knife will meet a slight resistance from the the perfect sear on the outside while the inside still remains pink.
The fatty texture of foie gras is complimented with a balanced langoustine broth that has both sweetness and acidity.
I love all things stuffed. While on vacation, especially in the tropics, I always crave local seafood. It’s been a while since I’ve seen stuffed squid (calamari, as you might know it) on the menu.
Chef’s brilliant idea of using vegetables (zucchini, eggplant) along with olives and chili pepper, to name just a few ingredients, make this dish satisfying and unique. Tempura tentacles add another element of crunch and briny shallot slices with a side of green salad add acidity.
Smokiness of charred eggplant with hints of heat from chili pepper did the trick for me.
Lime pie. Delectable, light desert and a beautiful presentation.
Excellent finish to a fabulous dinner.
Chef Jean Claude is there to make sure that every guest gets a gastronomique , refined experince. There is an element of sexiness and sophistication to his food that fits the island’s personality. The smell of the freshness after rain and you are sitting in a beautiful vegetation while listening to chic lounge music. L’Esprit is a must visit when in St. Barts!
Photographed by Max VanderNoot.