Savoring a Trip Too Long Overlooked
It is hard to fathom that only weeks ago Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen in South Laguna was closed due to an early morning fire in the storage area. The temporary hindrance forced chef-owner Eva Madray to prep ingredients, blend spices and mix marinades from her home. But now, pungent aromas of cumin, curry and garlic once again permeate her small cottage with its laid back vibe.
Inside, the tropics bloom: a décor of bright orange ceiling rafters, pale green walls and whimsical wall-mounted face masks set the tone for an enchanting evening of succulent Cajun jumbo white prawns, aubergine choka and soothing spirits. The place seems to be a favorite for several groups of 30 something hipsters, who compete for Eva’s attention and engaging personality.
From a large cooking family in Ghana, Eva acquired ownership of the restaurant 11 years ago when locals knew the place as Drew’s Caribbean Kitchen. In conjunction with local South Laguna resident and eight-year employee, Melanie Stablein, the two operate this neighborhood gem where lovers of the exotic elixir may enjoy over 100 world class rums.
My special rum punch of the evening was handmade earlier in the day by Eva. A tumbler of organic citrus juices, spices and rum was served with a thick mango slice stir stick. The stealth like libation quietly invaded my senses with a smooth, yet powerful strike. Shortly after, Eva kindly offered me a shot glass full of creamy, rich rum from Ghana. The milky infusion was a nice alternative to the more traditional clear rums stocked in most bars and restaurants.
While most every seat in the restaurant was full, I dined solo at a corner table. Eva and Melanie kindly took turns checking on me and brought me samples of various rums to taste. The stellar service had me feeling as if I were the only patron in the place.
For lovers of capsaicin, I recommend the organic Jadori jerk chicken. Marinated for two days in house made jerk sauce, grilled and finished off in the oven, the result is moist chicken swimming in spicy-hot jerk sauce with Scoville units off the charts. Eva has managed to perfect the technique of properly cooking poultry; my chicken was evenly cooked throughout. Daily menu items include Jerk salmon, jerk pork loin and jerk steak. Clam, lobster and tomato are the base for callaloo soup with ribbons of spinach, okra and coconut milk from Trinidad making up the flavorful broth.
After telling Melanie that evening was my first time dining at Eva’s, she kindly served me a complimentary dessert and aperitif. My coconut crème brulee had a wafer thin caramelized crust and strands of tender coconut throughout the rich custard. With my spoon I gently tapped the top of my dessert cracking through to a heavy tropical coconut crème beneath.
My future trips to Eva’s will include tasting conch fritters and sampling flights of exotic rums.
While sipping Zaya rum from Trinidad, I felt grateful that not even a destructive fire could shut down a beloved neighborhood restaurant where locals and tourists alike can discover the best Caribbean food around and savor rums fit for a globetrotter’s collection.
Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen, 31732 Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, (949) 499-6311. Closed Mondays; outdoor courtyard dining. Beer, wine & lots of rum.
Patty Pinto’s restaurant blog appears on OCinSite.com