What a difference a year makes! One of the last places I dined at before COVID-19 and all the closures and restrictions that came with the coronavirus was Carna restaurant at the SLS Hotel at Baha Mar; and of course, with Carna being THAT restaurant that you never turn down an invitation to dine at if given a choice, it was one of the first places I ate at during this pandemic era with all the “new normal” protocols in place.
Dining at Carna means excellent food is a given, but I was venturing out and trying to get back to some sense of normalcy, with safety uppermost in my mind, as the world continues to grapple with a pandemic.
In the months between my last Carna visit and my dining experience of a week ago, the differences were glaring. In the period before the shutdown, I pulled up to the SLS valet, handed off my car keys, made my way to the restaurant and dined; a reservation was not needed. That is no longer the case in the COVID era. Things have changed to ensure everyone’s safety.
Having experienced the “new normal” protocols, it is obvious Baha Mar officials have done everything possible to ensure the safety of everyone.
Reservations are required for non-hotel guests, and all indoor guests over age 10 must present a negative rapid antigen test, dated within five days of their reservation date, a policy that is in line with testing requirements and recommendation from the Ministry of Health, and mirrors the Ministry of Tourism procedures for tourists entering the country.
You can either log on to Bahamar.com/culinary or www.sbe.com/restaurants/carna to make a reservation and schedule your COVID test. I clicked on the reserve now button, then followed the prompts to schedule the complimentary rapid antigen test – which is indeed complimentary. Even though you pay upfront for the test as the resort is cashless, the amount paid is subtracted from patrons’ bill at the end of the evening if the test is taken on the day of dining. Baha Mar officials say they introduced on-property testing to create a convenient and safe avenue for the local community to dine. Complimentary drive-thru testing is available on site at the SLS front entrance daily from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Resort officials say tests from other accredited labs are accepted for dining on property if taken within five days, but you won’t receive credit for it.
Clicking the information icon takes you to the rapid antigen test booking form to be filled in, and it’s there that you also select the restaurant you want to dine at – Carna, Fi’lia, or Katsuya – the dining options available at this time. You also select dining time as well.
After registering, a confirmation email and electronic link was sent to my email which prompted me with further instructions, after I was supplied with a patient number and the amount to be paid ($16.80) to pay with a credit/debit card. I then received a confirmation email indicating payment was received.
On the day of my dinner, my hubby and I drove up to the SLS hotel entrance ramp, approximately 20 minutes ahead of our reservation time, where we were met by medical personnel to whom we presented a copy of the payment receipt and a government-issued identification. The nurses administered the rapid antigen test while we sat in the car, and we pulled to the side to await the result, which was sent via the email provided.
Once we received the negative tests, we drove to the Grand Hyatt entrance where we were met by security personnel at the guard gate who inspected test results, date of test and restaurant reservation confirmation before inviting us to either self-park or valet. I was wearing stilettos for the first time in months – I opted for valet, where I wasn’t issued a ticket stub for my vehicle as was done in the past, instead I was instructed to take a photo of the ticket, to be shown when I retrieved my vehicle at the end of the evening. It is entirely evident that Baha Mar is doing everything to ensure things are as contactless as possible
As we entered the Grand Hyatt’s door we were met by an associate who directed us to the temperature check monitor and sanitization station before we were allowed to venture further onto the property.
Looking back at it all, the process was relatively quick, and seamless, and I appreciated everything I had to do. The bottom line for me was that I felt comfortable and safe, and I felt Baha Mar officials were doing everything in their power to
ensure my safety. At the same token, it was comforting to know that everyone around me had had a negative test result in at least a five-day period.
In the restaurant, the contactless theme continued. The wait staff who are all wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) directs diners to scan a code with their phone for a touchless menu, but if you just have to have it, they do offer paper menu, they let you know that it is discarded after each use.
With all the new protocols in place, it was a delight to see that Carna’s staff remained upbeat and friendly, and that Chef Daniel Paliama and his team are continuing to do what they do best – deliver a wow experience. The hardest thing for me to do was to try to stay away from my tried and true favorites.
But I went into the experience knowing that there was one thing I had to have, because it’s new to the menu. In reopening, the steakhouse gave a nod to the fact that not everyone is a carnivore like myself, and added a vegetarian entrée option to the menu – a smoked cauliflower steak with beech mushrooms, soy caramel emulsion with crispy shallots that I was looking forward to trying.
Chef Daniel started off my evening with an unexpected, but lovely surprise, sending out an amuse bouche of truffle and artichoke soup with king crab and Osetra caviar and fried parsley. This is one of those items that once you’ve had it you long to have it again and again. It was served in a dainty little cup, because of course, it’s meant to whet the appetite. It was stunning – both visually and flavor-wise. Velvety smooth and gorgeous – comforting, yet at the same time indulgent with the addition of the sweet crab and the delicately briny caviar. I’ve had dreams about this soup ever since.
I was also surprised when the server delivered a platter of chips and dip which he referred to as Cecchini onion dip with scallions served with thick cut potato chips topped with Espelette spice, which again since reopening, Carna has been presenting complimentary to all tables.
My server, Zhavargo Saunders, sold me on the two specials of the day – steak tartare and the Washugyu steak.
In the steak tartare I got the best of both worlds (strip and filet) with the porterhouse for a delicate steak served with fried artichoke, truffle aioli and pickled beet mushrooms with seeded crackers. Mix it altogether and let the fun begin, scooping it onto crackers.
Now the Washugyu was a whole different ball game altogether. Just wow!
Washugyu is Wagyu beef, which is deemed one of the best meats in the world, crossbred with the Black Angus breed of cow, also famous for its deep marbling. The resulting Washugyu has beautiful marbling and a rich and fine texture and mild taste. I enhanced the Washugyu steak with king crab “Oscar” style, but it was so tender, it really needed no enhancements. I paired the steak with the classic steakhouse side of creamed spinach, their famous charred street corn and grilled asparagus.
The newly added smoked cauliflower steak with beech mushrooms, soy caramel emulsion with crispy shallots, which I was looking forward to having was indeed delicious; and while it’s listed as an entrée, I can also see it working as a side in a smaller portion, for a meat lover like myself. Perfectly charred cauliflower was paired with nutty beech mushrooms which receive a hint of sweetness from the soy caramel emulsion and topped with crispy shallots to add crunch to the dish.
And I honestly could not resist Dario’s sugo pappardelle. This dish consisting of dry aged beef, mushrooms, and bone marrow crumble. I’ve had it time and again, and to be honest, will have it the next time I return.
Another thing I can’t resist is the seafood offerings at Carna. I love oysters, and they offer a selection of East and West oysters that are plump and fresh, so it makes sense to order the “tower” so that you can have the very best of the sea in front of you as it showcases Alaskan king crab leg, spiny tail lobster, oysters, prawns and Maine lobster salad.
Replete with the delicious offerings at Carna – I hadn’t expected any less going in – my husband and I strolled to valet to collect the car, where I received another surprise when the valet hopped out of the vehicle and proceeded to remove protective covering that had been put in place – again to protect me and Baha Mar’s staff. All-in-all, kudos to Baha Mar for making the dining experience as safe as they could possibly make it, and making me feel comfortable dining out.