Of Corse (Aito Restaurant -- Moorea, French Polynesia)
Corse is the French name for the island of Corsica, which is where the owner/host/runner of Aito Restaurant, Jean-Baptiste, hails from.
Jean-Baptiste is worth the visit alone. The food doesn't suck either (but I'll only recommend it with some serious disclaimers, as you'll see later). J-B, however, is one of those dudes with a crazy story and an even crazier way of doing business. He and his wife, Vanina, (who just married after being together for more than 11 years) are at the helm of Aito.
We went to Aito twice -- once on our first full day in Moorea, and then again on our last night there as it was the best place we found.
On the first visit, we went for lunch. We had heard that it had the best tuna tartare on the island, so we ordered that, along with a variation on the specialty of French Polynesia, which is called poisson cru. Poisson cru is raw fish marinated in coconut milk, but the dish we settled on was actually -- wait for it -- RAW RIVER PRAWNS marinated in coconut milk.
Now raw river prawns are not something I'm inclined to eat under the best of sanitary circumstances. In this case, I was eating them in a restaurant with trees going through it, in a place with no health code guidelines and in a dining room with zero methods for cooling the room, despite the 90+ degree heat.
Aito is on the water, and is a nice place to relax while you eat. Good thing, too, because if there is one thing about J-B, it's that the dude moves slow. Jon and I decided he reminded us of one of the Triplets of Belleville, shuffling around and mumbling in French. He also has a few phrases he likes to say on each visit (we thought about recording them and just leaving them on a loop). Some of these things are: "First I bring you the appetizer, then you order drinks" and "Yes, you should have that one." Still, you can't fault a guy that drives around the island every morning picking up his fish from different fisherman, and other foodstuffs from other folks. And did I mention he makes his own pepper marmalade?
He starts by bringing you some bread from a baguette (which is pretty good on FP -- it's not crusty enough due to the humidity, but it wasn't terrible either) and his pimon pepper marmalade for spreading on the bread with some butter. J-B makes this himself every morning, and it's pretty bitchin'. It's spicy and sweet at the same time, and is a nice way to mind fuck yourself by making your mouth hotter than your body temperature.
The tuna tartare comes with french fries (!). The portion of tartare is HUGE and looks pretty much like a pile of dog vomit. It's pretty tasty, though, so just close your eyes. And, for some reason, all of the french fries in FP completely rock the house. Those froggies taught them right. Seriously, I had not a bad potato on the entire trip (except the breakfast potatoes at our 2nd hotel).
Now the crevettes cru, those were pretty much completely and totally fantastic. Once we could get past the fact that we would probably die of botulism, we thoroughly enjoyed them. Jon washed his down with the local beer, Hinano, which itself is pretty darn good. In fact, it's so good that Range has it on their drink menu.
We finished off the meal with locally made sorbets (passion fruit and coconut) that were so out of this world good that I started to tear up when they told us they didn't have any on our return visit.
A word: You just read how much we ate. Not much right? Wanna venture a guess for how long we were there? Try two and a half hours. A little too leisurely for my taste, but what do I know? Plus, watching J-B do his shuffle was so fucking hilarious, that we were OK sucking it up.
On our second visit, we read J-B's story -- about how he came from Corsica, started many business' and fucked many women. It was a great story, especially when we read that when asked if he would take Vanina as his wife, he said "I don't have a choice." Legend tells that he used to drink 10 Scotch and cokes a day. That's a lot of booze, no?
This time, we were in da house for dinner, and I picked out a nice bottle of Muscadet to go with our meal. It passed muster very well (the French put limits on what they can charge for beverages so that helps). We then ordered straight up poisson cru (the best we had on the whole trip), a crab with garlic and cognac for Jon and Pacific spiny lobster roasted for me. My lobster was excellent. The crab was a local crab, and we decided we like the Dungeness here in SF better, despite the fact that it was tasty enough.
No sorbet for us that night, so we decided to go with his special crepe. Holy fuckballs this thing looked something like the exploding birthday sundae you'd get at some processed food emporium (such as Chilis or Applebees). The best part, though, is that J-B paraded it around the dining room, showing it to the other customers with the pride of a new papa. Once it finally arrived at us, we noticed it had vanilla ice cream (the Tahitians are all about the vanilla), taro ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I could've passed on the whole deal, but Jon had no problem covering that for me.
We left and decided to walk back to our hotel rather than ask for a ride (most of the restaurants there do pick up/drop off service). Of course, I forgot that there were no street lamps and we walked 3/4 of a mile in pitch blackness with all of the rabid dogs barking at us the whole way (side note: every dog in FP looks the same -- like a mangy, diseased zombie dog. I started just shouting "there's that same doggie!" every time we saw one. See photo below).
Once home, content and full, we drifted off into peaceful slumber thinking of what a hilariously fun time it had been meeting J-B.
Of course, it doesn't end there -- Oh no! That peaceful slumber lasted about an hour before I awoke to the sounds of Jon revisiting his meal. This continued for most of the night, in more ways than one let me add, to the point where I was so repulsed by the sounds and smells that I, myself, needed to get in on the puke-fest (hungry yet?). In any case, we think it may have been the crab that fucked Jon over, as it was the only thing he ate a lot of that I didn't. Needless to say, we were wallowing in the irony of the whole thing since it was the crab, and not the raw river prawns that caused the food poisoning situation.
Would I go back despite all that? Probably. Because the fact of the matter is that it was still the best food we had on Moorea. And plus, it goes with the territory, right?
"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld
P.S. Tomorrow I head to Washington DC with a bunch of 8th graders. Wish me luck. There will be no good eating for me, at least until Friday, when I return. It's OK, though, because Saturday, I head to Chicago for an all out orgy. In any case, posting may get light again, but I'll make it up to you. You know I will.