Trail Mix: Coconuts Caribbean Restaurant & Bar

Oct. 29, 2010, 12:37 a.m.
Trail Mix: Coconuts Caribbean Restaurant & Bar
Palo Alto's Coconuts Caribbean Restaurant & Bar serves family-style. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

The popular Caribbean/Jamaican cuisine jerked meat may trace its name to the Spanish word “charqui,” meaning dried meat. Alternatively, the term may also be derived from how the dish was cooked, specifically by “jerking” or poking the meat to create holes that could be filled with spices. The latter root is particularly pertinent to Coconuts Caribbean Restaurant & Bar’s menu – it’s filled with holes.

The resort atmosphere permeates the restaurant. Coconuts is covered in bright colors and is full of lively talk. The décor is a bit cheeky and would make you feel completely at home ordering a colorful mixed drink.

Coconuts has a family-style approach to food, where dishes are meant to be ordered by the group and shared. Unfortunately, Coconuts tends to use this concept as an excuse to downplay the importance of plating and the dishes simply look less appetizing because of that mentality. A prime example of the consequences is the “Tun Cornmeal Cakes,” which look too homemade and do not have nearly enough flavor to compensate. The underperforming taste coupled with the aesthetics of the dish make it hard to imagine why anyone would make this a repeat order.

Even those dishes where some decent plating is attempted underperform for other reasons. The “Shrimp Creole” is surprisingly bland, despite its ties to an otherwise powerful tradition. The plantain tostones that surround the dish are prepared in a way that saps the fruit of its special qualities, and the shrimp do not absorb much of the character of the sauce. Similarly, the “Spinach Ackee Rolls” are lacking in taste but are then thrown completely off balance by the sweet coconut dipping sauce that accompanies them. The sweetness overwhelms, and this appetizer almost becomes a premature and confused dessert.

Trail Mix: Coconuts Caribbean Restaurant & Bar
Coconuts’ “Jerk Chicken,” a restaurant specialty of slow cooked chicken smoked over allspice, served with plantains and rice and beans. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

The heart of Caribbean restaurants, though, is the exotic meat selection, not limited to oxtail and goat. However, there is a reason that these cuts of meat are not more common, as special care needs to be taken to make them worthwhile. The “Six Hour Braised Oxtail” at Coconuts is extremely tender and really does fall off the bone. The main issue is that there is not much meat to fall off the series of bones; the plate ends up as mostly an extremely rich broth without enough taste.

Coconuts does have some redeeming qualities. The jerk wings in particular are absolutely delicious; they are teeming with flavor from the jerk sauce. It is certainly understandable why this is labeled “A Must Have” on the menu, although it is possible the epithet also suggests some lack of confidence in the other appetizers (and understandably so).

There are some situations in which Coconuts might be worthwhile. The restaurant would serve well as part of a “staycation” if you can’t make it to somewhere warmer in the winter. With no vegetarians in your group, you might be able to cobble together enough meat dishes to enjoy yourself. For most situations, though, there are simply too many other, more dependable options, and for that reason I would say “Don’t bother.”

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