It’s an unassuming place on a weekday. The décor is somewhat bland, half photos from the Caribbean, half entrance that feels sushi rather than Creole. It’s on the weekends when Dhat Island comes alive, on Caribbean nights that feature music, gifts for the kiddies, an expanded menu and over the next few months fundraising for the people of Haiti. But on this night it’s just us and the food.
In my late twenties I lived in one of the dingier areas of Barcelona called Barrio Chino, right off the Ramblas. We were all relatively poor but went out almost every night and would frequent a little joint in the neighborhood that served up a three-dollar plate of Arroz Cubana, a simple but tasty meal of rice, black beans, an egg and plantains that filled us up for the nightly debaucheries. Dhat Island brought me back to those times with a crucial difference—the food here is a notch above tasty.
Even with the limited menu on a night they were technically closed, which meant I didn’t get to try the goat or the oxtail . . . but still the chicken sufficed and then some. We started with the Creole half chicken, a protein I would normally never order in a restaurant, a real mistake at Dhat Island. Sublimely seasoned, tender and sweet, this is the stuff, especially when glazed with the Creole red sauce, more vinegary and sweet then spicy, but delicious nonetheless. This subtlety and nuance extends to the sides as well. Sweet plantains are crisped to the edge of burned, which helps them achieve an almost caramelized taste, sweet, crunchy, and a testament to the joys of Caribbean cuisine. They also mix nicely with the spicy black bean sauce.
We were also lucky enough to sample the Dhat bourbon chicken; chunky strips of chicken breast deliciously marinated in a smoky bourbon sauce that subtly attacks the taste buds step by step—delaying the burn till the end of the meal. Red beans and rice also pump up the heat, creating a mélange of competing yet complimentary burning sensations that fuse perfectly, leaving one fairly satiated with flavors when the meal is finished.
[You can help the people of Haiti at the “Impact4Haiti Soiree,” March 5, 6PM at the Edwards Mansion, 2064 Orange Tree Ln., Redlands. Donation: $35 per person.]
Dhat Island, 509 N. Eureka St. Redlands, (909) 792-1717; www.dhatisland.com. Friday 6-10PM, Saturday 5-9PM. MC, V.