Beyond the Beach: Uncovering Art and Cuisine in Aruba

Barefoot Aruba
Bare toes toying with crystalline sand; warm winds rustling menus and colourful cocktails on white-clothed tables; the sound of lapping surf and pelicans dive-bombing in the ocean.

This is the seafront dining experience at Barefoot, Oranjestad, Aruba – the quintessential beach restaurant and nightspot. There’s nothing like dining with sand under your feet. A fave with tourists, this is also where locals hang for both work and play.

That first evening, we meet Luc, co-owner of Barefoot. Having started behind-the-scenes in the restaurant business originally, he soon gravitated to front of house:

“I have always been fascinated by service,” he says. “We can absolutely make an evening for people. I am a people person, when I worked in the kitchen, I started talking back to the radio and things I was cooking, and knew it was time to get on the floor.”

The West Deck in Aruba

The West Deck in Aruba

Barefoot was the first in a string of beachfront eateries, culled from a list of Aruba’s Top Ten spots. Although I didn’t have time to sample them all, I squeezed in a Caribbean-themed lunch next day at The West Deck, perched on a jetty stretching out into tantalizing turquoise waters.

Business in Oranjestad is not all back-to-back beach weddings, hotel chains, casinos and expensive jewelry emporiums catering to cruiseship trade. Under the radar, there’s an authentic artsy culture full of local Aruban flair. I met Dutch Aruban artist Elisa Lejuez at Barefoot for sundown sipping – surprisingly affordable at $7 for French blanc de blancs.

Artist Elisa Lejeuz

Local Artist Elisa Lejeuz

Having seen Lejeuz’s colourful compositions dotted around the Aruba Marriott where I was staying, I was keen to meet her and learn more about her artwork and also fashion design. Screen-printing her own textiles, her clothes are an extension of her pictures, inspired by the vibrant colours of Aruban flora and fauna and the eye-catching architecture that brightens up the cactus-covered island. Worn with heels, her dresses are sophisticated and city-chic, worn with sandals – or better still, barefoot – they are perfect for Aruba’s eateries. She also makes beautiful wallpaper from colourful contemporary collages, displayed to artistic advantage in her showroom/home where I was invited next day.

Shrimp Ceviche at Pinchos

Shrimp Ceviche at Pinchos

My next delectable dinner was at sister-establishment, Pinchos. A grill and beach bar, the menu reflects the eclectic heritage of the island with Spanish, Dutch, English and French colonial influences pervading the Caribbean fare. Dubbed casual but chic, it’s the ultimate in intimate over-indulgence.

Pinchos

Pinchos

My last evening is spent at the Marriott where I had first noticed Lejeuz’s art. Tom Calame, Aruba Marriott’s General Manager told me that she was picked from several local artists to create six works for the Ruth’s Chris Steak House at the hotel.

“From there she was also asked to make the art for the Tradewinds Lounge and after this to make the art behind the concierge desk using the logos of the hotel restaurants in her work,” he explains.

Adding many of her paintings to guest rooms, too, the hotel now sports over 420 of her colourful collages. To support and encourage local talent, the Aruba Marriott Resort has also been sponsoring Art Rules Aruba for five consecutive years.

Simply Fish

Simply Fish

The evening was topped off with a sunset supper at Simply Fish – another stylish outdoor experience, serenaded by sea birds and luxuriously lit by the Crayola contrasts of the evening sky. More mouth-watering meats and seafood, romantic ambiance, and of course tons of toe wiggling in the white sand.

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