Review: POZ Restaurant & Bar at Calibishie Gardens
When a local with a hearty laugh and a head full of knowledge tells you to check out a restaurant when you tell her that you are headed to Calibishie, a small town on the northern coast of Dominica, you make a mental note. When you look it up online and see the Dominica Weekly noting POZ as a “great bargain and a respite from…high tourist prices” you get excited.
Now you are driving the road from Portsmouth (on Dominica’s western coast) to Calibishie and finding advertisements—in the form of small orange signs—affixed to trees constantly and continually without fail over and over again. “Only a tourist trap would have so much advertising and signage,” you think. “POZ can’t be a hidden, untouristed gem…except why would a local from the other side of the island recommend it so?”
Just outside of Calibishie’s main downtown—if you can call it such—you swing a left hand turn onto a road advertising Calibishie Gardens, and the connected POZ Restaurant. Strangely, the signage for POZ is not that noticeable coming from the west, but regardless…
Upon pulling up the rental car to the outside gates, you are now 100% sure you have found a place catering towards tourists. This is not a rundown shack with wild dogs roaming about. This is a place you might bring your significant other for Valentine’s Day (disregarding the few instances of garish decor and lighting).
POZ Restaurant is booming this night, all the tables are filled and everyone seems to be having a good time. No one attends to you at first, leaving you ambling awkwardly deciding whether to sit at some supplemental tables away from the bar. The gentleman behind the bar notices and encourages you to sit with the crowd. It is a nice and intelligent gesture. Not only is he showing he is attentive, but he realizes you will have a far better experience eating with the buzz currently simmering about.
Just then, a table opens up and you wander in and take a seat. No one comes to give you a menu and you are left wondering what is going on. But then again, you are in the Caribbean and things move at a different pace so you aren’t really bothered by such.
After an inordinate time passes, you get up to retrieve some menus from the gentleman behind the bar, who, you later learn is the owner. There is some confusion with the waiter bringing menus to a different table and so on so forth…
Reading the menu is the time when you quickly discover this is not a restaurant for a “great bargain” nor is it a “respite” from tourist prices. Prices are on the high side without a doubt. Luxury level? No. Bargain Level? No. But generally on the high side. Further, the prices do not include a service charge of 10% which are automatically included at the end. You are not going to eat here for less than $10, as in, this place is what it looks like it is, a tourist-focused restaurant. If you want a respite from tourist pricing, you might be inclined to order some barbeque chicken or ribs cooked at a rum shack which run $1-$2 per piece. You could have a whole meal of homemade rum punch and chicken (or ribs) for $10 easily at a local rum shack. You aren’t doing that at POZ. This isn’t a problem, it is just noted to explain the truth of what POZ is; a respite from high prices it is not.
You are seated and perusing the menu. The owner comes by to ask if we would like to start off with any drinks. He strongly recommends the “Rummed Dominican Tongue”, a rum punch consisting of a blend of many Caribbean rums and fruit juices. He is very friendly and discusses his restaurant and the accolades it has received. He notes that he is proud to be number one in TripAdvisor for the whole country. He notes that chefs have given him accolades over the years. In short, he is very personable and carries a great bit of optimistic energy. It is a pleasure talking to him and he even scurries off to get you a magazine about Dominica that he thinks you might enjoy.
The Rummed Dominican Tongue ($8.25USD) arrives as a pousse-café, with the juice and rum in two distinct layers. If you are interested in appearance, it might appeal. If you were hoping for a nice, balanced cocktail of sorts, this isn’t it. The denser fruit juices sit on the bottom, and due to the preparation, very minimal rum flavours hit your palette when you take your first couple sips from the straw.
You mix the drink the best you can using the straw you have. Even still, the drink is being served in a high ball glass and, with only two shots of rum, is very juice heavy. Even after mixing it, you are detecting only the faintest amount of rum. If you want to taste a blend of over 20 rums (or whatever the number is), it might be better just to taste the blend by itself. You aren’t sure of the point of making a blend and then dousing it with a bunch of juice, but regardless, you aren’t at a cocktail bar in Singapore or New York City either. In any case, the juice tastes nice.
You order an appetizer of hand-cut french fries ($5USD). The portion is small. Once again, this doesn’t bother you if the quality is there, but sadly, the fries are hot with a soggy exterior suggesting that the cooking time was short-cutted. This would all be okay but you are paying for great food and you are eating at, what you now understand, is the number one rated TripAdvisor restaurant in the country. Soggy french fries are unacceptable.
The owner comes by to take your dinner order. Your friend orders the red snapper ($22.50USD) which comes in a coconut curry sauce. You ask the owner if he serves any fish cooked whole. “Ohh, you want it like the locals,” he announces and sends someone to the kitchen to see if whole fish is a possibility. Once again, if this wasn’t catering to tourists you’d think they’d be making food as the locals like it, and if, as his comment suggests, the locals eat whole fish…
In any case, whole fish is not an option and, in lieu of such, you order the filet of lionfish ($22.50USD), a venomous invasive species which is being announced as a daily special (even though it’s also listed in the fixed menu). You ask him what he thinks of it and he offers, “well, it is popular.” That, you suppose, was your clue but regardless…
The two fish dishes come out and they are both prepared and dressed and plated the exact same. The red snapper is prepared in coconut curry and the lionfish is prepared in coconut curry. The red snapper has a touch of a fishy flavor which doesn’t inspire confidence. The lionfish on the other hand has no flavor to speak of, even with the coconut curry slathered on the plate. On the plus side, both filets are cooked to perfection in that the moisture is still present, so you have to give them credit for that.
You ask for the bill and when it comes, you notice that your totals are not adding up right. You tell the waiter that you are being overcharged and he disappears. Upon his return, he agrees with the assessment and says the owner is very sorry and wants to give you two free drinks. You appreciate the gesture but, having zero faith in the establishment at this point, decline the free drinks and pay the bill.
There is a point when it isn’t worth your time to stay at a place regardless of cost. The execution of food and drink is subpar and it is time to leave. However, the running theme is that the owner is an astute business owner with a charming personality.
As you are leaving, the astute owner asks how everything was. You ask if he really wants to know and, given his affirmative, you explain the positives (i.e. his attitude and attentiveness, the rice, the juice) and the negatives (i.e. the fries, the unimaginative plates, the flavor, and the drinks). As you might expect, he is profusely apologetic and concerned. Whether that concern comes from wanting to keep up a TripAdvisor ranking or whether that concern is genuine is unknown. What is known is that his personality—the best thing about POZ Restaurant—shines in the situation.
He begs you to return another time for a meal on him. He doesn’t want you to leave with this experience as your memory. He says your experience is a strange outlier and he wants to make it right. You note that you are leaving the next day and won’t be around for dinner. While you don’t note such, you are hesitant to waste another meal here despite lack of cost. “Well then come tomorrow for lunch then,” he stammers.
After much pleading you leave and consult your friend. You are not at all happy with the experience. It was exactly what you feared when you saw the massive amounts of advertising hanging on poles and trees. It was exactly what you feared when you saw the crowd and menu. Is it really worth missing out on a great authentic meal from a local? “You owe it to him,” your friend notes.
Despite not agreeing with the liability logic, you agree to visit POZ Restaurant for lunch the next day. The downside of this approach is that the owner is going to go above and beyond and thus grading the product that an unknown visitor might receive would most likely be jeopardized. The counter-argument—which is your primary thinking—however, is that POZ is not capable of executing on a high level (or on a level matching that of a number one rating) even if they tried. Why do you think this? Because you genuinely believe they are operating as best they can every night given the owners attentiveness. Just because you run as fast as you can doesn’t mean you can run with Olympians.
Noon comes around the next day and after a bunch of hiking and swimming, you head back over to POZ Restaurant. You turn left onto the road towards the coast and pull up to the gates of Calibishie Gardens. What do you find? A sign that says it opens at 4:00pm. The gates are locked. The doors are closed.
“How is this possible??” your friend asks in disbelief, his hands gripped around the metal poles of the locked gate. “They can’t be closed! He told us so many times to come today for lunch!”. You shrug. What else is there to do. You are outside the place at 12:15PM for the verbally advertised invite of lunch and no one is stirring.
You tried to give POZ a second chance of sorts. Unfortunately, it seems the owner might be so positive that his reality isn’t your reality. You are quite certain he believes his restaurant is a marquis top-shelf marvel of Dominica and that is okay. But you cannot excuse so many lapses, from the poor drink, to the soggy fries, to the off-tasting main plates prepared and plated like clones. You can excuse the errant check as everyone makes mistakes. But pleading with customers to try your restaurant and then leading them to a closed establishment is the worst part of it all.
POZ Restaurant & Bar at Calibishie Gardens is a great place if you want to be surrounded by some tourist energy while on the northern coast of Calibishie. It is also a great place to pick up information from the owner as he is so upbeat and seemingly knowledgeable about the area.
Unfortunately, if you are looking for good drinks, good local food or good prices, POZ Restaurant & Bar at Calibishie Gardens is a very poor choice.
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