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Welcome to yet another article about me absolutely hating my job. Just kidding, my job is awesome!
If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’m a steak and potatoes girl. I have never been to a fine dining restaurant, and definitely not to a chef’s table experience. My first thoughts were: should I eat before I go? Will I be hungry after? What if it’s too “exotic” for my taste? But I went in with an open mind.
After moving to Aruba from Venezuela when he was 14 years old, Ever de Peña set out to pursue a career in the hospitality industry; the more time indoors and in an air-conditioned space, the better, he joked. Going into his hospitality studies at our local trade school, he never envisioned owning his own restaurant. As a matter of fact, contrary to most chef's stories, Ever did not like cooking growing up. During his internships at local hotels, he grew a liking to the kitchen and had his eyes set on the Executive Chef position. That became his goal! To become an Executive Chef before the age of 30. Like other people who follow their dreams with a passion and clear vision, he became an Executive Chef at Manchebo at only 26 years old, the youngest on the island, responsible for not only cooking but the whole kitchen "orchestra."
During his years at Manchebo, he had creative freedom, and he used that freedom to create two new concepts for the hotel: Ike’s Bistro and The Chophouse, which are still popular today. After meeting Chef Teddy at a culinary competition (Iron Chef) in 2016, they quickly became good friends. Teddy convinced Ever to join him as Executive Chef at the Marriott, where they always talked about opening up a small restaurant together. When Teddy later left Marriott to open Lima Bistro, the plans did not change. Ever and Teddy would soon take the leap of faith into the world of fine dining.
Three years in the making, both discouraged after an investor backed out, Ever was just about ready to pack up his knife and move to Grand Cayman when the stars finally aligned. Capital was raised by people who believed in them!
Located right next to Lima Bistro, Ever Restaurant, named after chef Ever, of course, is a laid-back but elevated dining experience. The small restaurant location was going to be either “Lima Bar” or an expansion of Lima Bistro. But Lima was already “perfectly small and charming.” They went into the small 78m2 dark space and spray-painted the restaurant's layout. “It fits!” The space is small but perfect for what they had in mind. They went back to Lima and drew up the restaurant.
Walking up to the restaurant on a Thursday evening, I was about to enter their vision. I was greeted by the manager and sommelier, Joseph, and was given the honuor of opening the door to the restaurant/speakeasy. I felt like I was part of an exclusive group of elites *curls imaginary moustache*. The door closed behind me, and I just forgot where I was. The whole experience is perfectly curated to the most minor details.
Our bartender, Denzel, served a delicious pineapple mocktail with the most beautiful floral ice cube. Chef Ever and the kitchen staff can be seen prepping, tasting, laughing, and having fun. While Teddy is Ever’s business partner, the stars of this restaurant are Ever himself and his crew. So, let’s sit down because the 8-course show is about to begin!
I did do the wine pairing to have a complete experience. However, if you’ve read my other posts, you know I’m not a big drinker, so I will do my best to do them justice. It is important to mention that each menu has a different wine vendor, and the wines selected are never low-end. The first course is served and moved into position. Corn Two Ways will be my first bite into fine dining. I don’t know why I expected the soup to be cold, but it was warm, creamy, and full of flavour that coats your mouth. I wish I had a bigger bowl of this! The dehydrated corn cracker with creme fraiche was the perfect supporting actor.
Course numero dos was a refreshing baby scallops dish with coconut cream, citrus, yellow peppers, and gooseberries. Sweet and acidic. Good combo. This dish was paired with a New Zealand fruity Sauvignon Blanc with a pineapple aftertaste and perfectly complimented the fruits in the dish.
As an in-between, we were served warm local bread (T2Pan) with a nutty, salty, and sweet burned butter with a port wine reduction. To me, it had a sweet salami taste to it. Very tasty!
It’s time for number 3, a room-temperature soup, Vichyssoise. I'm not gonna lie; I freaked out a little when I saw olives in the description. How was I gonna play this cool? See, I'm not the biggest fan of olives… But to my surprise, it was good! Just the right amount of creamy and fatty. I also learned that creaminess closes the palate, so the dry Riesling wine pairing was meant to cleanse the palate between bites. I must also mention it was a wine I enjoyed and would have again.
Course number 4 was what I expected from a fine dining experience. One ravioli. Just the one. But wow! This innocent ravioli was filling, and the broth was perfectly flavourful. It wasn't overwhelming or underwhelming. Just balanced.
As we were all enjoying our experience, I noticed how focused Chef Ever was—carefully picking the perfect pieces of lobster for his next dish. You can see he cares about what he does and is proud of himself and his staff when he looks up to see guests enjoying the creations.
Course number 5 is Caribbean Lobster, served on a butternut squash puree. I didn’t like… that I didn’t have more of this—sweet, cinnamony, bisquey richness.
The restaurant seats 18 people max and is an intimate experience. It’s like going to Ever’s house and lounging while he cooks. This is not a cooking class, people! It’s about enjoying your time while having an incredible food journey. Ever says it sounds cliché, but his restaurant and food are about telling a story. It’s different levels and ideas of what art is all coming together. From the paintings, decor, locally made plates (Art by Rani), presentation, and the food itself.
*As a side note, I need to include something that is important to me when I dine out. This place is spotless!*
Next up is course six, which was a lime and wild berry palate cleanser.
While we were cleansing our palates *clears throat*, Joseph passed by each group to take a Polaroid picture. This is something I’ve never experienced before, but it’s genius! What a way to capture a moment.
Ladies and gentlemen, we will now be presenting… Delicious number seven, picanha! Served with a puree of broccoli, mushrooms, and cabbage. The picanha, cooked sous vide, was super tender and juicy. The port wine reduction was a perfectly rich addition to this dish.
“Modern cuisine is the chef’s personality on a plate. You cook the way you are.”
- Chef Ever
Lastly, course number 8 had me nervous again. I am also not a coffee drinker… The coffee with French vanilla creation did not taste like I imagined. A well-rounded dessert. Some mentioned it tasted like a deconstructed frappe. A+.
Looking around, everybody was happy. You could hear people saying “excellent” and "wonderful experience." Ever seemed satisfied and content. Just like when a movie ends, the music got a bit louder in the restaurant… Let's roll the credits!
Chefs like Ever are paving the way for future chefs and inspiring new generations to pursue the art of cooking. Ever Restaurant is about the experience, not just the food. Chef Ever wants you to leave with great memories. The Polaroid picture, now stuck on my office wall, is a physical memory of my visit to Ever. It’s a moment I will remember and cherish. Sitting next to one of my best friends, surrounded by new friends, in one of the best restaurants Aruba has to offer. Ever Restaurant is art in motion.
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Xa On The Go is a series in which I explore, taste, and experience all Aruba has to offer, one spot at a time. Join me as I try some of the most hyped restaurants on the island, experience fun activities, and explore Aruba’s wonders.
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