Aruba Eats: Madame Janette

Madame Janette, Aruba

On our first visit to Aruba, Jeff and I drove around for hours looking for Madame Janette, a restaurant my mom raved about and told me I would love. We never found it. This time, since we went on vacation with my family, my mom made sure we got there. And we loved it so much that we went back again later on in the week!

Madame Janette is an outdoor restaurant with trees and plants adding natural decor and strings of lights and torches creating ambiance. I was enamored with it the moment we walked in. On the first night, we went with a large group and had two side-by-side tables. We had a waiter and a waitress attending to our table, and they were both incredibly personable, friendly, and accommodating.

Because my family had already been to Madame Janette, they immediately knew some of the must-haves, like the asparagus gratin and the famous almond grouper. I was happy to go along with these suggestions and throw in some of my own as well.

While we were there it was white asparagus season in The Netherlands, so Madame Janette (and some of the other restaurants we went to) had a dedicated white asparagus menu with tons of asparagus appetizers and entrees. The asparagus is flown in regularly during the season and was a wonderful addition to the meal.

After settling in with drinks -- mojitos are a specialty there, so Jeff got a strawberry one, I got a mango one, and my mom got an orange one -- and nibbling on some focaccia, we got down to business.

We started with two orders of the asparagus gratin and the crispy asparagus and got both dishes again on our return visit. (My little sister actually ordered a dish of the asparagus gratin just for her dinner on the second visit.)

Asparagus gratin at Madame Janette, Aruba

The asparagus gratin was simply to die for. I truly enjoyed the tender asparagus bites swimming in a thick cream sauce with bits of ham and Gouda cheese, and I was surprised that we were all able to remain pretty civil about who got the last bites.

While I loved the creamy asparagus, the crispy asparagus was actually my favorite of the two dishes. The white asparagus was coated and fried and served with prosciutto, tomatoes, gorgonzola, greens, and a balsamic basil oil. I just loved the array of textures and the fresh flavors in this appetizer. (I kind of want to try incorporating my panko-crusted asparagus in a sort of salad like this next time I make it.)

On our second visit, in addition to these two appetizers, we tried the beef carpaccio, which no one remembers hearing me suggest on the first visit -- though I know I did.

It's technically called MJ's Giant Kobe Beef Carpaccio and features thinly sliced kobe filet, marinated white asparagus, chopped Portabello mushrooms, arugula, lots of grated Parmesan cheese, and some pumpkinseed oil dressing. This was yet another dish we savored every last bite of. It sounds like a random assortment of flavors, but the melt-in-your-mouth beef worked well with the earthier notes of the pumpkinseed oil and mushrooms.

Onto the entrees... on the first night, my brother, sister, dad, and Jeff all got the tournedos a la "Ramon." My mom and I got the famous almond grouper, and my other sister got the salmon a la florentine. We weren't too adventurous, but we all loved what we ordered.

The tournedos a la "Ramon" are actually two beef tournedos wrapped in bacon and topped with onions and bernaise sauce. The garnish is fried carrots (these were actually the garnish on all of our dishes and I loved them and want to make them now). The tournedos were definitely a hit. So much so that Jeff, my brother, and my dad all got them again on our return visit. (My sister, who had eaten an entire 16-ounce steak at El Gaucho the night before just got her asparagus gratin instead.)

Almond grouper at Madame Janette, Aruba

The famous almond grouper... what can I say? My mom has been talking this dish up to me for years. She was so disappointed to find out that Jeff and I never made it in to try this dish on our last visit, so I knew I had to get it. Grouper is served just about everywhere in Aruba and is one of the most popular fish for those interested in fishing in the area.

Grouper is a pretty mild fish, and this preparation of an almond coating and creamed spinach sauce served it well. I made it through about half of mine. And while you might think we were on asparagus overdose by then, I enjoyed bites of the fish with the tender asparagus.

My sister had the salmon, which was sauteed in butter and topped with spinach and cheese.

On the next visit, we got a little more creative with the entrees and still had tournedos and grouper, but I opted for the schnitzel Vienna style, and we got a bowl of pasta carbonara to share. Both of these were featured on the white asparagus menu, so we got the white asparagus versions.

Schnitzel at Madame Janette, Aruba

This very thinly pounded piece of pork was so incredibly moist. I almost always overcook meat this thin. I was definitely impressed with this dish, and the hollandaise on top was the perfect complement. (Oh, and when they say plate-size breaded schnitzel, they mean plate-size!)

The carbonara was another winning dish. It was both creamy and garlicky and filled with chunks of asparagus and bacon.

Madame Janette does family style sides, so we got some of the creamed spinach, the famous potato gratin, and roasted potatoes with onions and bacon to share on both visits.

If I hadn't already eaten so much, I definitely would have downed a whole bowl of the potato gratin.

Potato gratin at Madame Janette, Aruba

You can probably even tell how good it was just by looking at that golden brown crust on top!

And speaking of eating too much... no matter how much you eat, there's always room for dessert, right? Well, the first night there was. I think the second night we went was hotter and we were probably all at our max after stuffing ourselves all week (that's what vacation's about, you know), so we skipped dessert. But also, once you see what we had for dessert the first night, you might understand a little better.

I mentioned at the beginning that we went with a large group, and that there was another tableful of people with us. These were all friends of my parents who they come to Aruba with often. They were feeding our waiter information, like that my sister Lindsay just graduated with her master's and that my sister Martyann was just named a track scholar and that Jeff and I were engaged.

Well, we put in our dessert order, and our waiter came back and let us know that it was going to take a little longer because he wanted to do something special for us. (This picture doesn't do it justice.)

We all loved it! (It even says "Congratulations" in chocolate on the platter.) But in addition to this platter, we also got the desserts we ordered. The waiter had wanted the pastry chef to put our desserts in this ensemble, but there was a slight miscommunication, and the pastry chef made a platter of all the desserts... in addition to our desserts! We had so much dessert to eat!

Jeff and I had ordered the chocolate mousse to share. It was thick and rich, and I loved the flavor of that middle mousse.

My mom and sister split the chocolate souffle with pumpkinseed ice cream.

And on the platter were mango, raspberry, and blueberry sorbets; apple strudel, more mousse, a chocolate layer cake; and best of all, underneath the sorbet were rum-soaked, coconut-crusted pineapple chunks. Everything was so good.

We all pretty much rolled out of there, completely happy and no longer hungry, not even a smidge.

If you are heading to Aruba and want to dine at a really great restaurant, outside where maybe an occasional leaf finds its way down from the trees onto your plate, then I highly recommend Madame Janette. (If you've never been before, take a cab. You'll never find it on your own.)

Have you ever tried white asparagus?