Above: Bonito in St Barth
By Alexander Britell
TINY ST BARTH is a sandy slice of mainland France, an outpost of the Cote D’Azur in the Caribbean.
But on Rue Lubin Brin in Gustavia, perched on a hillside, Chef Laurent Cantineaux leads an even smaller sateillite of Latin America.
Cantineaux’s Bonito, owned by Jonas and Alexandra Millan (who also own Juvia in Miami Beach), brings together the traditional French fare for which the island is known with a decidedly Latin flair — featuring fresh fish, mostly served as ceviche.
“We had a restaurant called Cafe Antibes for eight years in Caracas, and we were looking for something outside,” he says. “My partner and I knew to check about St Barth, and went there, and opened in November 2009.”
The concept of Bonito is built around a beach house.
“It’s not luxury, it’s not pretentious,” he says. “It’s very cozy, very warm, family style, like a house.”
Cantineaux describes the food as French-South American cuisine, although his pedigree is traditional French: including working five years with world-renowned chef Daniel Boulud.
“My background is very French — but I spent 10 years in Venezuela,” he says.
That time in South America took him across the region, sampling ingredients like chile, fresh cilantro, mango and, of course, ceviche — the latter inspired, he says, by the city of Lima.
It creates a unique juxtaposition: on one plate, there is Tiradito de Wahoo; on another, a Duck Magret with cranberry sauce, sweet potato and broccoli rabe.
“I’m not trying to copy or switch to a traditional Caribbean menu,” he says. “I’m combining French with that kind of cuisine — except for the ceviche, where it’s the opposite — I take a genuine technique and I put my French touch on it.”
The emphasis, in true Caribbean style, is on fresh fish — wahoo, mahi mahi, tuna — combining the quality high-end patrons expect, with a light, simple delivery.
“I try to get the best quality I can — all the people that are used to doing the rest of the year in high-end restaurants like Daniel or Jean-Georges in London and Paris,” he says. “But when they go to St Barth, they are on vacation and want to relax — they don’t want very sophisticated food.”