(Published in The Cayman Reporter, June 16, 2017)
If you’re looking for a new and exciting dining destination to truly tickle your taste buds, then head to YARA, Cayman’s newest restaurant.
Located in the newly opened Maragritaville Beach Resort this chic and elegant new restaurant promises an exciting menu filled with a host of unique ingredients.
Dine with an open mind. There’s rabbit, venison, lamb sweetbreads, bison, elk, and bone marrow, along with some of the best steaks available on island, including a featured wagyu steak.
Fan of oysters? Then YARA is the destination for you. Indeed, the restaurant is garnering attention amongst Cayman’s foodies for its dedicated raw bar, offering a selection of fresh seafood options, including the island’s largest selection of oysters.
YARA is headed up by executive chef Dylan Benoit, an established chef in Cayman who is known for pushing the culinary boundaries and offering diners a tempting twist on traditional fare.
He said the restaurant is designed around the concept of a “global steakhouse,” offering a Nikkei-style menu, a South American cuisine that has evolved of the last 100 years.
Having worked as a professional chef for more than a decade, Dylan has carved out a name for himself for his modern and enticing cuisine. He has also travelled extensively and often draws on the flavours and dishes he has encountered during his travels.
“For the menu at YARA I drew on a lot of experiences and memories of my trip to South America in 2010,” Dylan said. “Lots of amazing food and incredible flavours.
“I would describe the menu as playful. It’s designed to be interesting and amusing, for the guests and for my team.”
He added: “Cooking isn’t work for me, I wake up every day and play with food, experiment with food and talk about food all day long. I want that to come across in the menu. It should be interesting and push the boundaries, and there should be something new to try every time a guest comes back.”
Commenting on feedback so far, Dylan said the reaction has been “incredible” with Cayman’s foodies keen to check out YARA’s culinary offerings.
“We pushed the envelope a little with this menu and people are eating it up (no pun intended),” the chef enthused.
Indeed, unable to keep up with demand, the restaurants selection of dry-aged steaks ran out within the first two weeks.
“I hadn’t anticipated the demand would be so high,” he said. “The steaks take 35 days to age, so we were stuck for a few weeks.”
Dylan also confirmed that the restaurant is selling a larger amount than anticipated of the speciality meats.
“It’s exciting for us,” he said. “It shows that people are prepared to try something new.” Other popular dishes include the miso baked oysters – a “huge hit” – the roasted bone marrow and the Nikkei-style tuna.
“I personally think the octopus carpaccio and the Piri Piri style chicken are the unsung heroes of the menu,” Dylan said. “They’re not in the limelight but they’re knockout dishes, especially if you like a bit of spice.”
Keen to sample some of the fare on offer, my husband Matt and I headed to YARA for dinner. It was our first trip out just the two of us since our six-month old daughter Ella was born, so we planned to take full advantage of our night out and sample as much of the cuisine on offer.
We arrived at the restaurant slightly earlier than our table was booked for, but I’m glad we did. The bar area is the first space that greets guests and is chicly decorated with a contemporary island vibe. There’s also a resident DJ, which helps create an upbeat lively atmosphere. Indeed, it’s the ideal spot to pull up a chair and enjoy some pre-dinner cocktails.
“We want people to come for drinks and stay for dinner, or come for dinner and then stay for drinks,” Dylan explained.
Cayman’s cocktail scene is thriving, and the cocktails at YARA are hands down some of the best cocktails we’ve both had in a while.
The bar is headed up by mixologist Laurie Eaton. He was last year’s Cayman World Class winner and this year is spearheading the internationally renowned cocktail competition in Cayman.
He’s a fan of classic cocktails and prides himself on staying abreast of current and future trends in the global cocktail industry.
“Because of Yara’s influences from South America and Asia, we have the ability to work with a broad spectrum of flavours and spirits,” Laurie said. “I’ve been working closely with Dylan and his team to develop cocktail pairings. It’s exciting to have a good culinary team to back you up and bounce ideas off of.”
The Gin & Ginger (rosemary infused gin, fresh lemon, house-made syrup) was a firm favourite with Matt. He went through three. I loved the Desayuno en Yara (tequila, lime juice, apricot jam, mascarpone, simple syrup). It’s served in a cute little tea cup, so perhaps best left to the ladies. Others that we sipped on included the Cosecha Margarita (beet and cilantro infused tequila, Cointreau, lime, and black lava salt) and the Oro Verde (sake, grand mariner, melon liqueur, lemon juice, and feature raw bar garnish).
On to the food. You can’t go to YARA and not opt for something from the raw bar. We plumped for oysters, but there’s plenty of other options if you’re not a fan of them, including a sashimi platter, beet cured salmon gravlax and tuna tiradito. Worth noting is that the raw bar is open until 1 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and midnight on Saturdays and Sundays in the event you get a late-night craving.
There’s a lot of unique ingredients featured on the menu, including black garlic from China, black sea salt from Hawaii, purple potatoes from Peru, fresh wasabi root, and yuzu juice from Japan.
For appetisers, we opted for the roasted bone marrow and the Togarashi tempura prawns. I could have easily had a second round of the bone marrow.
For entrees, we plumped for the rabbit saddle and the venison striploin. Don’t be put off by trying a more unusual meat. These dishes were truly amazing! There’s a selection of sides and sauces to choose from. The roasted Brussel sprouts were a firm favourite, as were the YARA “steak cut” fries.
For dessert, there is an equally impressive array of creative offerings, including cotton cheesecake with yuzu curd, a bourbon apple confit, and churro doughnuts served with a vanilla bean emulsion.
Dylan said that they hope to add a chef’s table option soon, offering guests a full tasting menu with beverage pairings in the kitchen with the chefs. It’s just what the restaurant needs. As we left YARA our only regret was that we simply didn’t have room to try anymore dishes.