Considered one of the most popular restaurants in Aruba, Yemanja Woodfire Grill offers cuisine that is described as a fusion between Caribbean flavors and European style. I had read loads of information on the Internet about the unique gluten free meals available here, so it was with great pleasure that I sought out securing a dining reservation.
Surprisingly, I discovered that all those glowing gluten free reviews must have been yet again from adults because children had several restrictions for dining here. Kids under two years of age are not allowed at all, and, if you have children under the age of six, you will not be able to dine after 7pm to ensure that per their website “guests who are seeking a quiet and relaxing night out in the later hours” receive it. In addition, they did not have a kid’s menu but offer a 35% discount on a smaller portion size.
Okay, I thought to myself, it seems a little anti-child but gluten free is plastered all over their website. We have to give this place a shot regardless of their somewhat limited child policy.
My family falls in to the “under six” category so I set up a 6:15pm reservation noting that my son had a gluten allergy.
But it is one thing to set up a reservation when you are at home and another thing entirely when you are chillaxing on the beach with a cold drink in your hand. Needless to say, my family was having a very tough time leaving all that fun in the sun behind. So, I shot Yemanja a quick same day email asking if we could push our dinner reservation back to 6:45pm.
I opened my email to find the words: unable to accommodate.
You can imagine my shock. This did not seem very “island” to me. What happened to the “live in the moment” attitude that was supposed to be prevalent throughout this “One Happy Island?”
But this place was supposed to be a gluten free paradise. So, at 4:30pm, I sadly sucked down the last drop of Aruba's signature island drink, Aruba Arriba, and told myself it would be worth it.
We came upon Yemanja tucked behind the Renaissance Hotel and entered through a lush patio to meet the hostess in the tiny indoor dining space. Okay, I thought to myself, this place really doesn’t accommodate many. I can see why it is hard to get or change a reservation here.
Bread was served and they presented a tiny gluten free roll accompanied by an olive tapenade and herbed butter for my oldest son. Kid Allergy always feels left out when a bread course is served so being able to participate made him very happy.
Upon first glance, the menu did offer some incredibly scrumptious looking options--for an adult that is. Everything was seasoned with a complex sauce or was presented as an intricately composed salad--things you would not traditionally consider everyday child cuisine.
Our youngest wanted chicken but the Grilled Organic Chicken Breast main dish had a Morel & Porcini Sauce. My little one greatly dislikes mushrooms so I decided to order a-la-carte instead. Grilled chicken strips, white rice and black beans were going to run me $17 but I figured it was better to fork out the cash because it was a guaranteed hit sans sauce.
Kid Allergy wanted something he eats quite often at home: the cauliflower steak. He specified that the chef “make it gluten free” and then requested the sauce on the side. The description of the dish said “Marinated Grilled Caulifower Steak, Arugula Pesto Zoodles, Black Beans, Romesco sauce, Tomato Antiboise, Fried Capers, Fried Garlic Chips and Basil Leaves.” The server did not question which of the sauces Kid Allergy wanted on the side but he wrote down the request and then set off to grab the $48 bottle of De Loach Pinot Noir we ordered.
I had learned by now that kid activities provided by the restaurant were not the norm in Aruba. My kids went about working on their respective activities that we carried in ourselves. When the plates finally arrived there was a look of horror from the little and big child alike.
The chicken was swimming in mushroom sauce and Kid Allergy could barely find his herbed cauliflower steak amongst the liquid on his plate. The server didn’t seem to notice the shock upon their faces so he dropped the plates and sauntered off.
By this time the sun had set and the ambiance started edging toward the romantic. Candles flickered. Young honeymooners stared lovingly in to each other’s eyes. All children but our own had pretty much vacated the premises.
Plus, my kids were starving after all day playing on the beach and were already mumbling about hunger pains.
I ultimately didn’t want to make a big scene about the order being wrong. It would only cause delays.
So, for better or worse, I decided this was a good time for the children to roll with it and try something outside their comfort zone.
And, guess who ate and enjoyed every morsel? My little mushroom loather!
Unfortunately, Kid Allergy struggled to get even a few bites of his gluten free meal down. The sauce was everywhere and it was very hard to find something that had escaped being smothered in bold flavors on the plate.
Kid Allergy – two thumbs down
The gluten free roll was a treat but the cauliflower steak was dripping in herbs and an unappealing swirl of bold sauce.
Mom – one thumb up
Three out of the four people at our table enjoyed their food but there was a general lack of attention to our order. The request for sauce on the side wasn’t followed and my request to order the chicken off the a-la-carte menu was flat out ignored. In the end, I left disappointed that my wheat-restricted child didn’t enjoy his food.
Book your reservations a few weeks in advance as the place is small and does fill up quickly.
If you would like to avoid being the last family in the restaurant perhaps consider booking a seating time earlier than 6:15pm.
If you have a child who has simpler tastes make a stronger case when ordering. A casual “sauce on the side” or “a-la-carte” comment is not necessarily going to sink in.