Tasty Island

OK, I don’t mean any disrespect here — and I appreciate that not everyone likes every style of food — but I have to say I don’t understand people like the woman who ordered chicken Alfredo pasta at Tasty Island the other night.

Yes, it’s on the menu; you’ll notice that a lot of little ethnic places will, until they catch on, offer “American” dishes or some from cuisines that may be more accessible to the public than their own. And yes, if it’s on the menu, it should be up to the standards of everything else on the menu, ethnically correct or not.

But c’mon. Why would you order an Italian (or more precisely, Italian-American) dish in a Jamaican restaurant? Especially when you could have jerk chicken?

And especially when the jerk chicken is as … well, tasty … as that at Tasty Island?

If you don’t have more than a passing acquaintance with jerk chicken, you may have heard that it’s spicy, and this version ($7.75 for a small plate, $10.70 for a large) was, but not egregiously so. The secret to a good jerk seasoning blend is that it is just that — a blend, of spices contributing notes of hot and sweet and savory and salty for a lot of complexity, a lot of depth. So yes, we knew that there was cayenne there, but we also knew that there was some cinnamon, and probably some allspice, and the nuances of them all showed up in every bite. That the chicken was exceptionally moist and tender was a plus.

On the side: steamed rice (rice and peas is another option) and steamed mixed vegetables that included carrots and cauliflower and cabbage and perhaps some calaloo, but more on that later.

The chicken had been roasted to its moist-and-tender state, but it was long and careful braising that produced those qualities in the short ribs ($11.75/$13.75). They were served with pan gravy, and when picked off the bone, pulled apart and scattered over the accompanying peas and rice (the “peas,” in this case, actually referring to pigeon peas or red beans), showed off contrasting flavors and textures.

We had wanted a side order of calaloo, but because of a communications snag, ended up with a platter ($8.75/$10.50) instead. Calaloo — usually made using amaranth leaves — is akin to greens and pot likker. This was a nice rendition, earthy and slightly soft but maintaining some texture, and did credit to a long culinary tradition.

However, I believe it was some of the same leaves that gave a slightly Lysol-infused flavor to the mixed vegetables that accompanied the platters, something I’ve experienced before in Jamaican restaurants, and that’s clearly an acquired taste. That quality is missing when the leaves are well cooked.

We also had a Jamaican meat pie — the mild beef variety ($2.25) — and found it very characteristic, with its yellow flaky dough and finely textured, zippy-flavored filling.

And a piece of rum cake, which we took to go. When we were handed the bag that held the cake in a clamshell container, we were about blown away by the assertive rum aroma. The flavor, however, was somewhat more subtle, the texture dark and dense.

And while we’re on the subject of clamshells: That’s what your platter will be served in at Tasty Island, eat-in or take-out. Plastic flatware, too. No frills at all here (it looks like it’s in a former fast-food place), with the few decorations limited to posters of Jamaican favorite son Bob Marley. No Red Stripe, either.

Yeah, ol’ Bob Marley sure knew what was what. And I’m thinking he wasn’t real big on chicken Alfredo pasta. But that’s just a guess.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.

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