On our first night, we shared a perfectly forgettable supper of swordfish and shrimp--we couldn't really taste the promised Aruban flavors--but the beachfront welcomed us and put two city refugees at ease.
Afterwards, we took a spin in the rental car, eager to leave behind the strip of high-rise hotels and find something intriguing yet completely unconnected to the Natalee Holloway affair, a tabloid craze in 2005. What we quickly found, though, was a road that ran through a villa ghost town and toward nowhere nice.
Just before I was going to urge a k-turn, our lodestar appeared out of the blackness. With white lights too bright to be residential and too dim to be heavenly, Julie and I squinted to see what it was. A hidden town on a hill? An alien spacecraft on shore leave (a Gouda/weather explanation, perhaps)?
After a few twists and turns up a hill, we arrived at the source of the intrigue, which ended up being the least alien place of all for a native New Yorker whose ancestors left Europe's boot around 1900: an Italian restaurant. We parked and went looking for a menu.
Photo by Mike Nizza
Behind us, the California Lighthouse, a charming white tower and now a leading tourist attraction (the prior king, the "Natural Bridge," collapsed in 2005). In front of us was its former keeper's house, now called La Trattoria el Faro Blanco Restaurant.
The cluttered parking lot, dented dumpsters, and an utterly empty dining room obscured something extraordinary not just in Aruba but anywhere: a back terrace that spilled to the edge of a cliff overlooking the entire coast and the rest of the island.
By getting lost, I had discovered the perfect place for one of my major goals--booking The Dinner That Would Give Her a Reason to Wear That New Dress. Even better, the lazy tourists ambling around Aruba's many all-inclusive resorts were nowhere to be seen. A place that could be ours alone.
Ready to place my first romantic bet of the week, I looked the maître d' right in the eyes and staked a claim to a table at 6 p.m. the following night, just before sunset. My mission was all but accomplished.
A full day at the beach later, I returned in island formalwear with my dolled-up date. Seated for mere seconds, it was clear that the sweeping view was actually far too windswept. Aruba's trademark winds were devilishly intense, prompting a string of unfortunate events. Diners lurched for departing napkins and wrestled with floppy leather-bound menus. Across the terrace, waiters strained to announce specials and rushed to secure table cloths with knots favored by sailors and boy scouts.
Neither of us was surprised when our bread basket took flight, though not before the rolls revealed themselves as freshly baked, if from frozen dough. What we didn't expect was the speed and agility of the waiter, who bravely responded to the Bread Basket Down before sending in reinforcements. He'd obviously endured dinner service in these harsh conditions many times before, though his color commentary could use some work. "So windy!" he mouthed before a shrug and a grin.