Raffles is one of those places in the Virgin Islands where, if you live here, you immediately look around upon arrival to see just who and how many of the people already there that you know. There are invariably some tourists, but I have always found the majority of the crowd to be locals.
There is an Early Bird Special menu available between 5 and 7 p.m. for those looking for a lower-cost dinner than what is offered on the main menu. Specials noted by this reviewer were $14.95 and included a good selection of pasta, meat and seafood entrees.
A longtime fixture at Compass Point Marina, Raffles is known locally for its excellent music card. On Thursdays, Nicky Russell (a.k.a. calypsonian "Mighty Whitey") presents his repertoire of Caribbean tunes from 7:30 p.m. until. Nicky has been strumming his guitar and singing on St. Thomas for the better part of 30 years and has quite a local following.
On Fridays, it's blues and jazz from 7 to 10 p.m. On Saturdays, a trio plays keyboards, bass and an eclectic mix of other stringed instruments. The musicians are mature enough to keep the decibels down to a level where patrons can carry on a conversation, and their music is interesting enough that many – this reviewer included — choose to listen to it.
Sundays feature "open mike" entertainment starting at 8 p.m., with a belly dancer at 8:30 (to help you work off all those calories). You can play, dance, or do whatever is your musical thing — or sit back and enjoy others enjoying themselves.
Given all of the above, you might say Raffles offers a tasteful experience.
It gets even better when you try the regular menu.
The dinner salad can be very simple but the vinaigrette is one of the best I have experienced. The fresh, homemade, multigrain bread is flavored with herbs and served with a dish of olive oil flavored with more herbs. It is great for sopping up the leftover salad dressing, too.
I have always had a liking for lamb, and especially lamb shank. Raffles does one to a turn with rich mushroom gravy and a few vegetables draped over the meat. Under the shank is a thin bed of potatoes which are described as "garlic" but do not detract from the flavor of the gravy.
The only thing I would change in the dish is to reduce the amount of salt. While recent medical findings indicate that salt is not quite as bad for our health as researchers once believed, it is still not good for us. And, used to excess, it detracts from the natural flavors of the meat, wine and mushrooms instead of highlighting them.
Raffles bills itself as specializing in duck and seafood. One special is a French stew with large chunks of potatoes, strips of duck, a bit of pork and some lamb all married with a light sauce. In this case, I found the salt less overpowering and the blend of meat juices most palate-pleasing. Now, if the chef would only dice the potatoes a half inch (no more than five-eighths) on the side, they would carry more of that great sauce to the palate and optimize the pleasure.
The desserts are rich, good-sized and varied. If you are hesitant about consuming so much rich food at one sitting, see if your companion is willing to go for one item with two spoons or forks so you can share. The atmosphere is so enjoyable that you might as well extend the evening to the maximum. A cup of, yes, good coffee or an after-dinner drink will add a fine finishing touch.
The bathrooms at Raffles are commodious, clean and well stocked. I thought the magazine atop the toilet tank was a nice touch.
While Raffles is high on atmosphere and quality of food, you do pay for it. Bar drinks are almost the price of the bottle, and the extensive list of blender drinks is strictly for tourists out on a spree. Still, if you are careful, two can have a memorable meal from the regular menu for under $50. If you throw caution to the wind, the tab can top $100 for two very quickly, but the price should not be off-putting, as you get what you pay for. But be forewarned so that you are not shocked at the end of your evening.
Raffles has been a participant in the Rotary East Dine Out program. Via a coupon book, this program entices you to some of the better restaurants on St. Thomas and St. John by offering a free second entree, drink or dessert, depending on the establishment. Proceeds from the coupon book sales go to Rotary programs for youth. The 2001 books are expected to be available in mid-April, with coupons valid until December.
Ambience: 5 stars
Food: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Value: 3 stars
Compass Point Marina
Dinner nightly except Monday, 5-10 p.m.
Brunch Sunday 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Live music Thursday-Sunday nights
Amex, Visa, MasterCard
Editor's note: The Tottering Taster is a senior citizen dedicated to enjoying good food who dines in local establishments to bring Source readers unsolicited assessments biased in favor of an ultimate eating-out experience. The individual uses a pseudonym so restaurant personnel will not be able to identify the reviewer and try to influence the review.