Chef Sean Kuylen Makes Old Belizean Favorites Fresh, New & Sophisticated at Sittee River’s New Curve Bar
The Curve Bar & Marina at Sittee River, Belize has been a small, local watering hole. A place to grab a few beers and watch the sun set over the sleepy SIttee river. Located a few miles south of Hopkins Village, the place was more of a hidden gem, well off the beaten path…a bit of a dive bar rather than a dining hotspot.
I think that is all about to change. Sean Kuylen, one of the most well-known chefs in Belize and a born and raised Belizean, has taken over.
A photo of Sean taken by my friend, talented photographer Leonardo Melendez.
Sean’s expanded the beautiful deck over the slow winding river, totally re-done the menu and turned this spot into a place you want to visit. Whether you are living in (or visiting) Placencia or Hopkins, put the Curve Bar on your eating list.
Wait…am I the only one who prepares an eating list when I travel?
Let me tell you what I loved about Curve Bar. But first a little about the chef…
Chef Kuylen (pronounced KWEE-lin) was born in Dangriga – called the cultural capital of Belize. Sean trained as a chef in San Francisco, worked at restaurants in the States, at resorts in the Caribbean and then returned to Belize – to the ingredients and recipes that he knows best. He worked first at Hamanasi in Hopkins and then at Ka’ana Resort. Bringing Belizean flair to the resort menus.
But his true love is the ingredients he grew up eating and the recipes that he watched his family cook – dishes often overlooked at some of the more upscale hotels and restaurants in Belize.
So Sean is now doing his own thing. In an area that he knows very well and now calls home – beautiful Sittee River.
His menu draws attention back to Belize…to the classics many Belizeans remember from childhood like Mestizo salbutes, Garifuna cassava pudding and Mayan dukunu. Many of them street food and most of them dishes that you never find in the fancy resorts.
Take a look at the menu and then some of the stuff I tried. Oh but first…they have a resident crocodile that likes to lounge in the setting sun.
It’s absolutely stunning…
The menu. Bar food, yes. But beautiful oh-so-carefully prepared and thought out bar foods. Almost an homage (I dislike that word but I’m going to use it) to old school Belizean ingredients and particularly the ones of this area.
A whole section is devoted to Masa (the corn tortilla dough) that is made at a little place right in town. His enthusiasm for these basic ingredients was so cool, super infectious. How long are you going to be in town? he asked. You must come see the Masa factory and come to (the tiny village of) Maya Center with me tomorrow. They making chocolate completely by hand.
He got up and went to the kitchen to get a slab a chocolate the size of my torso to let me taste.
To the menu. Salbutes on light corn panckaes, empanadas that are so delicious and…I’ll just show you.
The chef asked if I had any allergies and sent out tastes of a bunch of different dishes.
Delicious beet and goat cheese salad bites. Just a taste. The balsamic reduction is thick like molasses and so delicious. Like candy. Lettuce grown right in the garden.
Pork, raisin and caper empanadas. Panades are mostly a street food in Belize. They are cheap and easy to eat on the go. I’m usually not the biggest fan…the filling can be super salty and the wrapping, tough.
These were so different and I love the mix of sweet raisin with the pork and the saltiness of the capers…but not too salty. I could eat 10 of these with their gorgeous pickly slaw.
Here is maybe my favorite dish. The Ground Pork “pork chuc” & egg salbute. Pork seasoned with black recado (a spice actually made from burnt tortillas among other things) with chopped egg white, lots of delicious pickled slaw, cilantro piled on a light masa pancake and covered with feathery shavings of egg yolk. So delicious.
And so beautiful that almost all of the dishes are served on thick smoothed pieces of Belizean cedar or some old style cast iron frying pans. Fitting.
And then this dish. I immediately thought southern American shrimp and grits and it was…but totally Belize. Mayan corn dukunu – usually steamed in a corn husk but here used as a bed for annatto spiced local shrimp.
I was about to burst but surely I could fit a few more things in…
Like this seaweed and nutmeg colada. YUM.
The drink menu is as cleverly Belizean as the food. The coladas come in this seaweed but also soursop, horchata, mango, tamarind…yum. Other drink names like Glowing Lagoon (after the bioluminencense that is just around the bend in this river), Senor Flaco, Doctor Fly are all fresh Belizean rums and ingredients.
This lovely warm moistened napkin and lime to cleanse my fingers. Officially a dive bar no more…
I had this absolutely perfect coconut flan with stewed papaya. A reverse flan really with the sweet, spiced papaya sweetening the almost unsugared silky smooth custard. So gorgeous. Just the perfect amount of sugar when the two were combined.
I did not taste the chocolate lava cake with curry – both flavors from the south of Belize by Punta Gorda. Where the cacao industry flourishes and many villages are comprised of East Indian Belizeans. He combined the two.
But I did have the cassava pudding with tarragon-ginger creme anglaise that was like eating a warm bowl cream of wheat – the sauce was absolutely to die for.
I didn’t eat one thing that wasn’t delicious, well thought out and beautifully presented. Sean joined me and we talked for a few hours about food. FOOD and Belize. My very favorite subjects.
Making Belizean food tres chic in a laid back environment. I love the idea. And Sean’s passion and pride for Belize plus his killer cooking skills – he’s doing an amazing job at Curve Bar.
He didn’t have a name for the type of restaurant Curve Bar is ,so I came up with one. A Nouveau Belize Gastro-Pub. Too much?
If you are in Hopkins, this is just down the road but if you are in Southern Belize? This is food worth travelling for.
Check out The Chef Sean Kuylen’s facebook page to see him gathering local ingredients and the crazy kitchen rig he built. (Belize might have its first gourmet food truck…)
And for SURE check out Curve Bar. You can thank me later. (Or just bring me back one of those salbutes.)
And he kept much of the feel of the old Curve bar including the signs at the bathroom…
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.