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February Trip; Virgin Fire

NY metro
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February Trip; Virgin Fire

Virgin Fire? Left me Cold

Well, this was the least successful meal of our trip. Perhaps because it was a Sunday. Maybe because I had raised my expectations too high. The Virgin Fire chef had worked with Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston--one of my favorite chefs. I dunno? Regardless of reason this was a disappointing meal and experience.

In the restaurant’s defense; I had arrived at least one half hour early. I had misjudged the time it would take to find a cab and travel from Caneel. We were directed to the empty bar for drinks. It took a short while to get the bartender’s attention, but she was very nice once we had it. No sooner had our drinks arrived than our table was ready. We had a choice of in or out. After some hemming and hawing we settle on an outside table.

As we pick up our drinks we are told that we had to settle up with the bar before we could be seated.

Digression: Sometimes this practice benefits the owner/manager, sometimes the waitstaff, sometimes the bartender, sometimes the POS system and sometimes all of the above. But I can assure you that the one person it NEVER benefits is the client/diner/guest. I leave it to those who may reading along to ponder and sort out that last statement. I find it mildly annoying and note that Virgin Fire is not the only establishment that maintains the practice.

The Food: It is an interesting menu. I note that and here is where I add that I would like to have sampled more of it, especially some of the apps. Also, to be fair, this review must be taken within the context of a single visit with a somewhat limited dining experience and I will only comment on the dishes we ate and the service that we experienced.

My wife had eaten Mahi-Mahi on three separate occasions during this visit to St John. It is her new favorite fish. I asked her to rank them. She liked them all. But suffice to say that somebody has to finish last and it was Virgin Fire. Not that it is bad, just that there is better to be had.

I ordered the Himalayan Salt Block with shrimp, tuna and beef. It comes with three small ramekins of dipping sauces. Ponzu and I don’t remember the others. Thai red chili maybe and something else. My waiter suggested I order it for two (single 12, double 24) as that would make a more suitable main course. So I did.

My reaction upon being served; “Is that a DOUBLE order?” “Oh yes.” came the response. It was barely a decent appetizer.

2 maybe 3 slacked PDQ/IQF shrimp split through down the middle. About 26-30 in size (maybe 21-25), but hardly what I would call “jumbo”, even in my wildest imagination. A pretty long putt that.

4 slices of sinewy Tuna that looked as if cut from a tail.

4 slices of very thin slivers of beef.

I could read the New York Times through the slivered Tuna and Beef, but that was the nature of the dish. You quickly cook this raw product on a hot brick of salt and dip it in the sauce. It’s kind of gimmicky and certainly a triumph of style over substance…Well, maybe not so triumphant and decidedly light on substance.

Restaurant financials are based on much more than raw food cost and I tend to avoid that road, but given this silly portion size and even on St John; the COGs had to be in the single digits. That’ll make for a pretty good margin. However marginalized my stomach was in the process.

So I’m still hungry. We ask if we could order a wedge salad. That should be fast. My wife is also in a salad mood so we ask if we can split that wedge.

The answer? “No”. After my quizzical look the waiter says, “But I can bring you a sharing plate.”

“Okay” I tell the waiter. I’m capable of splitting a salad at the table myself. When I saw the salad and noted its average presentation; I wondered why it couldn’t be split in the kitchen. Who knows? Maybe someone in the back was feeling particularly uncooperative with the front. I didn’t see how splitting a wedge salad that looked as unremarkable as this was going to sully or mar any sort of magnificently constructed presentation. I chalked it up to one more bit of culinary silliness.

More Silliness: The forgotten bread. We asked for it when that wedge salad came. A warm piece of brioche that reverted to its old stale self once the warmth wore off. Some strange sweet cold butter accompanied it. We inquired. Honey from a local apiary.

I’m all for a good locovore angle, but better to serve it apart from the butter. The mix-in doesn’t work when its refrigerator cold and nothing will elevate stale bread.

Service was polite but very slow. Particularly when there is needy four-top ordering drinks, bottles of wine and mounds of food. I was just a cheap deuce with a 78 dollar check (before tip). I appreciate a waiter needing to take care of a potential good tipping table, but a good waiter would also keep me from noticing that.

It wasn’t a horrible night. Maybe a 2 star TA rating if I were to post there. We will remove Virgin Fire from the rotation. My time on St John is short and there are better choices, so why go looking for disappointment when it can so easily find you on its own.

1. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

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Removed on: 12 March 2014, 21:35
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2. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

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Removed on: 21 February 2014, 05:05
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3. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

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Removed on: 21 February 2014, 05:05
Edited: 21 February 2014, 05:05
Pittsford, New York
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4. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Pretty enthusiastic reply, Liatraveler :). Actually, I fully agree with you. We spend almost 2 weeks on St John every year for the past 10 years or so. During that time we've been to Zozo's once and never to Asolare. Don't feel that we've missed anything. But as you say, to each their own. We did go to Virgin Fire on opening week last year, and we really enjoyed the meal. But the service was pretty slow. I put that down to a combination of opening week and island time. Looks like maybe it's more of the latter.

New York
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5. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Have to agree with Nagetti that Virgin Fire's not so hot. We ate there last week and it ranked dead last on our dinner rotation through Cruz Bay resturants. The food was just ok, the service was just ok. We ended up eating at a table inside the bar and it was not comfortable. Our favorite: La Tapa, at an outdoor table (inside felt stuffy)

Coral Bay, St. John
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6. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Great review! Sometimes I read a negative review and think ... really? But your report seems level headed and well informed. While I know St John is at the proverbial "end of the food chain" - you're right to expect a good meal at a place like Virgin Fire. And regardless of the size of the check ... attentive service. We've had some surprisingly good meals at some of the funkiest places. And mediocre meals at some of the places we love. Hopefully your experience was a fluke ( no pun intended). I give almost every place 3 tries before I cross it off my list.

Des Moines, Iowa
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7. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

ngatti---Thanks for the review. We had a really good experience at Virgin Fire last week. I would not at all put it in the same category as Zozo's or Asolare---more of an upscale casual place---so I had different expectations. Our bill for dinner was half of what we spent at Zozo's and almost identical to our bill the night before at Rhumb Lines. We did not order the Himalayan Salt Block appetizer----seemed too expensive at $12 per person, and I guess it was. I'll post a review this weekend in the Reviews section.

On the whole issue of going to casual places vs. more upscale places, I really think there is no right or wrong answer here----just lots of different styles. Personally, we like to eat at a mix of places---on this last trip we ate at Woody's, Beach Bar, Banana Deck, Ronnie's Pizza n Mo, Cruz Bay Landing, Sam and Jack's (takeout), Virgin Fire, Rhumb Lines, Fatty Crab, and also Asolare and Zozo's. I happen to love a romantic, sunset view at dinner and both Zozo's and Asolare fit that bill. I also enjoy a dollar beer and a burger at Woody's. ngatti, being involved in the food industry, has his own set of tastes, which are more refined than mine---nothing wrong with that, and I appreciate his point of view.

Edited: 20 February 2014, 23:27
Rockport...
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8. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Really appreciate this review- some of those same issues that bugged you are also my restaurant pet peeves. I was really looking forward to trying it. I love the space and we loved Paradiso and also had a great meal at La Plancha last year. If we do try it I will avoid the slat block, which was actually the dish I was looking forward to trying.

Boston...
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9. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

First time visitors come April. Looking forward to a great week.

Since you have a much deeper knowledge of the various restaurants, would you mind providing a list of your favorite places for lunch and dinner?

Small family, wife, myself and 16 year old daughter.

Have rented a home just outside Cruz Bay, so also interested in where we can purchase fresh fish for nights we plan to stay closer to home.

Thank you in advance.

Des Moines, Iowa
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10. Re: February Trip; Virgin Fire

Jim---For fresh fish to cook at home, definitely try the Fish Trap. They have a restaurant but also a market.