The Biz Beat: Enticing Caribbean food plated in downtown San Jose
At Island Taste Caribbean Grill, Dorianne St. Fleur, whose family is Jamaican, and husband Marc, whose family is Haitian, blended the countries' foods with their own flare. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Island Taste Caribbean Grill is where Jamaican and Haitian food flow through San Jose.

    If all you know about Jamaica is Bob Marley is from there, a visit to Island Taste will introduce your taste buds to a new world of spices and flavors that are familiar, yet deliciously otherworldly. Opened last April, the downtown San Jose restaurant has a dedicated clientele lining up for dishes like jerk chicken, goat, roasted oxtail and fried pork.

    “People have been enjoying the flavors we bring to the area,” said Dorianne St. Fleur, 38, who co-owns the business with her husband, Marc. “We serve them traditional Jamaican and Haitian cuisine, but we play with it to put some extra flare and spin on it. But it comes down to understanding the stories behind the dishes of the two countries, making sure that the flavor matches what the dishes are all about.”

    The mix of the two cuisines comes from the St. Fleur’s backgrounds: Dorianne’s family is from Jamaica, and Marc’s is Haitian. They both grew up in Brooklyn and came to San Jose from New York in 2019 when Dorianne landed a job at Google in human resources and diversity inclusion.

    “When we first moved here, Marc really missed some of the comforts of home,” Dorianne told San José Spotlight. “He decided he would teach himself how to cook the things we used to get in Brooklyn. He went from being nothing in the kitchen to being able to prepare these dishes for us at home.”

    Bold - Jerked Chicken with rice. Photo by Robert Eliason.
    The Bolt, named after Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt, considered the greatest sprinter in the world, is jerk chicken served with sweet plantains, rice and peas. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Marc, 43, worked in property management but had been sidelined during the COVID-19 pandemic. He began cooking to pass the time and ease being homesick.

    “There is Caribbean food out here,” he said, “but it is not the same to my taste buds. Once I started cooking for my family, I felt like I had to bring the Haitian culture out here and share it with others. And I knew that once people tasted it, they would be back.”

    Though the countries are close geographically, Jamaican and Haitian foods have their own distinct flavors, which come from two different core groups of seasonings, according to Dorianne. There is not a lot of heat to the food, with the taste coming more from the distinctive spices and herbs.

    “For Jamaican cooking, they start with salt, pepper, garlic, and pimento seed, also called allspice. They use that in stews and frying,” Dorianne said. “For Haitian food, it is more about garlic, onions and epis. Epis is made with cilantro, onions and thyme, and is the base for all Haitian food.”

    Cooking methods differ between the two countries as well: goat, for example, is fried in Haitian cooking but stewed in Jamaican. Similarly, chicken can be fried in Haiti, but marinated and roasted in Jamaica.

    The restaurant’s signature dish is Jamrock: a Jamaican slow-cooked oxtail stew that is cooked fork-tender and tastes like well-done roast beef. It’s served on the bone and—as is true for most dishes—comes with rice and beans, and a pickled cucumber, carrot and red onion salad.

    Jamrock - Oxtail with rice. Photo by Robert Eliason.
    Jamrock, oxtail with rice, is a favorite at Island Taste Caribbean Grill. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Another popular dish, Bang Bang, is named after a song that celebrates the beauty of Haiti. Cubes of marinated pork are lightly fried so the outside has a thin, crisp crust, and the inside is tender and moist. The dish has some heat and is served with pikliz, a sour and spicy fermented cabbage with scotch bonnet peppers. It resembles kimchi and harmonizes well with the flavors of the pork, but is delicious on its own and is available as a side dish.

    Bang Bang - Fried Pork with rice. Photo by Robert Eliason.
    Bang Bang , fried pork with rice, is named after a song that celebrates the beauty of Haiti. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Of course, jerk meats—seasoned and smoked over pimento wood—are central to Jamaican cooking. The Bolt, an Island Taste dish named after Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter in the world, is jerk chicken served with sweet plantains, rice and peas. Jerk pork and jerk tofu are also available.

    For the full experience, there is housemade Jamaican Sorrel, which brings the floral fruitiness of hibiscus and the snap of fresh ginger together to make a delightfully refreshing beverage.

    Island Taste Caribbean Grill also features Wildcard Wednesdays, when new dishes are introduced and, if the response is good, added to the menu.

    “Our Kingston, curried goat, started as a Wildcard special,” Dorianne said. “People loved it and asked when we would do it again. When we started, we only offered our Rasta Pasta, which is cooked with coconut milk and bell peppers, with our jerk chicken. We tried it with oxtail and then with tofu as a vegan option, and they also got added to the menu. It is a good way to get people’s opinions, and we are listening to them.”

    For the St. Fleurs, the chance to pass on some of their culinary heritage has been a rewarding adventure, and they are enthusiastic about the restaurant’s future.

    “This is all brand new for us,” Marc told San José Spotlight, “and we are still in the beginning stages. We make our food like we are passing it down from family to family, and people are loving it. That was my vision. I kind of manifested what is happening here, and now all I can think about is what will be the next goal.”

    Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected]

    Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected]

    Island Taste Caribbean Grill

    Located at 225 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose, CA 95113

    Phone: (669) 281-3554

    Website: https://islandtastegrill.com

    Social media: https://instagram.com/islandtastegrill

    Open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.


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