Red Stripe, De Palm Tree

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Anything goes here in Jamaica. We were so relaxed from a day at the beach, we didn't even bother to get dressed for dinner, just tied a sarong around our waist and slipped on a pair of sandals. Anyway, this body is looking so right, it's a shame to cover it up. Our tummy is flat, our legs as long as the line of the beach on the horizon.

How can we have a bikini body in the dead of winter, you ask? Well, it's easy when you spend your holiday in the Caribbean. While all you suckers back on the continent were horking down ham and cookies and cheese spread and washing it down with eggnog, we've been starting every morning with a sweet, ripe mango and working up a sweat dancing in the clubs until the wee hours each and every night.

We are seated at a small round table tucked into the back corner of a tiny storefront restaurant, right next to Stephen Marley, smoking a fat spliff. The sun is going down and the place is dim except for a few red light bulbs glowing warmly, the same way our tanned skin is radiating heat. The cold Red Stripe we are drinking couldn't taste any better. After a long, late-afternoon swim in the bathwater-warm ocean, we are ready for some good Jamaican food.

This is the place the locals call "de palm tree." Not your typical tourist trap, it's a hole in the wall, a well-kept secret. Wanting to do as the Romans do, we order ackee and salt fish -- the Jamaican national dish. They are out. No worries. We go for another traditional fish preparation, the escovitch fish. Also out. Likewise the delicious-sounding hearts of palm salad with avocado.

Stateside, this sort of thing would prompt many a diner to pitch a fit, but here it's hard to get worked up about anything. So much easier to go with the flow. It's divine providence in the end, because what we get, a whole red snapper, is the best thing we've eaten in recent memory. Fleshy, moist fish accompanied by stewed okra and tomatoes, the dish has enough heat to keep the squat brown glass Red Stripe bottle close at hand.

Eating whole fish does require some picking around bones, but the flavor payoff is worth it. Besides, you'd be well advised to start with the jerk chicken wings, and you're gonna make an even bigger mess of yourself with those. You won't care. Even if you're Miss Prim and Proper in your regular life, here you'll lick your fingers.

It was a friend of ours who inspired this little vacay. He escapes to Jamaica for a week or two several times a year. When asked how he pulls that off, he replies, "Necessity." A few months away from the island and he's as tense as a rubber band about to break. Unconsciously flicking his pocketknife nonstop, glowering, he mutters under his breath, "I need a vacation." He returns all loosey-goosey, brown and happy.

If you could use a dose of those good vibes, but a Jamaican vacation just isn't practical right now (the private jet grounded for repairs again?), see if you can't at least make it most of the way to Olivette. There you'll find a great little Jamaican restaurant in a strip mall. If you're too broke for a break from reality, we recommend a break with reality. Just have a couple of Red Stripes and stare out the window long and hard, until the streetlamp reflecting off the snow-covered parking lot starts to look like moonlight reflecting off a white sand beach.

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