San Juan, Puerto Rico

Happy Almost-Spring food blogging family!  I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached my limit with this cold whether.  Thankfully I had a quick four-day respite from the cold in the beginning of the month when we went to Puerto Rico, or else I think I’d literally be insane.  I’m going to try and pass along the tropical  vibes by going into detail about all the incredible food we enjoyed while we were down there.  Just imagine you were there and you’ll feel better!

Matt and I had to go down to Puerto Rico this month to get started on wedding planning!  That’s right, if you didn’t already know we’re getting married in PUERTO RICO!  We wanted to go down to see the venue and meet with vendors, and hopefully get a lot of work done.  Our first thought when arriving at the resort: “Why don’t we do this more often??!” Seriously, flights are like $250 and everything is so cheap down there.  Think $2 for a beer cheap.  And the resort is just beautiful.  We’re having our wedding at La Concha Resort; it’s beaches and pools are just so perfect and gorgeous.  We hit the pool immediately and I was feeling utterly relaxed in about 5 minutes.

After we checked into our room and showered we were ready to find something to eat!  Of course whenever I travel I need to eat whatever signature dish that city brags the most about, which means we had to find some mofongo!  For those of who who may not know, mofongo is seasoned and mashed plantains topped with some sort of meat or seafood.  And they’ve got it everywhere down there.  Our resort is in the Condado neighborhood which had a lot of little cheap places to grab something quick to eat, so we settled for Orozco’s Restaurant which is across the street from the resort.  At first I was worried that we were in a “touristy” area and that we wouldn’t be getting good authentic Puerto Rican food, but my final verdict is that those restaurants were just as good as anywhere else we tried!  I ordered the shrimp mofongo and it turned out to be a delicious and tasty lunch, and we thoroughly enjoyed it sitting in the sun and throwing a couple mojitos back.

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Actually, what we experienced in San Juan was quite interesting.  I spent the first couple days trying to ask any locals we met where we could find the best and most authentic food, and their answers surprised me!  They seemed confused at the notion that the touristy areas would be lacking in good restaurants; many people’s response was that since Puerto Rico relies on tourism so heavily those restaurants work hard at keeping their visitors happy!  One person we asked said, “but all the food is good!” when I asked where we should go to avoid the bland food targeted to hungry and inexperienced tourists.  And it appeared to be true; everywhere we ate it seemed to comprise of both locals and tourists alike and the quality and flavor was generally good!  What a pleasant surprise!  Because theres nothing I hate more than wasting money at an overpriced tourist trap.

Anywho, after the mofongo I found that I was pretty full for the rest of the day.  Matt and just started walking and walking in the search for food/alcohol but I was so full already I could hardly eat!  We stumbled across a food truck at around 7 PM that seemed to be serving Mexican food with a seating area, called Vagon, and since we needed to get a drink we sat down and ordered some fish tacos.  Literally I’ve never seen such large fish tacos.  I could only take a bite of one before I had to give the rest to Matt!  The fish was battered and fried and they were covered with a  creamy slaw.  So we sat and drank our coronas and people-watched… there were lots of young teenagers just hanging out.  It was so pleasant just sitting in the warmth and just soaking up the enjoyment.

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After Vagon we thought we would go find a real dinner, but I already knew that wasn’t happening because I was so stuffed.  So we just kept walking until we saw lights up ahead and the thumping bass of salsa music.  Before we knew it we were in a plaza-like area with a large open space and tons of bars and restaurants with people pouring out of them listening to the music and dancing.  Heck yes!  We discovered that the area was Plaza Del Mercado and I definitely recommend it if you’re down there on a Saturday night.  What fun!  After a few beers we were salsa-ing with the rest of them. Oh! and most importantly, you can take drinks with you from one place to the next as long as they’re in plastic cups!  So Matt and I had a long night bar hopping and was the latest we’ve stayed out in a while.

The next morning we felt surprisingly good (as least I did, not too sure about Matt).  We wanted to explore Old San Juan so we decided to rent bikes and bike our way there.  We stopped for a breakfast across the street at Pinky’s, which I definitely recommend you go to for their awesomely huge breakfasts.  I ordered a monstrosity of a ham egg and cheese sammy which Matt ordered a breakfast burrito, and ohmigod I was full for the rest of the day.  Good thing we were bike riding and burned off about 1/8 of these calories.

Seriously, Old San Juan is so gorgeous.  Its quaint, pastel-colored buildings remind you of Spain (obviously, the Spaniards built it).  There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and cafes, and unlike other city centers I’ve been to, it’s clean and not swamped with crowds.  Our wedding planner recommended Barrachina to get pina coladas, as Barrachina is reportedly the birthplace of this awesome drink.  And I’m so glad we went!  As expected, the pina coladas were awesome — so creamy and sweet.  And we sat in their partially-outdoor courtyard in the back which is filled with palm leaves, a fountain, and even had some parrots in cages!  We decided to order an entree to split between the two of us and got, you guessed it, more mofongo!  I wanted to see how it compared to the one we had the day before.  I actually liked the first mofongo more, although this one wasn’t bad either.  The plantains just weren’t as flavorful.  However, the ambiance and pina coladas were totally on point.  I could go for one of them right now.

We actually decided to go back to Plaza del Mercado for dinner that night because we wanted somewhere close and we had to be up early the next day, and we had so much fun there the night before!  It was noticeably more subdued on a Sunday night, but still people were eating dinner on the outdoor patios and sitting around listening to music.  We decided on a place called Chicharron, because we had noticed it the day before because it had been packed.  It wasn’t rated too good on foursquare, but we decided to try it anyways. The food here was pretty good, we ordered the octopus as an appetizer and I got a half-chicken in guava sauce with rice and beans, and Matt got the flank steak.  I loved the slightly-sweet guava sauce in combination with the savory rice and chicken, and I think Matt enjoyed his steak as well.  The only thing that really sucked about this place was the service.  It was pretty bad.  It was clear they were busy in the beginning so I was fine with waiting to order and getting our first drinks, but once it emptied out I was like WTF is going on?  Seriously I think we were waiting at least 30 minutes for our second round of drinks.  And I think it took about 20 minutes to get our appetizer and about 20 minutes after that to get our food.  I know we were on “island time” but I’m pretty sure their service just sucked.  Since we waited so long for the food I couldn’t eat as much, so I could only eat about half of my meal.  Good thing too, because the kitties needed it!  There are so many stray cats, wandering around diner’s legs and begging for food.  Their heads and shoulders looked emaciated but their bellies were huge, it was heartbreaking!  So we were feeding them the entire time, and then once we were done I packed up my chicken to-go and we went wandering in search of the strays.  I ended up leaving the box open on the sidewalk, and when we came back about 30 minutes later it was pretty much all gone.  The poor starving babies!

The following day was jam packed with wedding tasks, which I won’t bore you with.  Let me just say that the food at my wedding is going to be LIT.

We decided that that night we would have a really fancy, nice dinner to celebrate.  Our planner recommended Marmalade Restaurant and Wine Bar in Old San Juan for a upscale dining experience, which we decided to try out due to everyone raving about their 4-6 course meals with wine pairings.  Guys, listen, because I’m not just saying this.  This was the best single meal I have ever had.  I’m not even exaggerating.  I cannot think of one meal that I’ve had that was more enjoyable than this one.  From start to finish the experience was exceptional.  I’m not going to lie, this place is pricey.  I think it ended up being about $300 for two people, but for me it was worth every penny (even though Matt paid…. Thanks babe!)  We chose the four course option, and the chef/owner is also the sommelier and expertly pairs each course with the perfect complimentary wine.

I started with the jamon iberico which is honey mustard grilled pears with bleu cheese, arugula, and thinly-sliced ham, and paired with a pino noir.  Good god.  The salty ham and the slightly sweet pears, with the salty tang of the bleu cheese and peppery arugula was perfect with the peppery pino noir.  Each bite hit your taste buds in a different way depending on the wine-food ratio.  Matt got the “popcorn shrimp” which is not popcorn shrimp as you would think about it as, but tequila grilled shrimp with ancho-spiced popcorn on the side.  IMG_5673IMG_5674

The first course was followed by secondi and I got Truffle Pappardelle pasta and Matt got the Lobster Risotto.  And again, everything was perfect.  My pasta had the perfect balance of truffle, and Matt’s risotto was flavorful and had huge chunks of lobster.  I don’t feel like I need to try and describe it any more than that.  If that doesn’t sound amazing as is then there’s no hope for you.

My entree was the Sea Bass on green bamboo rice, with pineapple ginger relish and a coconut water and lime foam.  Wow.  The seabass was perfectly seared and was salty and savory, and then the pops of ginger, pineapple, and lime and smoothed over with a faint coconut note.  It was the best fish I’ve ever had.  It was paired with a white wine that had the same citrusy pop that amplified everything in the dish.  Matt got the Beef Tenderloin which was topped with fried onions and arugula.

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Finally, for dessert I got the Salted Caramel “Popcorn” Creme Brûlée, paired with Frangelico Champagne, and Matt got the Banana and Butterscotch Bread Pudding paired with an aged rum.  The Frangelico Champagne was out-of-this-world, and picked up on the nutty hazelnut flavor in the peanut butter icecream and popcorn on top of the brûlée.  Seriously why haven’t I thought of putting Frangelico in champagne before?  I urge you to try it.  And the rum that Matt’s bread pudding was paired with was the same that was in the bread pudding, so how could you go wrong?

I give Marmalade 5/5 stars.  Which has only ever happened once before, so it’s kind of a big deal.

Marmalade was the last good meal we had while in PR.  The following day was our flight and we just snacked in the hotel restaurants and stayed local.  We had to check out of our room early, and it was raining, so we slept in covered lawn chairs for a large portion of the day.

Now you’ve pretty much gotten the sense of how much weight I gained when I was in Puerto Rico a few weeks ago.  Now I’m hooked and am going to have to make this an annual trip!  Stay tuned 🙂

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