A series of dining experiences on the island of Puerto Rico in San Juan may result in your Valentine warming to you under the sun and stars, by the sea and sand, adding more inspiration to a good relationship.
San Juan’s chic Condado district provides posh shops like Ferragamo and Cartier—which are useful for spontaneous gift purchases—to stroll through with leisured fashion while scoping out the restaurant scene.
La Vista Island Grill
At the San Juan Marriott Resort, which is located right on the beach in Condado, I recently had a Nuevo Latino tasting dinner at La Vista Island Grill, where the affable, Le Cordon Bleu-trained, Ernie Reyes Oliver is executive chef.
I supped inside a room with Caribbean blue and slate grey walls, lined with high-hung mirrors for an expansive effect and view. Nevertheless, dining under the stars is also an option.
Chef Ernie’s trio of Nuevo Latino appetizer creations included a new take on the Puerto Rican standard mofongo (mashed plantains with stuffing), which is infused with chorizo and lightly drizzled with guava for presentation, local bacalao (salted cod) croquettes, and pastille flour dumplings.
The unifying theme of these appetizers was the use of micro greens. In fact, I met Julian Cable-Treadwell, who had originally hired Chef Ernie in part because he brought his own micro greens when he came to prepare a meal as part of his interview.
The yucca fries served with the Chilean sea bass with spinach and garlic, gave the appearance of French fries, but with a lighter taste. A beef empanada with paratha flour and chimichurri sauce (made with parsley, shallot, garlic, rice wine vinegar and olive oil) is a fresh representation, the paratha flour an original touch.
Thematically, the chocolate bomb suits Valentine’s—and I can attest that it was dense and dark—but the mango cheesecake is replete with fruit, and it is astonishingly light for a cheesecake.
As an aside, also in keeping with a Valentine’s theme, is the San Juan Marriott’s Red Coral Lounge, which takes its name from the three large coral pieces that greet visitors upon entering the San Juan Marriott Resort.
La Vista Island Grill
San Juan Marriott Resort
1309 Avenida Ashford
San Juan, P.R.
Iron Chef competitor Roberto Trevino’s Budatai is located just a few blocks away in a two-story art deco townhouse.
There is a deep burgundy and red décor artfully strewn, with silk-lined walls, Buddha statutes, soft lights, and contemporary Asian furniture overlooking Condado’s equivalent to Fifth Avenue. In this swankily formed Valentine’s color scheme, Trevino’s forward-thinking menu is one part Asian and one part Latino spices.
Perhaps my favorite feature of Budatai—which can certainly be romance enhancing —are Los Dim Sum.
By definition, dim sum are designed to be shared—and it would certainly be an act of love to share some of these.
There is the roasted duck blinis with wasabi crème fraiche, eggrolls de butifarra con chimi-ponzu (a savory pork sausage), and pork dumpling guisados served with shaved truffles based in plantains—a unique spin on the Puerto Rican staple.
There are also Kurobuto (pork belly) profiteroles with salted caramel sauce that made us forget about the ice cream and chocolate sauce version; they would, even on Valentine’s Day.
Sides such as edamame magic mushrooms (shitake, morel and oyster) are also suitable for sharing, and the lo mein de chicharron de pollo (the haute version of the hoot childhood favorite) rounded out the plates.
For the record, the duck croquettes with Peking sauce may have ruined me forever for my beloved salmon croquettes. A note to true wasabi fans and all chocolate Valentine’s fans: Trevino’s chocolate cake has a touch of wasabi for a slight additional kick.
Roberto Trevino’s Budatai
1056 Avenida Ashford
San Juan, P.R.
Bodegas Compostela Vinos, Tapas y Comidas—with some 10,000 bottles—is reputed to have the best wine cellar in Puerto Rico.
Plum-colored walls are strewn with vibrant abstract art. The wine theme is readily apparent upon arrival at the Galician restaurant, which has a glass-covered floor of wine corks at the entrance, a unique décor feature.
This tapas-style restaurant has over 50 dishes to choose from!
One of the exceptional tapas included an octopus Carpaccio with sundried tomatoes and aged Parmesan dressed in Puesole olive oil.
As a Mediterranean, I am more used to the chewy-textured version of octopus, yet these razor-thin slices were a surprise that my beloved Greek grandfather would never have contemplated.
Other tapas included lamb shoulder confit with potato gratin—giving French rillettes serious competition. And the main course of crispy suckling pig brought out a sigh in diners of my party, who remarked on the exceptionally tender meat beneath the savory sheath.
Notwithstanding the traditional Spanish flan, the perennial Valentine’s favorite chocolate soufflé and Bodegas Compostela’s blueberry hazelnut tart with vanilla ice cream are both swoon-worthy.
These beautiful spaces, with a true focus upon the wining and dining experience, will ensure a memorable romantic experience.
Vinos, Tapas y Comidas
106 Avenida Condado
San Juan, P.R.
Demetra M. Pappas writes about music, theater, travel, and dining for various publications.
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