Treats and Feasts in Puerto Rico

Staff Writer
Exploring the regional cuisine delights of San Juan, Puerto Rico
Michael Andre Adams
Sea bass ratatouille from Yantar Restaurant Bar in San Juan.

Off With the Snow and On to San Juan!

Right about now would be the perfect time to ditch the snow and do a mad dash to a Caribbean island where no passport is required and the warm weather is balmy, breezy, and beautiful.

Enter San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Checking In

No passport required means you don’t have to clear customs. With carry-on luggage in tow, you can easily get from the airport to the front desk of the San Juan Marriot Resort & Stellaris Casino (5.1 miles away in the Condado Beach district of Old San Juan), within 30-minutes of your flight’s landing. 

Recently renovated to an all-new, modern-day, sexy-chic standard of décor, the 21-story beachfront resort offers 513 rooms (most of, not all with balconies), 12 suites, and a concierge floor serving breakfast daily. To help you keep that beach beautiful look, the lower-level fitness center offers a plethora of up-to-date equipment comparable with any modern day fitness clubs By day, it’s beach galore, with chairs and chaises, sun and fun provided, followed by lively, adult-only fun in the 24-hour casino by night.

All Things Food

The food-lover in you will take pure delight in Puerto Rico’s fusion of cuisine. Take for instance the culinary excellence of Jan Erichsen, executive chef at La Vista — the signature restaurant at the San Juan Marriott. Erichsen, a familiar face around Germany and the Marriott brand, brings a “something local” to the locals of Puerto Rico, as well as U.S. citizens from the mainland, with a menu he describes as “international seafood and steaks, with a Puerto Rican influence.”

  • The “hot list” at La Vista begins with crispy, tender fried calamari ($11) as an appetizer. Entrée favorites include luscious, slowly-braised French-style beef short ribs ($29) with an accompanying cabernet sauvignon sauce, a citrus seafood risotto ($28) laden with chorizo and a host of goodies from the sea that Erichsen refers to as the “new definition of paella,” and flat iron steak ($30) from the grill in a generous 10-ounce portion. Also not to be missed is his octopus carpaccio from the appetizer menu and the sea bass entrée.
  • Just off the hotel lobby — where you can enjoy a refreshingly sweet “Dragonberry Mojito” with live local entertainment as a night cap, or while enjoying a few pieces of sushi from the sushi bar off to the side — the Stellaris Casino offers another Asian treat: Chinese cuisine. Peking duck, noodles, and other Chinese favorites are served daily in the high-energy casino atmosphere where service is fast and the food is authentic.

Of the 123 restaurants within a short 15-minute walk from the resort, the latest project from chef Roberto Treviño — Bar Gitano is literally just steps away. With Treviño painted by locals as the “Iron Chef” of Puerto Rico, the place is packed with patrons seeking a taste of tender ribs in a sweet savory sauce, crispy egg rolls stuffed with chorizo, amazing fish tacos of a flaky but flavorful white fish, and a tender octopus that steals the show while lovely lady dances to live rumba music.

Another great option in a more elegant atmosphere is Yantar Restaurant Bar. Also within a short walk to and from the San Juan Marriott Resort, the fine dining atmosphere is sexy and elegant with a relaxing blue overtone that soothes the soul from the moment you enter. Highlights include a sea bass ratatouille, pan sautéed to perfection with chunks of moist, buttery white fish, a ratatouille of vegetables and a cassava mash that was not nearly as dense as a traditional potato mash but tremendously as flavorful, if not more. Yantar Restaurant Bar has no website, just a page on Facebook.

The Fun Stuff

A great way to explore the island of San Juan is to take a tour with one of the many tour operators available through the resort’s concierge. Or for the more adventurous at heart, it may be just as easy to rent a car and get a map. With the addition of GPS navigation, either should be a cinch.

Delve into the local culture right there in San Juan with a tour along the northeastern coast in an area called Loíza. Rich in food and culture of African descendants, the area includes lots of prepared food vendors with miles of beautiful beach to bike or hike on parallel paths or sun bathe in the sand.

For a breathtakingly beautiful day of hiking in the only rainforest found in the U.S. territories, take a tour up to Cueca la Ventana. If you prefer to ride, Hacienda Campirico and Ecoquest Tours will show you a morning of zip-lining from tree to tree, with lunch in the middle, followed by an exhilarating afternoon drudging through hills of mud, dust, and dirt on a Honda TRX500 ATV.

 

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