Old San Juan is quite a surprise. For those of you who haven’t been, it’s the second oldest city in the Americas dating back to 1521. It’s filled with history and vividly colored buildings on blue cobblestoned streets. Equally surprising is Marmalade Restaurant and Lounge at 317 Fortaleza, in the old city. It is the No. 1 restaurant on the entire island of Puerto Rico according to Trip Advisor’s reviewers, and after a dinner there last week, we can happily sing its praises, as well.
The restaurant is an anomaly here: It looks like an exotic night club with diaphanous curtains dividing the high-ceilinged space into more intimate areas. The modernist look separates Marmalade from anywhere else in the blue cobblestoned city. But what really separates Marmalade is its menu and a standard of cooking that is simply outstanding.
Chef Peter Schintler is a charming presence in the restaurant as well as in the kitchen. The Iowa native has a background that is next to none: He has worked at Le Cirque in New York City, Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in England, and La Contea in Italy. He came to Puerto Rico to consult and stayed on to open Marmalade. Guidebooks will tell you that there’s an emphasis on vegetarian and vegan cuisines here but you’d hardly know it from the tasting menus offered.
Priced at $79 for six courses, $69 for five, and $59 for four, with generous wine parings at $42, $35, and $25, respectively, it’s a trove of meats and fish in the most original recipes. Our four tastings were chosen by a knowledgeable server named Craig. For starters, candy stripe beets with a blood orange vinaigrette arrived beautifully plated. House-made pasta made its appearance featuring a rabbit ragu. Astonishingly, one of the servers apparently raises the rabbits for the dish. A stellar seafood course paired sausage, clams, and mahi mahi in a spicy broth. But the stand-out item, and the one the restaurant shared with The Daily Meal, is Schintler’s White Bean Soup.
Arriving at the table with a generous topping of shaved truffles, this sumptuous offering gets its smoky, creamy flavor from the large amount of bacon in its preparation. There’s even something called “bacon dust” involved here, which is made by two slices of bacon being pulverized in the food processor. Top this one off with some black truffle oil and chives, and dip right in. The recipe provided below is for a large quantity of soup. If you must, you can certainly halve the recipe; although you won’t want to. You’ll understand immediately why Marmalade is a must-stop on any trip to Puerto Rico.
Check out Schintler's White Bean Soup recipe here.