Puerto Rico & St. Croix

This is just a quick commentary post about some of the tasty treats I encountered on a trip my wife and I took to Puerto Rico (Old San Juan) and St. Croix. My wife’s cousin was awesome to invite us to their destination wedding at a resort in St. Croix, so we made a mini-vacation out of it by doing a pit stop over in San Juan before puddle jumping to St. Croix for the nuptials.

OLD SAN JUAN

LUNCH

Our first food adventure was this lunch spot in Old San Juan called, uniquely enough, Cafe Puerto Rico. We started with an appetizer sampler, which included fried cheese (center top, below sipping sauces), corn sticks (left), fried chicken chunks (center bottom) and alcapurrias (right).

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The chicken was perfectly fried and juicy inside. The fried cheese was a bit dry, and had a consistency more like tofu than what you might expect from hot, fried cheese. The corn sticks were pretty much corn dog batter, but without the dog inside. The alcapurrias were delicious, but quite different from the version we had at Inti. There was still meat inside, but there was less mashed potato ball and more crunchy wrapper type material happening.

Then I had yellow rice with pork sausage, which came with sides of beans and fried plantains. The sausage was tender, hearty and bold-spiced. The rice was cooked to a nice al dente with not too much grainy texture. It was great, especially with the beans poured over it. The plantains were really special though. They were chunks that hat been squashed flat and then lightly battered before frying, so they had a crispy outside but a little softness and texture inside. Awesome.

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My wife had chicken mofongo. This is a mixture of starchy veggies (usually plantains and/or cassava) mashed up and formed into a bowl or pocket, and then topped or filled with pulled chicken and sauce. I though the chicken and mofongo itself were both dry, although tasty.

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DINNER

That night, we had a belated anniversary dinner at a really nice restaurant right across the street from our hotel, called Marmalade.

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This place is charging NYC prices but the food is worth every damn penny. Since we had a huge, starchy lunch, we opted to share an app, a pasta dish and dessert, while each ordering our own entree. Here’s what we had:

First was this nice beet salad (yes – the beet crazy is even happening in Puerto Rico, not just NYC), which was served carpaccio style with citrus, hearts of palm, goat cheese and micro-greens.

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Our waiter gave us a complimentary cup of this delicious white bean and truffle soup, which was dusted with pancetta crumbles. Very velvety and smooth, earthy and rich. I loved it.

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For our pasta, we tried the truffle pappardelle. This had a great flavor, but the texture ended up being a little bit lackluster, as the peppercorn and truffle bits that were embedded into the pasta dough ended up changing the tensile properties that you usually expect with a perfectly cooked pasta. Still delicious, in a perfectly suited marsala sauce to compliment the truffle and mushroom flavorings, but I think it would have been better with shaved truffle instead of truffle in the dough itself.

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Our entrees were amazing. My wife had the haddock cheeks, which came with fresh spring peas and a rosemary foam type of sauce. The portion size was generous, and the fish was cooked perfectly.

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My entree was the Berkshire pork cheeks. These were roasted to a perfect softness, and served with amazing spicy habanero grilled pineapple pieces. These were so great. I was expecting a lot of heat but the sweetness of the pineapple really rounded it out to a nice balance. I wasn’t crazy about the smear of BBQ flavored bean puree in the center of the plate, but otherwise this dish was fantastic.

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For dessert we shared a strawberry and rhubarb crumble that was topped with a nice scoop of fresh citrus ice cream, poppy seeds and some granola. This was nice, though I almost wish it was all served cold, as opposed to the hot strawberry and rhubarb compote and the cold ice cream. I realize that is out of the ordinary for something like this, but I think it may have worked better.

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A great meal, and excellent service. Even the drinks were awesome. My wife had an “Urban Hipster,” which was made with raw coconut pulp, pink guava yerba buena & Don Q Crystal, with a splash of ginger beer (left). It was nice and refreshing, as was my cocktail, the Jimi Hendrick’s. That was muddled mint and sliced jalapenos swimming in fresh cucumber juice, Hendrick’s gin and a squeeze of lime (right).

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COLD SNACK

The next day we found this hidden shave ice type joint that serves up these little plastic cups of goodness for only $0.75 each.

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They tasted like the bottom part of those Marino Italian ice cups, where all the ice crystals of sugary goodness settle in the freezing process. So freaking good… I had coconut, and my wife had strawberry. These hit the spot in the blazing heat.

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ST. CROIX

In St. Croix I only documented the rehearsal dinner food, and the wedding reception food, both of which were excellent. Let’s get right into it.

REHEARSAL DINNER

The rehearsal dinner was at a joint called Savant in Christiansted, St. Croix.

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The bride and groom had been there before, and we certainly trust their culinary opinions, so we knew we were in good hands.

We started with some beer-battered fish fritters and grilled baby squid. Both were great. The fish was nicely battered: crispy and light on the outside, and juicy and tender inside. The grilled squid had a great char flavor on them, and they were nicely seasoned.

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The place got really nice after the sun started to go down.

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I had the bacon wrapped pork chop for my entree. This was really frigging good. I was worried about the cooking temperature on this – concerned that it might be ruined it cooked through, yet bad if undercooked – but these guys nailed it. It was delicious and flavorful from end to end.

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My wife had a coconut and hazelnut crusted mahi mahi dish that was on special (along with several other mahi mahi dishes – I guess they needed to move the product). It was served with a spicy watermelon sauce. This was such a unique and delicious dish. Really well conceived and executed.

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She also had this nice looking blood orange based cocktail. very pretty:

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ASSORTED RESORT FOOD

Not really worth mentioning in depth here are some items we tried at the restaurant on site. Breakfast was a bit pricey and somewhat lame. The grits were flavorless, and the sandwich needed better bread. My wife’s eggs were decent (though overpriced):

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There was a really nice hot sauce that was spicy and mustard based, went well when mixed with mayo and eaten with french fries. Not sure if this was the same shit put into different, reusable bottles.

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A great drink was the banana colada. Really nicely done with ice cream. It was like a vanilla and banana milkshake with chocolate syrup and rum:

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WEDDING RECEPTION

This was a very good meal. I’ve been to lots of weddings where the food sucks, and I was a bit worried about that here because the lunch and dinner service were really REALLY slow and a bit lame on the food items (with the exception of the pulled pork slicers). But the restaurant at Renaissance Carambola Beach did an great job for the wedding, which is all-important for the couple.

The meal opened up with this really nice sundried tomato risotto, which was topped with pea puree, spicy saffron foam and a potato crisp. Everything here was perfect. Nicely balanced with spicy and sweet, and the rice was cooked expertly.

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The salad (not pictured) was nice too. Lightly dressed arugula and spinach, with beets of course, goat cheese, and a honey nut roasted shallot vinaigrette.

I had the petite filet with gorgonzola, which came with broccolini, carrots and mashed sweet potatoes. Petite is a misnomer here, as this baby was about 10-12oz. I was a happy man, as it was perfectly medium rare in the center with a great crust on the outside. Bravo!

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My wife had the pan seared Chilean sea bass with orange ginger sauce and crab risotto. This was tasty too, but a bit redundant with what tasted like a repeat of the appetizer risotto.

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Dessert was a passion fruit and key lime torte, served in a champagne flute like a tiramisu, parfait or deconstructed cake. It was nice! Not too heavy or sweet, and a good balance between acidity and sweetness.

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LOCAL BEER

A fun part of any trip for me is sampling the local beer selections. As I mentioned above, I tried the two Puerto Rican brews available to me at the lunch joint; Medalla and Magna. Both were solid, light and refreshing. Overall that was a very starchy meal, and very filling. This was okay by us since we had walked a shit-ton of miles that day just exploring Old San Juan, and working up a serious sweat in the sun. The two local beers were great to cool off with while we were eating:

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In St. Croix, there was a much better selection at the resort. I was ordering like a mad man just to try them all. Here’s a few:

Carib – light and crisp, and actually from Florida.

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Virgin Islands (St. John Brewers) Mango pale ale, and summer ale. Both were delightful, but the mango one really stood out as a favorite for beach style drinking. It was delicious.

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Blackbeard ale: contrast the light brews above with their stout. This was chocolately and sweet, without being too sweet or too strong to the point of boredom and uselessness. This was a great stout. I never thought I’d be into a stout while on a beach, but this is the exception.

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AIRPORT SNACKS

I love to try weird chips, sodas and snacks wherever I go. Sometimes they’re a hit, other times they’re a miss.

The big miss on this trip was the I Malta India malted soda type drink. It was bitter caramel flavored, very corn-ish and syrupy, with barley as well. Side note: this was made by the same brewing company as the Puerto Rican beers, which I liked. Hefty on the calories too. More than Coca Cola.

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My wife grabbed an assortment of chips as well. Aside from the chicharrones (not pictured) the other two standout items that were tasty were the garlic plantain chips and the yucca chips. The plantains tasted just how you’d imagine. Salty, crispy, starchy and with a good garlic flavor. They were great. The yucca chips were light and airy, but they had almost double the calories of regular potato chips. So good though. There’s a nice coconut soda in there as well. This was a big hit with me, since I love soda and coconut separately. The combination was greater than the sum of its parts.

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One nice bonus on the way home was the presence of a Carl’s Junior. I’d never had their food before, so this was a nice excuse to devour some. We tried the chicken strips, fries and the double burger. All pretty decent, but I am not sold on this stuff being any tastier than McDonalds, Wendy’s or Burger King. Glad I got to stuff my face though.

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Alright that’s it! Hope you enjoyed my vacation food photos. Half were with a real camera, and the other half were with a cell phone. Sorry, but you’ll just have to deal with it, you bastards.

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