I recently took a trip with my wife and our 2 best friends to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Our 1st dinner was @ Pikayo, which is housed inside one of the Citys museums. I could describe each and every dish but I will spare the details. There were 2 things that I remembered the most. 1st the good: The wine list was fabulous and not at all over priced. We had a 2001 Quinta do Vale Meao for $88. I believe the retail price for this wine is roughly $55 so not the raunchy mark ups you see in other cities. Now the mediocre: The food was decent to good with nothing that I honestly say stood out as spectacular. The service and setting was wonderful. Yet each and every course would fall just short. The next day we went for lunch to a restaurant across the street from the Intercontinental in a strip mall called Mi Casitas. We had quite possibly or most memorable meal. 2 of us had the mixed seafood Monfongo, 1 Steak Monfongo and 1 Cuban sandwich. Each was absolutely delicious and full of flavors and very big portions. The Seafood Monfongo was a combination of Shrimp, Red Snapper and Octopus. The steak, was, just that, steak with traditional Monfongo. The Cuban sandwich was a perfectly cooked sandwich not too full of leftover meats and sub par melted cheese. The bread was perfectly toasted and all was the perfect temperature. And the coconut flan
TO DIE FOR!!! And the price was just right. My friend and I each had 2 beers while our wives each had 1 lemonade. I think our total bill including tip was $45.
That night we went to Chayote. This was without question the best meal we had in terms of food quality, preparation, and quality. However the service was close to nonexistent. We had appetizers that included the namesake Chayote, which was delicious, the Angus tenderloin tartar 9again delicious), the fried oyster Caesar salad, and I cannot remember the other. Our wives had the Tuna and the Sea Bass. Each was perfectly cooked and large in portion. My friend and I had the Veal Chop atop a black truffle studded goat cheese risotto with a cranberry compote on the perimeter. The chop was a very good size and the risotto perfectly cooked. I could have put that dish on any menu in NYC to rave reviews. This is also one of my only criticisms (along with the service), and that it is probably not as ethnic as one would want when eating in Puerto Rico. However one cannot doubt the quality of the food here. It IS top notch!
Our final night found us doing a sort of pub-crawl type of dinner. We went to Aquaviva, Parrot Club and Baru. At each restaurant we had different dishes and without question Parrot Club was the best. From the drinks to the bacalaitos (sp?), everything was delicious. Even getting the check was a delight, compared with a lot of the other places. Aquaviva was good but not memorable. My guess is that of the other restaurants in this ownership group, it will be the casualty. Baru was the biggest winner and the biggest loser. The inside was everything we were expecting from an Old San Juan establishment. The drinks were fantastic. The service was above average. And the food was well, really quite good except for the fact that there was SOOOOO much salt in each of the dishes it made it impossible to eat. I do not mind salt in my food, but this was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The salt levels were astounding. Each one of the dishes (escargot in a creamy shitake mushroom sauce, seared sea scallops in a curry sauce, and a seafood type risotto) was so laden with salt that it made it impossible to eat more than 1 or 2 bites. Yet each one was so promising. Hopefully the regular chef had the night off and this was a one-off experience. We loved the place except !
And finally 3 places worth mentioning. The Golden Bagel (in the same strip mall as Mi Casitas) that had the best coffee of our trip, bar none! However the service is also the worst. I highly suggest ordering your coffee at the counter and asking for a slice of the ham/cheese/egg torte warmed up. It was fabulous. 2nd was La Bombanera in Old San Juan. I believe it is one of the oldest restaurants on the Island. The coffee here is very good (and very strong) but the pastries were astounding. Definitely worth the ride into the Old City. And 3rd, my favorite find. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton (my company has a great corporate rate of $140 per night!). We did not order any food here (after finding out the breakfast buffet of stale eggs, sausage, bacon, et al, was $22.50, we knew) for the prices were way too steep. When my wife and I were in search of something to eat we stumbled upon a cart owned by Famous Willy. According to locals patronizing Willys cart, he has been coming to the same place for 15 years now. His cart was just to the east of the pool entrance of the Ritz. We had a steak sandwich and a chicken sandwich. Each had the works and at a grand total of $8 or less, was awesome! Save the $20 you would spend at the Ritz (for that matter, any of the hotels in the area) and go support the local economy. Willy makes a mean sandwich and is as genuine as the day is long (or when you are on vaca, short!).