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Mar 22, 2009 03:25 AM

3 Nights in San Juan

Just returned from San Juan, spent 3 nights.

The last night we were there I had one of the most memorable dining experiences I've ever had. Went to Marmalade in Old San Juan. The setting was exquisite, very arty and hip. Our server (and she was a sweetie) suggested the 5 course tasting menu, 2 apps, a small serving of their signature White Bean Soup, a main course and a dessert. She really sold the White Bean soup and that sold us on the tasting menu, a great choice.
My apps were a grilled pear with proscuitto and goat cheese which was excellent with a high quality of proscuitto. My second app was a Maine Lobster risotto which was rich and satisfying. The White Bean Soup (something I would have never ordered) was extraordinary, silky smooth and smokey with a hint of pancetta, a must try. My main course was a melt in your mouth Beef Tenderloin with a mushroom cabernet reduction sauce. Alas, the dessert was mearly very good but don't let that stop you from trying Marmalade, and get the soup !

The first night we went to Pikayo. The setting was gorgeous, the service exemplary and the food very good...very good but it did not "wow" me. Had a root vegetable soup. a special, and was hearty and flavorful. The veal piccata had a hint of Asian flavor. For dessert I had a tasting of 2 small souffle's, cheese and chocolate.. Again all very good but I was not knocked out.

The middle night we were just looking for something simple and found it within walking distance of our Hotel (Marriott Resort in Condido) It was an Argentinean Grill called (I believe) Ummo. The bar was lively and they offer dining al fresco. Got a grilled NY Sirloin, cooked to perfection. A good steak at a good price

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  1. Rather than start a new thread, I thought I'd just add to this one, having just returned from a week in San Juan.

    The highlight of the trip was my partner's birthday dinner at Pikayo. We both ordered the tasting menu with wine pairing and we were really wowed. The only miss was the amuse bouche - a lightly fried sphere of cheese in a pool of guava sauce. After that, though, came the most incredible seared scallops with a sprinkling of prosciutto paired with a lovely pinot grigio. The fois gras with truffled honey and plantain chip was terrific with a not-too-sweet muscadet. The fish course was halibut with a very simple but delicious tomato reduction and tapenade. We ate a lot of fish in San Juan - more about that in a moment - and this was far and away the best-prepared dish either of us had over the course of the week. The tasting menu's meat course was a tournedos with asparagus and bearnaise. Simple and beautiful with a robust tempranillo. Dessert was the aforementioned pair of souffles, paired with a port, that were light and the perfect end to the meal. Well, almost end: discovering it was my partner's birthday, our waiter brought us a fantastic cheese flan - with candle - to enjoy with our final glass of good aged rum! NB: Pikayo is not a casual spot, and you should pack something nice (we wore suits and were not overdressed) if you plan to dine there.

    Our second favorite restaurant in San Juan was probably KOCO at the El San Juan. We stayed at the Intercontinental, which is great but has dreadful dining choices, so several times walked down the beach a few minutes to the ESJ. KOCO has a beautiful dining room, great service, and some very good fish.

    The other place at ESJ that we enjoyed was Brother Jimmy's, the BBQ joint on the roof. There's nothing Puerto Rican about it (save for the cold Medalla Light they have on tap), but the food is good and well-priced for the tourist strip.

    For lunch, we twice ate at El Jibarito in Old San Juan. The menu is written out by hand each morning and photocopied, and the atmosphere feels like a cheap diner, but the food is about as close as you'll get to homemade Puerto Rican. If you go, say a little prayer to Santa Maria that they might have pernil - roast pork - on the menu.

    The other dinner spot we tried was Aguaviva in Old San Juan, the popular fish restaurant owned by the same people who run Parrot Club, Dragonfly, and KOCO at the ESJ. The ceviche was solid, but unmemorable. My entree of grilled dorado was overcooked, and my partner's fish was a deep fried monstrosity served on its back and stuffed with heavy, flavorless lobster mofongo. The restaurant's saving grace was the server who just went ahead and refilled my glass every time my partner ordered another glass of wine!

    One other eating note: we were very excited to try the lauded kioskos in Luquillo, but what all the guidebooks failed to mention is that most of them are open only on the weekends. We drove all the way out there on a Monday only to discover mostly-shuttered shacks.

    3 Replies
    1. re: geryonNYC

      Pikayo...YUMMMMM the best in San Juan...Koko pretty good too

      1. re: geryonNYC

        Our layover in SJ just went from 2 hours to 5 hours. Anything you'd rec for a lunchtime layover?

        1. re: amysuehere

          Pamela's at Numero Uno Guest House in Ocean Park. DIVINE for lunch Amy...we did it once ..

      2. THANK YOU! These posts are awesome. You've just placed Marmalade on my "to-eat" list. Could you give me a price range for Marmalade and Pikayo? What's the cost of the five-course tasting menu? If it's anything like NY prices, I've got to start saving up now. ;)

        Oh, also, any feedback on Dragonfly? Was thinking I'd head there for late night snacks and & drinks after our rainforest day.

        2 Replies
        1. re: middyboo

          Hope I'm not too late with this...Mamalade was in the $65 range..Pykyo about $20 more...I'm from Boston so I thought it reasonable, if you're from NY it will seem like a real bargin :-)

          1. re: bluesjack

            Nope, not too late. $65 is a deal for 5 courses. I leave tomorrow! So excited. I promise to report back.