So this is a little follow on from my last post about my adventuring around Old San Juan. At the end of the post you might have noticed I referred to a little treasure I had uncovered that I felt required a whole post all to itself. Well, as promised here it is… and so without further ado I introduce you to Santaella.
I could go on and on about how divine the food in Puerto Rico was and we experienced many amazing food spots offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, it would be so tricky for me to place a finger on any one of them and entitle them a ‘favourite’. Having said that, Christian and I have a running rule that whenever we explore a new city we must choose at least one fine dining experience. Any excuse to get myself into a nice dress and a sparkly pair of heels huh?! On this particular occasion and on this particular trip the winner was Santaella.
Now, for anyone that knows me well, they’ll know I’m an absolute sucker for any place that has lots of plants and green. I’d live in a conservatory if I could, surrounded by ferns and flowers. And so, when I saw the interior of this restaurant, I knew this simply had to be the place we visited. In fact, it’s probably one of the best looking restaurants I’ve ever visited. If there was a way of transporting it from San Juan into my future house one day, I would definitely do just that (that’s inclusive of the bar). I’m not usually the type to judge a book by its cover or indeed a restaurant by its decor but on this occasion I raise my hand to admit: “yeah I totally did that”.
When we first stepped into the restaurant it immediately struck me how much it looked EXACTLY like how all the photos had promised, if not better. It was an absolutely stunning space with perfect lighting and ambience. Initally, we were hoping to grab a drink at the bar to partake in a small tipple before our food-fest began, but unfortunately it was too packed and so we went to sit straight at the table. This wasn’t a problem though as it was loud enough to feel like you’re in a place of genuine hustle and bustle but quiet enough to converse with each other without having to reach for your megaphone. A perfect combination. There were a lot of tables on the restaurant floor BUT despite the quantity everything was arranged to perfection and no view of the interior was blocked or compromised. Sometimes you can visit beautiful restaurants but be placed behind an impolite pillar that blocks all views of anything but the toilet door. By pillar, I was referring to the tall concrete kind as opposed to a rude reference to some douche blocking the view…
Santaella is a modern take on classic Puerto Rican dining headed up by the fantastic food magician Jose Santaella. As an international chef, Jose Santaella infuses the menu with energy and each dish encompasses a real flavour cocktail to take your palette by surpise. There wasn’t anything on the menu I didn’t want to order, but my waistline informed me it wasn’t a good idea. Please read all about Jose Santaella here. He looks trustworthy to me, some say “Don’t trust a skinny chef”; I say “Don’t trust a chef that doesn’t smile”, you heard it here first.
So, I’d heard the cocktail choices were exquisite and they were as wonderful as I had hoped. As well as a menu thick with variety, I do love a great looking cocktail. A sure fire way of knowing if cocktails look good is when you find yourself wandering over to another table to ask “What the heck did you order, you’re drinking out of a gold pineapple!”.
Clearly the mixologist’s reputation precedes him because the bar was heaving the entire time we were at Santaella. So, next time I visit (and I most certainly will visit again…) I think I’m going to make my booking a couple of hours earlier so I can watch the magic happen from the bar itself.
Crispy Salmon and Sole Tartare – with avocado and quail egg, pimento d’espelette mayo, phyllo
‘Morcilla’ Blood Sausage Curlers – with Puerto Rican ‘pique’ dip
Baby Octopus Casserole – with chorizo and chickpeas
Crisp Whole Red Snapper – with herb chimichurri and ‘tostones’
Veal Cheeks – in creole fricassee over root vegetable puree
Well, that all went down nicely! This was far from the end though considering we had pretty much everything from the dessert menu…
(clearly giggling from the sugar rush)
There we have it! Our spectacular extravaganza at Santaella! I’m not usually one for repeat experiences, especially in the fine dining realm, however in the case of this culinary treasure I’m willing to make an exception. So, Santaella… we’ll be back!