In October, after I closed out a busy summer season of events, my husband told me to pack my bags for a long weekend in Puerto Rico. He needed to be in San Juan for some business meetings and thought if I joined him, I’d get to decompress after months without a break. Truthfully, Puerto Rico wasn’t on my priority list of travel destinations, and I had a thousand things to do around the house, but the promise of pool time and a few mojitos was enough to convince me to join him.
So I packed my bags… And I am so glad I did. San Juan is a wonderful city! It offers everything you want in a city – hip hotels, interesting restaurants and luxury shopping – along with a gorgeous oceanside setting. We stayed in the Condado district at La Concha, and the hotel in every way surpassed my expectations. I’m not sure what I expected from a hotel in downtown San Juan, but it didn’t include lounge chairs in the form of curtained beds and infinity pools dropping off into sandy beaches.
I was reluctant to do anything but hang by the pool, but my husband came back from his meetings ready for a nice dinner out. Our first night a business associate directed us to Budatai. After googling it quickly, I learned that this was Chef Roberto Trevino’s restaurant. Any of you fellow Iron Chef addicts know he had the guts to take on Mario Batali and that his more than decent performance won him the chance to compete to become this year’s Next Iron Chef. Chef Trevino’s “Nuevo Latino” cuisine is a delicious fusion of Latin and Asian flavors and techniques. And it is not to be missed. We loved the sushi and couldn’t resist trying the “La Rocca” roll, as La Rocca happens to be my maiden name. It featured rock shrimp tempura, tobiko and a wonderful creamy smoky sauce that gave the sushi some Latin flavor and heat. Other favorite dishes included truffle infused pork dumplings and the seared day boat scallopswith Budatai noodles pictured below.
The next day my husband needed to meet someone in Old San Juan, and he dragged me along with him. I had forgotten about Old San Juan. Old San Juan is rich with history, and it happens to be the oldest settlement within the U.S. territories. It also is home to one of our National Parks – the San Juan National Historic Site -- which includes Forts San Cristbal, San Felipe del Morro, and San Juan de la Cruz. These incredible forts date back to 1539 and are named on the World Heritage List as cultural wonders of the world.
For those of you who haven’t been to Old San Juan, it’s a very narrow island off the north coast of Puerto Rico. It’s a bit like a European version of Georgetown, but much older. The streets are narrow and paved with old cobblestones. And like Georgetown, the streets are filled with storefronts, cafes, bars and rowhouses painted in bright colors that just want to make you smile. While walking the city streets, I couldn’t stop looking at doors. I know that sounds strange, but the doors of the homes in Old San Juan are just beautiful. There is something about the juxtaposition of the old European architectural details with what I consider to be modern and Caribbean-style color combinations that is just so inspiring. See for yourself below!