A fresh taste of Puerto Rico
As soon as you enter the warmly lit, grand room of 1919, the fine-dining restaurant located inside Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, you just might forget you are in the Caribbean. That is, unless you happen to look out the window and see the Atlantic Ocean roaring just a few yards away.
During lunch, this view is welcome as you sit back in one of the roomy, leather-lined chairs and take in the Spanish Revival-meets-modern-lounge architecture of the restaurant. Perhaps you do this with a glass of sparkling wine and plate of tuna crudo at your fingertips, or a cup of coffee and delicate coconut panna cotta with pineapple gelée and caramel. Either way, it's a great way to spend the afternoon.
If nighttime is when you make your way to 1919, it will be too dark for the ocean to greet you, but you’ll find a friendly host and a bevy of diners lingering at the bar or draped along the spacious booths and scattered tables. Though you will be too busy marveling at the beauty of chef Juan José Cuevas' wonderfully plated dishes to do much people watching.
Order your meal à la carte or, for a real treat, layer one delightful dish after the other to create a harmony of food with the daily prix fixe option. Given that all the ingredients are as locally sourced and as seasonal as possible, choosing the three-course lunch or four-course dinner proves the best way to get a taste of Puerto Rico.
The first course might include a salad laced with island-grown chayote, roasted heirloom carrots with chili chocolate, or an unbelievably fresh snapper crudo spruced up with clams, American caviar, lime and a spattering of crispy shallots. Follow that with an herb-laden rigatoni and longaniza (a Spanish sausage) ragu; ravioli stuffed with beet, hazelnut, arugula and Swiss chard; or a traditional guanica soup with fresh shellfish, potatoes, pesto and cherry tomatoes. For the main course, the San Juan restaurant offers meaty white cod grilled with yuca pasteles, grass-fed beef with truffle and Iberico and potato, and a sweet venison dish that features heart of palm, coconut and caramelized eggplant.
Opt to get the extra cheese course, a lovely plate showcasing local queso mixed with some imported samples. You also can just stick to dessert, a list filled with tantalizing bites, including a vanilla parfait with citrus biscuit, ginger ice cream and pistachio meringue, and the Valrhona Guanaja chocolate and salted caramel tart with coconut sorbet and hazelnut. No matter which path you choose, you can't go wrong.
Of course, any meal of this caliber is only enhanced with the addition of wine, and vino is a specialty of 1919. Have each course expertly paired by the restaurant's sommelier or choose from the well-curated and impressive list. It has dozens of sparkling wines from esteemed chateaux like Billecart-Salmon and Veuve Clicquot, plus American tipples including a lovely 2008 blanc de blanc from Schramsberg in Napa. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The list is organized by type of wine and country, so you don’t have to bumble through a lot of names you don't recognize. For example, if you crave sauvignon blanc, order a bottle of 2010 Merry Edwards from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma, or satisfy your love for rueda with the 2009 Bodegas Shaya Habis. You’ll find just as much pleasure with the red list, especially when it comes to French wines. Soothe yourself with a bottle of 1999 Chateau Figeac from Saint-Emilion or splurge and order the 1995 Chateau L'Evangile from the famed Pomerol region in Bordeaux. Or finish up with a glass of tokaji or sauterne before heading up to your room for the kind of deep sleep that only comes after an incredibly satisfying meal.