Tuesday, July 22, 2008


People who know me well know that I am practically Mexican. At least 10 Puerto Ricans in the past 2 months have asked me if my family was Mexican because of my accent. So, I suppose, I speak "Mexican." I also eat Mexican, and at home, at least 50% of the food Scott and I prepare is Mexican. We're Mexican food snobs, actually, and turn our noses up at Tex-Mex joints. Cheddar cheese on a flour tortilla? No, my friends. No.


Puerto Rican shrimp taco

The first time I ordered a taco in Puerto Rico, I was totally confused. I thought that the person had confused the phrase "taco, por favor" for some island phrase meaning "throw something in giant wonton wrapper and fry the crap out of it." Fine, I took a few bites and then dumped it. I actually hate deep-fried foods, which has been a big problem for me in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans love to deep dry everything. I actually had a waiter the other day ask if I wanted my agua deep fried. He thought he was hilarious, I just thought he was a cheeseball. But in all seriousness, the Puerto Rican love for this cooking method, while producing a delicious cuisine, has had some serious health effects, both in island and mainland populations.

Anyway, turns out that thing really was a taco, at least according to Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rican tacos are nothing like Mexican tacos. Generally they involve some sort of wrapper, which really reminds me a lot of a wonton or egg roll wrapper, which they fill with a variety of things, including meat, seafood, or cheese, wrap up like a burrito, and deep fry. The texture of the wrapper (and the shape) is what distinguishes it from the more popular Puerto Rican pastelillo (or empanadilla, if you are in western PR), which is more flaky, like a turnover. I actually prefer the pastelillos, especially when they are filled with picadillo, which is basically ground beef spiced up with some Puerto Rican ingredients, such as sazón , capers, and sofrito.

These pastelillos are bubbling away in a giant vat of lard!

Pastelillos are fairly easy to make at home. Wrappers can be found in many Latin markets, or you can find a recipe here. You can fill it with just about anything, meat, cheese, crabs, conch, shrimp, or fruit (like guayaba) if you want a dessert turnover. They even serve pizza pastelillos everywhere, and they are usually one of the better sellers. There's really no escaping the American influence on this island. Anyway, pastelillos are then fried in small batches to allow room for expansion. They can be fried in oil, but a woman in Fajardo advised me that they are best when fried in lard (see above picture).

Scott could not resist. Look how guilty he looks!

So there you have it, Puerto Rican tacos and their cousin, the pastelillo. Although I have been searching for good Mexican food on the island (Taco Bell and Taco Maker just don't cut it), I've been relatively unsuccessful so far. Perhaps the long-standing boxing rivalry has made Mexican food undesirable around these parts. Actually, now that I think of it, I never saw any Puerto Rican restaurants in Mexico...

More Puerto Rican History!

Now that you are (not) an expert in pre-Spanish Puerto Rican history, it's time for a super-brief modern Puerto Rican history lesson.

But, since I've been a SLOTH this week, I am going to turn that job over to my good friend at Speaking Boricua, one of my favorite blogs about Puerto Rico.

Speaking Boricua's Speedy History of Puerto Rico:
Brief History of Puerto Rico, Part 1
Brief History of Puerto Rico, Part 2

Also interesting on that site (besides ALL of the posts) is a series of posts on the African American heritage in Puerto Rico. This is especially interesting to me because I spent the entire last week in a clinic in Loíza, a town of slave descendants and the epicenter of African American cultural heritage in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, it also one of the most impoverished areas of the island, so I saw a lot of sad stuff. More on that later, but for some background, read these great posts!

Speaking Boricua's Posts on Puerto Rico's African heritage:
Part 1 (general history)
Part 2 (Museum in San Juan on African heritage)
Part 3 (Loíza)
Part 4a (Bomba dance of the slaves in Puerto Rico)
Part 4 (words from African languages that have become part of Puerto Rican Spanish)
Part 5 (features a poem I was obsessed with in college Spanish class)

More to come soon, I promise!
(Thanks, Allison)

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I saw this giant face carved into the mountainside while cruising along Route 2 in western Puerto Rico today, and decided to hop out of the car and take a picture. There was no sign associated with this carving, so I decided that it is a depiction of a Taíno, the indigenous people that inhabited Puerto Rico before Columbus came with his smallpox.

Prior to the Spanish arrival, the Taíno people were located in what is now called Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic/Haiti, Bahamas, Cuba, and Jamaica. They came to these islands after the fierce Carib tribes drove them out of South America.

The word taíno means "good" or "noble," and the Taínos used this word to distinguish themselves from the Caribs. The Taínos of Puerto Rico referred to their island as Borike'n (great land of the noble valient lord) and the people were known as Boricua (people of Borike'n).

Taínos lived in a matrilineal agrarian village society. Although they did not have a written language, English and Spanish have incorporated many words derived from their Maipurean language, including barbecue (barbacoa), hammock (hamaca), canoe (canoa), tobacco (tobaco), hurricane (huracan) and tattoo (tatuaje). The two main taíno gods were Yúcahu, god of the ocean and the cassava crop, and Atabey, goddess of fresh water and fertility. Other lesser gods were also worshiped.

In 1492, the Taíno people in San Salvador first met Christopher Columbus, and a few actually went back to Spain with him. And by "went back," I'm sure we can safely assume to mean "were forced to go back against their will." The Spaniards then instituted their favorite colonial game of "give me gold or I kill your people" for a few years until much of the Taíno people were killed, either in battle or by disease.

The Taíno heritage is today most strongly celebrated in Puerto Rico. Studies suggest that more than 60% of Puerto Ricans carry Taíno mitochondrial DNA. Some organizations and tourist attractions seek to celebrate Puerto Rico's Taíno heritage.

Here are a few websites with more information:
http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1998/3/98.03.04.x.html (class syllabus, but what a cool class! Ideas for books/readings)
English-Taino dictionary
Taino Blog

While visiting Puerto Rico, be sure to check out:
Taíno petroglyphs in El Yunque
La Piedra Escrita in Jayuya
Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center in Ponce

Streets of Old San Juan

Man, I have a lot of blogging to catch up on. Too bad I'm going horseback riding in Isabela today. Oh well, in the meantime enjoy these pics of the streets of Old San Juan and I promise to update soon!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Puerto Rico's Bioluminescent Bays

I would say that of all the cool things I've done in Puerto Rico so far, my favorite was probably kayaking in the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. A number of tour companies will take you kayaking or boating through Puerto Rico's bio-bays, where microscopic organisms known as dinoflagellates actually glow as you move through the water. These tiny creatures are found in all of Puerto Rico's waters, but are most highly concentrated in a few secluded bays that are best accessed by kayak. This adventure is very high on my Puerto Rico "to-do" list, so keep reading for more info!

Why does the water glow?
The waters surrounding Puerto Rico are filled with tiny microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates, which are essentially plankton, that emit tiny bursts of bioluminescence when disturbed. The specific name for these dinoflagellates is Pyrodinium bahamense, and as you can guess by the name, Puerto Rico is not the only place in the world where you can see such a phenomenon. To make a bio-bay, you need not only these specific plankton, but also a lagoon surrounded by red mangroves, whose roots release tannins and vitamin B12, a key nutrient for these critters. The bay should be warmer than the surrounding ocean, and I can tell you that the one in Fajardo was like bath water. There also needs to be relatively low levels of pollution in order to protect both the plankton and the endangered mangroves, which makes the less-polluted Vieques bio-bay one of the brightest in the world. The dinoflagellates produce light when disturbed by converting chemical energy (from luciferin, the same thing fireflies use) to light energy. Our guides told us this chemical was called luciferin because people who "discovered" the bio-bay thought the mysterious light was created by the devil. Stupid Spanish, af-waid of a wittle dino-plankton! Just kidding, I think Spanish people are perfectly smart. I don't really buy that whole "lucifer" story anyway. Can you imagine C. Columbus being like, "Sweet Jesus, this water is evil! I shall name the chemical responsible for this reaction 'luciferin,' and its corresponding enzyme 'luciferinase' based on our age old colonial tradition of naming enzymes after their substrate with the suffix -ase! Now stick a Spanish flag in this beast and let's go mingle with those hot Taíno mamis!" ?
Quite unlikely, I'm sure it was named way after Columbus and his cronies kicked the bucket.

Where are Puerto Rico's bio-bays?
There is a bio-bay called Laguna Grande in Fajardo, which is about 30 miles (a 50 minute drive) from San Juan. I highly recommend this company, Akuadventures, which provided a powerpoint presentation before the tour, all of the equipment, a brief kayaking lesson, support from cheerful guides, and lots of food (hot dogs, ice cream, cookies, chips, water, etc.) after the tour ended. Plus, the kayaks are glass-bottomed (cool!) and Akuadventures offers framed photos of your kayak for $10 (see above). The staff was friendly, helpful, and very enthusiastic about their jobs. All in all, it was an amazing experience, and I recommended it to several people at my hotel, who also thought it was a favorite highlight of their Puerto Rico vacations.

Getting to Fajardo from San Juan is a tricky business. I promise to one day write a blog (rant) about the horrendous public transportation in Puerto Rico. You can take a cab for at least $60-80 one way, which is okay if you are traveling with a group of people. You can try and take a "public car" from the "public car station" in Rio Piedras, but good luck with that. It may not be worth it. Or, you can do what I did and go with a tour package. I did a day trip with Ecoquest tours, and we hiked through El Yunque to see all the waterfalls, took a break at Luquillo Beach (and ate a lot at the kiosks), ate dinner, and then headed to Fajardo for kayaking. Plus we got picked up and dropped off at our hotel, all for $145 per person. I thought it was worth it, although it was definitely an exhausting day. Ecoquest also has all sorts of more "hardcore" adventures, like zip lining, rappelling, and spelunking, but the trip I took was much more appropriate for the less athletically inclined (me).

There is another bay called Mosquito Bay in Vieques, an island off the east coast of the main island. Most people agree that the bay in the Vieques is the best for bioluminescence. To get to Vieques, you will need to take the ferry from Fajardo (which is very difficult, people camp out at 3 a.m. to catch the 6 a.m. shuttle) or you can take a short charter flight from the Fajardo airport, which is actually cheaper than you would think. I paid $35 to fly to Culebra, another island. Some airlines will actually fly out of San Juan. This company offers bio-bay tours in Vieques, has some cool photos on their website, and seems to have better "tripadvisor" reviews than others.

The final bio-bay is called La Parguera in Lajas. Lajas is in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico, and I am really not sure how to get there without renting a car. This town has built their tourism industry around the bio-bay, so you will be certain to find lots of options once you arrive.

1. Check the moon schedule on this website to find the best time to visit the bays. The bays are best when there is minimal moonlight, and some companies won't even take tours out if there is too much light, so be sure to call ahead.
2. Wear a bathing suit and bring some insect repellent. If you use the repellent though, stay inside your kayak and don't go swimming. The chemicals in the repellent are harmful to the plankton.
3. If you are kayaking, be sure that you are healthy enough for at least an hour of kayaking. Traveling against the current can be tough, and your arms and shoulders may be sore the next day!
4. If you are planning to go to Vieques for the bay, make all arrangements (including travel) ahead of time. You may also want to do this for the other bays, especially if you are going during a busy weekend or holiday.
5. Start taking care of your planet. Studies show that the bay in La Paguera now glows at only 1/10 its original strength due to destruction of plankton by pollution. And the other bays aren't doing too well either. For info on how you can help support conservation at the Vieques bio-bay, click here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nothing To Do With Puerto Rico, Sorry.

So I wanted to do a little post about the sheer number/concentration of fast food restaurants in Puerto Rico, especially as they relate to the nutrition problems on the island. I've literally never seen so many Burger Kings in one spot. But while in the middle of my researching, I found this horror and thought I MUST share it with you:

The McDonald's Trip Planner

What's this fun little feature? Well, you can actually plan your family vacation/road trip based around McDonald's restaurants! Just type in your start and end destination, and McDonald's will conveniently map out your trip so you can stop and visit all of their locations along the way!

Good lord, people. If you plan your family trip around McDonald's locations, you should really be tarred and feathered. STOP EATING THIS CRAP! And not just because it's terrible for you. Which by the way, it is. But also, there are so many other delicious foods in the world, why on EARTH would you put this garbage in your mouth?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mi Casita Restaurant in Isla Verde

If you ask locals in Isla Verde where to go for authentic Puerto Rican food, they will most likely mention Mi Casita in the Isla Verde plazoleta. Mi Casita’s location, menu, and bilingual waitstaff certainly make it accessible to tourists, and their selection of Puerto Rican food is pretty authentic. Overall, it is a good and relatively inexpensive introduction to Puerto Rican cuisine, but it definitely has some MAJOR flaws, namely regarding service and billing. Specifically, I have been to Mi Casita 3 times and each time have left incredibly full but also incredibly frustrated. And my bill has never been correct.

My friend Beezers recommends the asopao de camarones and sangria


The atmosphere of Mi Casita is almost without exception extremely hectic. As soon as you enter the small restaurant, you will notice waitstaff rushing around, patrons shouting over their tables to be heard, and the kitchen pouring plates of mofongo and asopao out of its doors. The thermostat is set to arctic chill, which helps Mi Casita turn over customers faster than you can say papas fritas. The décor is simple and homey (if your home usually also includes 100 other people), with paintings from local artists hung on the walls. But no one goes to Mi Casita for the atmosphere, they go for the food.

Mi Casita wins my award for “Most Consistently Horrendous Service Ever.” I mean, it’s really, really bad. It’s funny; lots of locals will recommend this place, but try asking them how often they go! I will give a rundown of a typical dinner experience. So first of all, you might get bread when you are seated, but you probably won’t. Try asking for it though! Then your waiter will disappear for a very long time and no one will welcome you, explain the menu, or ask if you have questions. Your best bet during this time would be to try and find a menu and decide everything you are going to order (drinks, appetizers, entrees, desserts) because trying to get a waiter to order your meal in sections will not be fun or feasible. When someone finally notices you (after you’ve asked 3 times for someone to take your order), you give your complete order. Within the next few minutes you will probably receive an appetizer that you didn’t order or a flat sprite disguised as water, but be sure to send it back or you will pay for it. Your food will actually come out pretty fast, but be sure to ask for your check ¾ of the way through your meal, or you will wait forever in the freezing cold for it. I asked for dessert once (because it was on the menu) but they looked at me like I was crazy and said they didn’t have any. Now the fun part. My check was wrong ALL THREE times that I visited Mi Casita. The first time I was presented with the entirely wrong check. The second time I was charged for mozzarella sticks that I didn’t order. The third time I was charged for FOUR items that I never ordered. If you pay with credit card, expect to wait even longer for them to run it through their tiny machine, and then check your statement, because the time I used my card, they charged me twice for the dinner. Apparently that happens “all the time.” Some people say this aggravation is all part of the charm, and perhaps it is, but if you are in town for a relaxing vacation or if you are easily frustrated, Mi Casita should not be on your Puerto Rico “to-do” list.

My dinky camarones enchilados


I will give this to Mi Casita, their food is both authentic and reasonably priced. And it tastes good. The bread, which I only received once (see above) was toasted, buttered, and “garlicked” (yum). Drinks are standard, with a few frozen options and red sangria by the pitcher or half pitcher. For appetizers, I would go with one of their many “cocktail” appetizers, which include shrimp, conch, and other seafood. Skip the Italian section (trust me, it’s gross). For entrees, you can choose between meats, birds, fish/seafood, and mofongo menu options. I would say that all of the dishes in these sections are very authentic, especially if your order them with a side of rice and beans or tostones. But I believe Mi Casita shines most with their mofongo. I ordered the shrimp mofongo and it was fabulous, and other varieties looked just as good. The mofongos also come with a much prettier presentation than some of the other options, for all you show-offs out there. The meat section includes options like churrasco , carne encebollada, and pork chops, served with a choice of several sides, including rice and beans, salad, tostones, and French fries. The bird section includes several variations on chicken, but also a Cornish hen dish, which I haven’t seen on too many other Puerto Rican menus. The fish section has Puerto Rican takes on a few fish dishes, although I don’t recommend the camarones enchilados, it only came with 5 shrimp on a huge plate! I was hungry! If you are going to go the fish route, I definitely recommend asking if they have whole fried red snapper. It wasn’t on the menu, but we asked for it and it was fantastic.


Well, I won’t be going back, but then again, I did go three times. Mainly because people visiting me heard that Mi Casita was “authentic” and really wanted to go. I would say that if you are going to believe the hype, at least follow these recommendations:

  1. Bring a sweater. Mi Casita is always uncomfortably cold, even in the balmy Isla Verde humidity.
  2. Don’t order the Camarones Enchilados (unless you want to starve) or the Spaghetti and Meatballs (unless you want to gag). Stick with the mofongo, fried red snapper, or other Puerto Rican dish.
  3. Arm yourself with patience. The waiters are perfectly friendly, but will most likely ignore you for at least 20 minutes and will avoid your eye or raised finger like the plague. You may need to get on your knees and beg for the check.
  4. Go during an “off” time of the day, like between 2-4 p.m. I got the best service (although still pretty bad) at this time.
  5. CHECK YOUR BILL! Make sure that you receive an itemized check and verify that you ordered each and every item. And unfortunately, if you use your credit card, you may need to also check your statement online. My card was charged twice after one visit, and when I called Mi Casita, they told me that people called about this issue “all the time.” So I guess it might be better to just bring cash.
Mi Casita Restaurant
Plazoleta Isla Verde (main strip)
(787) 791-1777
7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Puerto Rican Sunsets

Sunset from El Morro

For the best sunset in Old San Juan, get yourself to El Morro around 6:30 (or check times for sunset). El Morro is the large fort that is one of the prime tourist attractions in Old San Juan. Although the fort itself is closed at this time, you can head to the western most point of the fort, which is the most western point of Old San Juan. If you don't have time/energy to head to El Morro, you can see a pretty decent sunset from La Puerta de Old San Juan (Old San Juan Gate).

Sunset from El Morro

Sun setting behind El Morro

Sunset from street in Isla Verde

Isla Verde is a tough sunset to see because of the big buildings and the shape of the coastline. Your best bet is probably the beach, but make sure you plant yourself a little further east (Cafe La Plage is a nice spot, see post) because if you are too far west, the buildings will block your view.

Sunset from pedestrian bridge, Isla Verde

Sunset from Cafe La Plage, Beach in Isla Verde

Sunset from mountaintop, Culebra

I will write more about Culebra in another post but for now, I will tell you how to get the best sunset view. Now Culebra has no street names, so instead ask someone how to get to El Eden restaurant. There is a little dirt road that leads to the restaurant. At the entrance to the dirt road, and across from a little garden shop, you will see a somewhat wide dirt trail heading up the mountain. Walk up, bearing left when you come to a fork in the trail, until you reach a giant concrete structure. Climb up to the top (you will see railings and there are stairs around back) and that will be your best view, plus a pretty good view of the bays and Dewey, the only town in Culebra. The walk should only take you 10 minutes and is not intensive at all, just be careful walking downhill if you're in flip flops.

So there you have it, my recommendations for some of the best places in Puerto Rico to see the sunset. If you have any others, let me know and I will try to visit and post some pictures!

I've been out of town for the past few days, but I've got lots and lots to write about, including quite a bit on the island of Culebra, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mosquitoes and Dengue Fever

There are a lot of great things about vacationing in Puerto Rico, including beautiful beaches, fine dining, and rich historical sites. And even if you don’t buy any souvenirs, I guarantee you’ll leave with a few mementos from your trip. By which I mean about 20 mosquito bites. Probably in the most annoying places too, like your ankles.

It’s true, I am a little bitter right now because I cannot stop scratching and I am convinced that no anti-itch cream actually works for mosquito bites. So I thought I would distract myself by researching a little about these little buggers, especially as they relate to public health in Puerto Rico.

What is Dengue Fever?

Dengue is an acute febrile disease that is transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which also carry Yellow Fever and Chikungunya. These putrid creatures bite primarily in the daytime and favor densely populated tropical areas, though they also inhabit rural environments. Symptoms of Dengue are flu-like, including severe joint pain, fever, rashes, and nausea, often leaving victims bed-ridden for a week. Patients may die from dehydration if not given proper treatment. Five percent of cases will develop into Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF), which can be fatal. DHF patients display fever, minor or major bleeding, thrombocytopenia (decreased platelet count), increased vascular permeability (markedly increased hematocrit), and pleural or abdominal effusions. Dengue Shock Syndrome (DSS) may also occurs, and is essentially DHF with signs of circulatory failure (narrow pulse pressure, hypotension, and shock). Elderly populations are particularly at risk for the progression of Dengue fever into DHF or DSS.

Dengue is often diagnosed clinically, but can be definitively diagnosed by obtaining serum samples during acute phase of the disease (to screen for virus) or 1-2 weeks after contraction (to screen for anti-Dengue antibody). Treatment for Dengue is symptomatic, and should include plenty of fluids, bed rest and monitoring. Antipyretics may be used to counteract fever. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin) are contraindicated in these patients because of their anti-coagulant properties, which can exacerbate any bleeding problems caused by Dengue. Patients who have previously been exposed to one of the four strains will develop immunity to that strain, but will be more likely to develop DHF if exposed to another strain, so careful history taking is crucial in a patient with suspected Dengue fever. Doctors should make themselves familiar with the symptoms of Dengue, and should maintain an index of suspicion in patients who have recently traveled to places where Dengue is endemic.

Dengue in Puerto Rico

Dengue was thought to be essentially eliminated in Latin America until the early 1980s, when it returned with a vengeance. It has become a major public health issue in Puerto Rico, with many cases reported every year. 11,000 cases were reported (and many more unreported) here in 2007, with 8 reported deaths. This, along with 2004, was considered an “epidemic year” for the island. Possible reasons for high levels during these years include changing weather patterns (especially increased rain), increased migration or travel, and increased migration into urban areas. You shouldn’t be surprised to know that global warming, which leads to unstable weather patterns, also has a lot to do with the Dengue surges we’ve seen recently. In addition, the CDC points to the increased use of nonbiodegradable products, which hold fresh water where mosquitoes breed, as another reason for the recent surge in Dengue. As if you needed another reason to take care of your planet!

Because there is no vaccine, public health officials in Puerto Rico have had to resort to other methods, including fumigation and public education on eliminating standing water and recognizing the signs and symptoms of the illness. Larval control, especially the elimination of standing water, seems to be the most effective means of transmission control. Cut to public health spending cuts and a desperate need for tourism revenues have led some countries, like Mexico, to focus their Dengue programs primarily in tourist areas, leaving poorer areas defenseless (how sad is that?).

What can you do to protect yourself?

There is no vaccine currently available for Dengue. According to the CDC (and me), to protect yourself from Dengue, you can:

*Hide in your hotel room all day

*Wear long sleeves, pants, closed shoes (yeah right!)

*Apply insect repellent containing 25%-50% DEET or 20% picaridin (awesome name!). Do not use these products in children under two years of age.

*Sleep with a mosquito bed net.

*Peak Dengue transmission time is September to November, so take extra precautions if traveling during this time.

*Make sure there is no standing water nearby, or places where standing water might accumulate (like buckets). That’s where these flying devils lay their eggs.

*May seem obvious, but if you are traveling in Puerto Rico (or anywhere) and begin to develop the symptoms of Dengue, get yourself to a hospital immediately.

*Realize that you are in the Caribbean, and that despite all your best efforts, you probably WILL get a few mosquito bites and you will most likely NOT die from Dengue, so try not to worry about it enjoy Puerto Rico!

For more information on Dengue:

Download the entire WHO Dengue publication here.
Dengue Fact Sheet
Dengue Patient Education Sheet (English)
Dengue Patient Education Sheet (Spanish)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Scott's Puerto Rico

Scott wanted me to post this picture because he says, "It's cool," but I am pretty sure he just wants to steal it for his facebook page. Apparently the picture of us kissing on the beach is "not cool or manly enough" to be a profile picture.

Koco at the El San Juan Hotel & Casino, Isla Verde

Koco at El San Juan Hotel and Casino
1660 Isla Verde Ave
Carolina, Puerto Rico

My New Neighbors

These little boo-boos were rescued from the mean world of dog-fighting and have taken up temporary residence at the hotel. Adorable, right?

Just an observation, and backed by absolutely no evidence whatsoever...Is it just me or is Puerto Rico totally pit bull crazy? I would guess that at least 90% of the dogs I have seen in San Juan (except for the strays) have been pit bulls. Seems to be the pet of choice, at least around these parts. I wonder why.
<-- Maybe because they are so freakin' cute?!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Life Lessons from Yunque

They don't call 'em tropical RAINforests for nothing!

As you can see, Scott is visiting me for the weekend! I'll write more on our adventures on Monday!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Café La Plage in Isla Verde

Sunset from Cafe La Plage

Tonight's phone conversation with Scott:
Me: Scott, I have to tell you something. It's kind of serious.
Scott: What?
Me: I fell in love tonight.
Scott: With who?
Me: Not with who. With what. It's a café .
Scott: Okay. Hey, do you think I need to pack sneakers for Puerto Rico?
(Scott is used to and now unaffected by my dramatic reactions to dining establishments)

Friends, tonight I found the BEST little café /restaurant/bar in the world. It is called Café La Plage, and it is located inside of The Beach House Hotel in Isla Verde. Here is the truth-I could come to Puerto Rico for 5 days and never leave this hotel, the beach bar is that amazing. I cannot attest for the hotel rooms, but they look pretty nice on the website. Very upscale Euro-chic, but not so overly fancy that you are afraid to walk in with sand on your feet.
View from bar at Cafe La Plage

The atmosphere of this bar is top notch, and as a matter of fact, if I were designing my dream house patio, it would look exactly like this. The ambiance is elegant and romantic, with soft lighting, "mood" music, and a variety of cozy tables, chairs, couches, and little nooks for privacy. My date was my adopted "Puerto Rican from the Bronx" mami, and since we didn't need privacy, we sat at the bar and had some piña coladas. The drinks, for such a beautiful beach side establishment, were very reasonably priced. The piña coladas were pretty standard, although they use white rum and I really prefer dark in coladas. The menu was heavily seafood based and a little on the pricey side, with appetizers like Organic Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Croquette with Balsamic Reduction (picture below) and Crispy Calamari with a Citrus Vinaigrette, and main courses like Diver Scallops with Yucca Cake Seared with Lemon & Garlic with a Seaweed Salad, Seared Ahi Tuna in a Ginger Sauce served with Lo Mein Cake & Roasted Sesame Sauce, and Charcoal Grilled Churrasco Steak with Blue Cheese. Since I am trying to be a little frugal this week to stay on budget, I just sampled the appetizer goat cheese croquette and the bread with roasted garlic hummus, both were sophisticated and divine, and I felt sophisticated and divine as I ate them and watched the sunset on Isla Verde.
Their wine menu is extensive and featured here on their website.
The website says you can see their full menu here, but this looks nothing like the much fancier seafood based menu they showed me tonight. Perhaps the website only features their lunch menu?
Note: I strolled in off the beach in beach attire, and although they whole-heartedly welcomed me in, I felt a little out of place and definitely recommend dressing up a bit. Maybe a sun dress and sandals for ladies and at least a polo and khakis for men. But I would still wear sandals, you are on the beach, after all!

One of the coolest parts about Café La Plage is that it is sort of a hidden gem. I've walked by it on the street about 20 times without every noticing it. If you are coming from the street, Café La Plage is across the street from the Howard Johnson's Hotel in Isla Verde, and you actually have to walk through The Beach House Hotel parking lot to enter the café . If it's nighttime you will see the soft glow of the candles and romantic lighting near the entrance. You can also find Café La Plage by walking on the beach of Isla Verde, and makes a very romantic stop on your sunset walk with your sweety. Look for the giant beds, there are about 4 of them, and I am fairly certain they are the only beds on Isla Verde Beach. For the record, you are allowed to lay in the beds if you consume at least $50 per person at Café La Plage, and this is easily done if you plan on having dinner there. I haven't worked out the logistics of whether you actually have to eat in the bed, I will check it out and report back.

So overall, my review of Café La Plage in Isla Verde is as follows:
1. Best atmosphere I have ever seen.
2. Very good menu (although could use some more variation), very good wine list, good drinks. A little bit pricey, but more than worth it.
3. Unbelievably romantic.

If you are couple coming to Isla Verde, I definitely recommend taking a walk down the beach at sunset, stopping at Café La Plage, ordering a few glasses of wine or maybe dinner, finding a comfy couch or bed to sit on, watching the ocean, and spending the night flirting and celebrating your love.
Actually, if you are in Isla Verde with your friends, family, or by yourself, I still recommend stopping by. I will definitely be back, and soon.
Happy Eating!

Café La Plage (at The Beach House Hotel)
4851 Ave Isla Verde
Carolina 00979
Puerto Rico

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Puerto Ricans Among the World's Happiest

According to a new study, Puerto Rico, along with Denmark and Columbia, leads the world in terms of happiest people. The United States ranked 16th.

I'm not sure exactly what makes Puerto Ricans so happy, but I bet it has something to do with this...