Upon arriving in San Juan for Ray & Evelyn’s wedding over Memorial Day, we checked in to the hotel. And while I longed for a nap, Chris forced me to go down to the casino and have a drink first. I was a little hungry too so we ordered some jerk chicken wings. Incredibly hot and somebody ate all the celery up before I got more than one stick. I couldn’t eat more than 3 1/2 wings since I was sure my mouth was about to catch on fire. The mojito I ordered (made with raspberry rum- highly recommended!) was too expensive to order another, flaming lips or not.
So, we adjourned to the casino proper where Chris headed to the roulette table. I don’t really get the draw of roulette. Instead, I took $20 and sat down at a video poker machine. I have somehow convinced myself that there is just a smidgen of skill required in this game as compared to slots. Within 10 minutes of playing, I pulled 4 Aces on some triple triple bonus round. I won $318. And I was done. I cashed out, showed Chris my slip and got the dinero from the cage then went upstairs. After that, I deserved a nap (side note: we left Detroit at 6:45 AM on Friday morning. I did not sleep the night before and I don’t sleep well on planes. We arrived in PR about 1:30).
Post nap, I, alas, had to do a little homework. Then, we made plans to meet up with the rest of the mainland crew and the bridal party for a post-rehearsal dinner. As it turned out, our hotel has 2 locations and we were staying in the one by the airport whereas most everyone else was staying in Old San Juan. This meant we were going to end up taking a lot of cab rides, making that casino win all the more appreciated!
Someone, I’m not sure who, had chosen Restaurant Raíces as the place for dinner that night. Sam had arranged the “reservation” but the rule was they would not seat us until the whole party was there. While we waited for stragglers, a few of us periodically peaked inside to mentally coerce a few slowpokes to finish eating so our table would be ready ASAP. Sam mentioned that he and his wife had come down this street the night before and there was quite a line out the door then. The staff was obviously used to large groups and touristas because our waiter (whom I’m going to call Fred since I can’t remember but it was something like that) talked loud enough for the whole table to hear while he explained the basics of the menu and their specialties.
We ordered drinks first. Most everyone ordered a mojito or variation of mojito that included fruit juice (mango, passion fruit, etc). There was something called a beso tropical (Tropical Kiss) which was excessively sweet according to the one taster. There were also a few pina coladas on the table. While our mojitos were served in tall cocktail glasses, the coladas and non-alcoholic beverages came in tin cups. I had a mango mojito which was not as good as the raspberry one earlier.
As a table, we had two orders of Festival Típico, like a sampler platter, which included bacalaítos, alcapurrias, piononos, taquitos de jueyes and mofongo de yuca.In other words: cod fish fritters, root vegetable fritters stuffed with meat, ripe fried plaintains stuffed with meat, crab meat turnovers and mashed cassava. We also had a couple orders of carne frita (fried pork bits) to split. Of all that stuff, you may notice a theme: fried, fried and more fried.
For dinner, many of the group went with the recommended specialties which included
Tornado- Skirt Steak stuffed with mashed root vegetables, crowned with 5 shrimps and covered in a mushroom gravy
Chuleta Kan Kan – Kan Kan Pork Chop
Dorado a la Criolla Relleno de Camarjones al Ajillo – Mahi Mahi Creole Style stuffed with Garlic Shrimp
This is what I got. And I forgot to take a picture! It was good and garlicky. We were impressed that the menu (in Spanish) called the fish by its real name: Dorado is also know as dolphin (fish). The name was changed to Mahi Mahi because idiots uninformed consumers thought they were actually offering up dolphin (mammals) on the menus of seafood restaurants. Anyhow, the fish itself was okay but as I said, lots of garlic.
Mofongo Relleno de churrasco al chimichurri y camarones al ajillo- Mashed plaintains stuffed with Chimichurre skirt steak and shrimp
A lot of people ordered Mofongo, which is available a number of different ways. I’m not sure which variety this picture is. Mofongo is a huge thing in Puerto Rico. Its basically the starch on your plate instead of potatoes or rice. Although rice and beans as a side is pretty commonplace too.
Lomillo empenado – breaded beefsteak, served either plain, or Nydia style (green pepper, tomato and onion sauce) or Erick Style (mushrooms, onions, peas and red wine). Nydia and Erick are the owners, I believe. Chris ordered this Erick Style. With rice and beans on teh side. He said it was good but not what he was expecting. He had confused empenado with empanada, the meat-stuffed pastry. Empenado, as far as I can tell, is like schnitzel: breaded meat covered in a gravy. Think Weiner Schnitzel or Country-Fried Steak.
Because we’d eaten so many appetizers and the meals all came with salads plus a hearty serving of starchy sides (rice or mofongo), we skipped dessert. Instead, we had a serenade by the staff to wrap up our evening (which followed two separate renditions of Happy Birthday, in Spanish, to other tables).
I have no recollection of the bill but it seemed like a reasonable amount of money at the time. This place is obviously very popular with tourists but there are locals who frequent the place regularly too. They were not really appreciative of our loitering outside while we waited for our table.
The restaurant is located in Old San Juan, the “old part” of the capital. We didn’t get to walk around too much but much of the hotels and shopping are nearby as well. Any cabdriver can get you to this place, even if you mangle the name. Trust me.Mental note: next time write down name. I have good pronunciation, when I can remember the words.