On a weekday evening we headed to San Juan where we were meeting up with some friends of friends for dinner at a newish restaurant which opened in mid-2011 in Santurce near the market. Santaella is the well-designed space with rough concrete walls, funky string lights, antique tiled floors and a pocket tropical garden lining one wall. Jose Santaella was a well-known gourmet caterer on the island before he ventured into the restaurant business and has many years of experience and training abroad. He is also a well-recognized chef for his use of local ingredients and modern interpretation of Caribbean criolla cuisine.
After a half hour drive from Dorado where we meticulously followed our GPS's guiding voice, we made it to Calle Canals where we walked into a packed restaurant with several people waiting to be seated at the bar. The friends we were meeting up with hadn't arrived yet so we sat at the bar and watched the crowd. Soon after, N and A arrived and we were led to our table. As this was our first time at Santaella, N decided to order several plates to share from the menu.
The starters were typical Caribbean deep-fried bites: classic grouper fritters, flaky fish covered in a crispy batter with a roasted red pepper dip on the side, empanadas or turnovers filled with ground beef, bread-crumbed veal chops you just pick up and eat off the bone and an arugula salad. We enjoyed all these with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. The appetizers were quite good and despite the fact that all were deep-fried, none of them were oily. We then shared a lentil salad topped with a round of goat's cheese which came with a mini-baguette. The salad was delicious - creamy green lentils tossed in a honey mustard vinaigrette and perfectly complemented by the hunk of warm goat's cheese.
When we finished our main course, chef Santaella came over to say hello and asked us how our dinner was which was a nice touch. We shared two desserts afterwards: a crispy layered Nutella-filled pancake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a fruit cobbler - baked peaches and strawberries with a dollop of thick sour cream. The meal ended with fresh mint tea for everyone but A who had his usual espresso. It was our first dinner out in the city, one of many more to come, and we were impressed with the lively atmosphere and sophisticated crowd at Santaella. Wonder which restaurant we'll go to next?
P.D. May 28, 2012
We've been back to Santaella for dinner on a busy Friday evening and were still impressed with the efficient service and fantastic food. It's a must-do restaurant in San Juan and has become our favorite.
219 Calle Canals
Plaza del Mercado Santurce
San Juan, PR 00907
Tel: +1 (787) 725-1611
*Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:00a m-3:00 pm, Dinner Wednesday to Saturday 6:30-11:30 pm
*Valet parking offered but also two nearby self-park buildings