A few weeks back we were invited to dinner at Compostela, which I was so looking forward to as this is one of San Juans' top restaurants for tapas and Spanish cuisine. This Galician-owned restaurant opened in 1982 where it has maintained its' reputation for fine Spanish cuisine. Recently renovated and turned into a restaurant with a wine bar/shop, Compostela has transformed into a much more modern space but still serves the same quality tapas and Spanish dishes that they have perfected over the years.
The entrance opens onto a wine bar with a large cruvinet (wine dispenser chilled cabinet) and shelves lining the walls with an impressive number of hard-to-find Spanish wines which can either be ordered in the restaurant or purchased to take home. Towards the back is a larger space where modern art adorn the walls and simple black tables and chairs are spread out in the rectangular room. We arrived around 7:30 and were seated with our hosts at a quiet corner table. A refreshing dry Spanish white wine (I didn't get to see the label) was served and since our hosts are regulars at this restaurant and knew what to order, the tapas started to appear.
We started off with delicious sashimi-grade tuna chunks drizzled with a balsamic glaze and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. Then came three platters of classic Spanish tapas - Manchego (cheese), jamon serrano and croquetas de bacalao (cod fish croquettes). The ham and cheese were authentic and the croquetas were crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside, the way they are supposed to be.
After polishing off most of the tapas, menus were presented so we could choose our main courses. While waiting for our dishes to be served, the owner brought out a new appetizer for us to try - foie gras stuffed in a roll of paper-thin slices of langoustines, topped with shredded almonds and covered in a savory olive oil foam - it was an deliciously interesting combination of melting warm duck liver and encased in the delicate langoustine.
The menu is varied and there were so many other enticing items on the menu which I'll definitely try on my next visit - my favorite arroz negro con calamares y aioli (squid-ink rice with squid), cochinillo confitado (suckling pig confit) and lots of other interesting tapas, but being a Galician restaurant, fish and seafood were their specialties and that evening, there were two fish of the day (La Pesca del Dia) - sauteed halibut with olive oil and garlic and the rare swordfish topped with jabugo (the extraordinary Spanish cured ham from black-footed acorn fed pigs). I chose the swordfish which was highly recommended by the chef and A had the lomo de cordero con parsillada (lamb loin). The swordfish was a modern version of tataki - seared on the outside but raw on the inside slices of swordfish over creamy white beans and sprinkled with tiny slivers of umami-packed jamon jabugo. A's lamb loin was perfectly cooked - crisp on the outside yet rose on the inside as lamb should be, and came with sauteed spinach and mushrooms. Both dishes were perfectly executed and had the right mix of textures and flavors that make a main course one-of-a-kind.
We all couldn't resist ordering a dessert to finish off the dinner. I had the tropical sorbet selection - coconut, mango and guava and A had the crema Catalana (Spanish version of creme brulee). By the time we had our espressos, the restaurant was packed and noisy so we all left soon after. Dinner at Compostela was the first impressive restaurant experience I had since arriving in San Juan - authentic yet modern cuisine, a great wine selection, efficient service and the opportunity to discover it with interesting and generous hosts who were clearly food lovers as well, made me optimistic about the dining offerings in Puerto Rico.
P.D. October 24, 2012
We've been back a few more times and were impressed with the consistently high quality of the ingredients used. Recently, we tried their arroz negro and it was like we were back in Spain. A must-visit for tapas and Spanish food craving.
Avenida Condado 106
San Juan 00907
Telephone: +1 787 724 6099
*Open for lunch and dinner Mondays to Fridays 12 noon to 10 p.m., Saturdays for dinner 3 to 10 p.m.
*Wine store open Mondays to Saturdays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.