By: CARLOS A. CORIANO & LYDIA GREGORY
Puerto Rican cuisine is at the top of its game: while it’s true that the abuela’s recipes have not lost an iota of popularity, chefs such as the well-regarded Raúl Correa are elevating them to new gastronomical heights. Today you can find this new, definitely stellar cooking on full display at Chef Correa’s Zest restaurant at the San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel in Isla Verde, where the recurring theme of the eclectic menu is that unique mix of island cooking and haute cuisine. It’s the very definition of this new era of dining in Puerto Rico.
At Zest, the bread basket comes with a serving of the traditional pan sobao, that slightly sweet staple of bakeries all over the island, only Chef Correa has given it a makeover: his version is similar to the German baker’s Pumpernickel, made with brown sugar, cocoa powder and silky duck fat, a tasty and rare ingredient. Butter? Yes, please: made daily with fresh cream, cilantro and roasted garlic, it’s the perfect complement to the pan sobao.
Those who’ve experienced a little bit of Island cooking know that many times pan is served with chicharrón, that crispy fried pork rind made famous by the city of Bayamón. At Zest, this down-home delight is transformed into a sophisticated amuse bouche, a crispy, perfectly seasoned snack served with a few drops of fresh lime juice.
For the main course, Chef Correa recommends a classic—poached salmon—, enhanced, of course, with his special recipe of tradition meets gourmet cooking. For this dish, Chef prepares a mixture of dark rum, anise and brown sugar (the traditional recipe for ron chichaíto) and marinates the salmon until it is thoroughly “cooked.” Once it’s done, it’s served in very thin, nearly translucent slices, and accompanied by a fragrant cilantro and coconut rice with guava sauce.
So what exactly defines this new Puerto Rican cuisine? “It’s bold, innovative, sometimes irreverent but never, ever disrespectful. And every single bite is absolutely… Delicious.” – Chef Raúl Correa.