SANTAELLA: A new restaurant in Puerto Rico
By: JC Rodriguez
The Plaza de Mercado de Santurce is the local meeting place, where cooking enthusiasts, chefs and plain folk visit daily to buy the fresh produce and their staples, and to socialize. It acts as a magnet for a slew of small, restaurants that specialize in the local cuisine, like “ El Popular”, where many executives go for their fix of the “ mixtas”- (rice, beans and beef stew). There you will also find chefs who specialize in fish; “El Pescador” or “ nueva cocina” with a twist on the local fare such as “Jose Enrique”, or “ Vittorino”, Italian chef via Santo Domingo, where the food preparation is taken to a more sophisticated plateau.
José Santaella is a well known and loved chef, featured in the coffee table book “ Puerto Rico, La Gran Cocina del Caribe” where he is described as the caterer to the “ who’s who in puertorrican society”. He has chosen the former catering kitchen that was used by his father, José Antonio, another well known restauranteur , located on Canals Street adjacent to the marketplace to open his first restaurant, the eponymous named, “ Santaella” http://www.santaellapr.com
José, the son, has apprenticed in the kitchens of Erik Ripert, Le Bernadin in NYC) Ferran Adriå (El Bulli in Spain), and the local cooking guru, Alfredo Ayala, but his cuisine and his palate are rooted in the dishes that he savored at home, where father and mother cooperated in the kitchen.
Santaella Interior view, photo by Laura Toro
The restaurant is unpretentious, a spacious area with high ceilings, modestly cleaned up and revamped, maintaining the existing salmon tinted cement tiles so imbued in our architectural past, and adding a series of ceiling fixtures with multiple incandescent light bulbs. A whole side wall opens to a shallow garden with local flora, reflected in a mirror that visually increases its depth.
The locavore menu varies, but you can find a sweet plantain soup with foie gras vinaigrette, or a classic puertorrican dish of chicken livers with caramelized onions and balsamic glaze, that is just missing the Marsala wine that Craig Claiborne added to his 1961 recipe in “ The New York Times Cookbook”.
Ceviche Mahi-Mahi with mango and orange ** Morcilla Rolls **Squid with black ink rice
You may delight in the “ turnovers with cream cheese and fine herbs” that were crispy and savory, or in the rolls with “ morcilla”( the local blood sausage) served with a spicy mayonnaise, that is a variation of an Ayala signature dish, who wrapped it in phylo dough, for a crispier contrast.. Also delicious are the ham croquettes, inherited from our Spanish ancestry.
For dessert Santaella proposes “ passion fruit crème caramel” or a sinful warm chocolate cake filled with sweet baby bananas with vanilla and nutmeg ice cream.
Santaella is open for lunch Monday through Friday and for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. Closed Sundays.
219 Calle Canals, Santurce
Phone: 725-1611 for reservations