Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Paladar Vegetariano: A Home-Cooked Meal- MoFo Post Thirteen

Post #13 for Vegan MoFo 2013. 

Pumpkin Flower Appetizer
For the post today, I would like to go back to Puerto Rico. One of the most interesting parts of the trip was going to Paladar Vegetariano in San Juan. When we called, we realized that this restaurant was being run out of the owners house. John spoke with the owner, Geronimo, and he explained that he would make a meal catered to our interests using creativity and local foods. We were excited by the idea and his willingness to make an all vegan and gluten free meal for us. He had some questions of clarification around gluten free and I was pleased with the level and detail of his questions. I already had a feeling that we were going to get a meal that was made with care.

When we arrived, we were greeted warmly by Geronimo and Mendoza, our server. We were seated in the living room at a table with candles and local produce. Geronimo explained to us that Paladar was a Cuban concept of welcoming people into one's home and cooking for them. We had never heard of the concept, but were delighted to be in his home. We also had the meal explained to us. Almost all ingredients were local and organic. Some even came from the backyard of Paladar Vegetariano. We also learned that many of these ingredients were sold at a local farmers market on the weekend. I could tell we were in for a real treat. 

One of the items on the table was called a quenepa and we were encouraged to sample the fruit. It was unlike nothing that I had ever tasted before. It had a large pit in the center and had a pink fleshy fruit on the inside. The pit was larger than fruit output and I cannot quite describe the flavor of the pink flesh. It was mushy. sweet, citrus-like, and tropical tasting. Geronimo gave us the whole vine to take home with us and enjoy. 

The meal started off with a cucumber and lemon juice water that was slightly sweetened. It was served in a wine bottle and left at our table so we could have as much as we wanted. Needless to say, we drank the whole bottle. Shortly after the bottle arrived that our first course was presented. Mendoza was so attentive and explained again to us what was in the first course.  It was salad with local greens, pumpkin seeds, shaved fresh coconut, sprouts, and guava dressing. The salad was simple yet flavorful. The guava dressing was slightly acidic and sweet and was unlike any dressing that I had before, but wished that I could have it every day. I love seeds on a salad and the touch of pumpkin seeds and coconut shavings was creative and delicious. 

We were off to a great start. The appetizer came out and we were wowed by the presentation and dish. It was a pumpkin flour breaded and stuffed with rice flower and pan fried. The plate was drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The dipping sauce was guava and coconut. The flower had a delicate and crunchy flavor. This was the first time that I had ever been served a flower as the main item on a dish. It was also the first time I had tasted a flower fried. We shared the plate and wished we had more, however; after the rest of the meal arrived were glad we did not. The evening provided us so much food that I even had some leftovers for breakfast the next day! 

The main course took a while to come out, but we did not mind. We were still enjoying the flavor of the pumpkin flower and dipping sauce. The dinner itself lasted about three hours, but did not seem that it was that long because of all of the good food and conversation. For our main course, we were presented with chayote filled with pumpkin basmati rice, pumpkin seeds,  chayote heart, and a balsamic reduction.  While chayote is a fruit, it resembles squash and a root vegetable. There is not any sweetness to it and it almost tasted similar to a potato, but not exactly. The chayote heart was soft and almost creamy, much like that of a avocado heart but not the prickly fibers. I ate all of the rice filling and about a fourth of the chayote body. They wrapped up the remainder of the body for me to take home. I took back with me some of the guava sauce from the appetizer to sprinkle on top. 

This was my serving- it was huge!
Along with the meal, we were also given homemade hot sauce, much like most places in Puerto Rico. I do not remember the names of all of the peppers used, but it had a lot of kick to it and a fresh flavor. Have I mentioned how much I love that almost every restaurant had homemade hot sauce? I could not get enough of the homemade hot sauce. I am a sucker for Franks Hot Sauce, but these were so many steps above my go to sauce. I began to look forward to sitting down and being presented with the homemade hot sauce. In Puerto Rico one does not have to ask for hot sauce, but is presented with it as a natural part of the meal. 

Me, John, Geronimo, and Mendoza
The last course of the meal was a key lime avocado pie with a cashew, pumpkin seed, and coconut crust. On the top were local banana slices. I was so full when dessert came out that I could only take a couple of bites and asked to take the rest home. (And yes, it was enjoyed for breakfast the next day with the chayote.) The dessert was rich, sweet, and inventive. It was not a complicated dessert with gluten free flours or long baking times. It was based off of fruit and nuts and was still decedent! 

After wrapping up the dessert, we talked with Geronimo and Mendoza for a while. We also met another person who helped out, but I cannot remember his name. We even paused for a picture. While the quality is not the best, it is still a nice token from the evening. The staff was so kind and friendly and the evening really was a wonderful experience. I recommend eating at Paladar Vegetariano to anyone visiting San Juan. Make sure to call ahead and set up a reservation well in advance. If you are coming from the United States, you can call before you leave for the Island. You do not have to worry about calling internationally as Puerto Rico is part of the United States. I say this not to state the obvious, but I am amazed by the amount of people who thought I was leaving the country. We did not have to present passports! :-)

Coming storm over the ocean
Thank you to staff at Paladar Vegetarianio to giving us an evening of delicious local food and an evening of lovely conversation!  


affectioknit said...

Oh my! That all looks so yummy!

~Have a lovely day!

Dawn said...

I'd almost like to go to Puerto Rico just to go there. The people sound lovely and all the food looks delicious. I enjoyed just a few minutes of vacation just from reading your story :)

Jennifer said...

Everything looks amazing! That storm looks scary! LOVE the smiling faces in that photo over the storm, tho! Great post! The pumpkin dish looks interesting and something I would totally get if on the menu somewhere :)

Kylie @ FotV said...

That sounds like an amazing experience! What a wonderful way to spend the evening and all the food looks so beautiful!

GiGi said...

Pumpkin basmati is just one of the many foods that sound delicious. The food presentations are exquisite.