Our lucky, lovely, well fed audience of (culinary) adventure seekers have spoken and we are on a mission. Let’s get away. Let’s go remote. Let’s eat well.
Even if you have a pretty penny to spend, resort food can get a little, um, mundane after several days of breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same few spots. If you are looking to travel into the great beyond, where there is not much around, stay tuned for lip smacking exposes on resorts that are not only hot destinations but their kitchens are really turning up the heat!
Our second tasty adventure with the St. Regis was a visit to Rio Grande, Puerto Rico at the St. Regis Bahia Beach. We were met by our friendly driver, Ivan, who was prompt, professional and provided provisions (all very important P’s for an airport car service) and we were on our way. With an easy flight into San Juan, all that was left was hopping on route 66 – and it didn’t wind from Chicago to LA – this road leads from the airport to Puerto Rican paradise.
As we reached our final approach to the St. Regis Bahia Beach, we were blown away by the scenery. This property is located on 483 acres of former coconut plantation in the El Yunque National Rain Forest. Fun fact: this 28,000 acre preserve is the ONLY tropical rain forest on US soil. We are talking lush forest, a plethora of animal and bird life and over 20 varieties of wild orchids. I know…I know….we’re only here for the food…..but seriously, stunning property.
Welcome, welcome! All staff know our names and address us personally as we are quickly whisked into the grand lobby and seated with a fresh squeezed rum punch in hand. Check-in is a breeze and we are off to the culinary races.
First stop on this foodcation is the pool bar. Yes, we need another delicious libation, don’t judge, but Seagrapes is oh so much more than just poolside beverages. This stylish, contemporary space is an alfresco, full service restaurant that provides culinary masterpieces to the pool and beach areas. If you are lucky enough to meet the Chef de Cuisine of this establishment, Ruben Guzman, you will quickly understand why everything coming out of this kitchen is outstanding in both quality and presentation. Ruben is a perfectionist. Period. If it isn’t perfect – it isn’t leaving the kitchen. He is a self-taught chef who got his start cooking for his family at a young age because, and these are his words, “my sister’s cooking was too bland.” Sorry for the diss sis, but I sure am glad this Puerto Rican born chef was inspired by you!
One of the true standouts of Seagrapes is its wood-fired pizza oven. Perfect, bubbly, hot crust with amazing consistency and texture. What puts these pies over the top are their crazy-creative toppings. We were left drooling after the Cuban pizza (yes, a play on the traditional Cuban sandwich), the Avocado pizza (hot crust, cool avo and fresh squeezed lime) and the S’mores pizza (you heard me, dessert pizza). Pizza + Cocktail = Poolside Nap. Good thing you can mosey out to the palm tree lined pool and find a cozy spot for a tropical siesta. The pool feels like it winds for miles creating private spots for total relaxation.
We were roused from our slumber just in time for the tradition of the champagne sabering – one of the many things we love about the St. Regis brand. You will experience this ritual, with its own local twists and traditions, at every St. Regis property. On to dinner at celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Fern Restaurant. It’s lovely and a great addition to the resort. I’m told by the staff this St Regis property is touted as making some of the best black pepper octopus at any Jean-Georges establishment – and they weren’t kidding – delicious! Not a bad first day – but that was just the training round. It was time to get serious which meant meeting the big dog, Executive Chef of the property, Gustavo Sanchez.
After a glorious morning beach walk, we were escorted into a golf cart and shuttled to another restaurant on the property called Molasses. The place is a stunner! Right on the 18th hole of the golf course complete with “19th hole” bar area, beautiful formal dining room with open kitchen, and outdoor seating. If you walk outside you can lounge at the infinity pool, pool bar or the gorgeous stretch of beach. This area of the property just went through a 3 million dollar renovation and it definitely shows.
The man of the hour (or, weekend) is waiting for us as we arrive. Gustavo Sanchez is a whopping 32 years young but you would never know it. This chef is creative, sophisticated and cool as a cucumber under pressure. It is obvious he spends a great deal of time properly training and mentoring his culinary staff – A+ for Chef Gustavo. He warmed our hearts with stories of learning to cook from his Puerto Rican grandmother and mother – but here comes the real test chef – let’s eat!
We were lucky enough to have two unforgettable meals at Molasses with Chef Gustavo at the helm and were blown away by his talent and range. The brunch/lunch items will keep you coming back every day of your vacation. From the coconut crusted French toast with sweet plantains and brown butter, the Caribbean lobster benedict with cilantro béarnaise (egg punctured and béarnaise poured table side – very nice touch) to the mouth watering Churrasco Encebollao (skirt steak with ajili mojili served on a bed of perfectly crispy yucca fries), the variety and quality of this restaurant is outstanding. Pair all of that with their special brunch cocktail – the 19th hole – and you will be in food coma heaven.
At sunsndle lit, formal dining area. It is the perfect ambience for an upscale vacation dinner and Chef Gustavo had us at hello. We sat down to his fresh, local, mahi ceviche. Chef prepares each ceviche to order to ensure the freshness of the fish and herbs and this ceviche has a coconut and truffle twist. From here – you can go in any direction at this restaurant and you won’t be disappointed. Whole, perfectly fried, local queen snapper with native arugula salad and tropical fruit (the presentation alone made us want to cry), mouthwatering steaks, pork rind crusted fish and even some local Puerto Rican favorites. Our favorite local dish was Pastelone. At the St. Regis Bahi Beach this Puerto Rican delicacy is named after Chef Gustavo’s mother, Pastelone de Dalva, and he as worked very hard to make it taste just as good as mama used to make. After years of having the dish overnighted to him in college – Chef Gustavo has carried on the torch. It is a must try.
St. Regis Bahia Beach – you kept all our senses highly entertained. We recommend anyone wanting to get away and experience unparalleled cuisine to visit St Regis Bahia Beach. Young amazing talent, facilities that will knock your socks off and a stunning, remote location. Visit their website at www.stregisbahiabeach.com to learn more about the property and book your trip!
Stay tuned for recipes we tried at St. Regis Bahia Beach and a write up of their “Ceviche Circle Experience.”
Learn more about Executive Chef Gustavo Sanchez at his Chef’s Roll Profile or by visiting the St. Regis Bahia Beach website. Cover photo taken from St. Regis Bahia Beach website. Article written by Maggie Sayre VP, Public Relations.