Picture this, soothing blue lights with white accents that give you the feeling of being at the bottom of the sea and a spectacular bar with a cascade waterfall running right through it. No, you are not in some exotic resort, you are entering Zest. The restaurant is located on the first floor of the San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel, a trendy boutique hotel in the heart of Isla Verde.
The restaurant’s executive chef is Raul Correa who has over 20 years of experience in the industry. His many culinary achievements include a nomination for Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef of 2013 and a silver medal in the “Best Chef of the Caribbean” category of the prestigious Taste of the Caribbean, where he was captain of Puerto Rico’s culinary team. That same year, the team was crowned as the “Best Culinary Team of the Caribbean.”
For a while I had been dying to visit Zest. In the past, I had the opportunity to taste Chef Correa’s food in various food fests such as Saborea and the Festival Gastronómico Porta del Sol, which only served to make me more determined to visit his restaurant. As you know, I never introduce myself to chefs, since I like to keep my visits to their restaurants anonymous in order to give accurate reviews of the dining experience I receive at their respective establishments without showing any bias. However, in various events, I had the opportunity to observe from a distance and admired his technique. I particularly liked that he seemed like a real down to earth chef committed to providing anyone he serves his food to a truly unforgettable experience.
Recently, Puerto Rico Restaurant Week took place. It is an awesome event in which many restaurants feature price fixed menus for lunch and dinner. The best part? High end restaurants are included in the roster, which gives the public access to places that they could not usually afford. This year, one of the best menus featured for restaurant was Zest’s, so I decided to head over there and finally pay Chef Correa a visit.
The gastronomic feast commenced with the amuse bouche: a Rice Cracker with Pigeon Pea Hummus and Pigeon Pea Ceviche. The light and refreshing flavor of the Pigeon Pea Ceviche atop the crunchy rice cracker was the perfect start to our meal.
Chef Correa is almost notorious for kicking serious butt in his preparation of octopus. So my choice for the appetizer was clear: the Pulpo a la Plancha with Black Bean Hummus, Arugula, and an Achiote Citrus Vinaigrette. The dish definitely lived up to its fame. The fabulously tender octopus paired beautifully with the zesty yet smoky flavor of the vinaigrette. The black bean hummus is something I would have never imagined to pair with the octopus, yet it complemented the dish perfectly. One of my favorite parts about the dish were the crumbled bits of morcilla (blood sausage). It was like christmas in my mouth!
My husband ordered the Short Ribs with Coffee Rub, Parsnip Mousseline and Brussels Sprouts. The coffee rub seared a gorgeous and delicate brown crust upon the short ribs adding a deep caramelized flavor to the meat. Our only complaint was that they were a bit tough to chew on. The slightly charred Brussels sprouts were crispy and nutty, just how I like them. I know what you are thinking. Eww Brussels sprouts! I realize they are a slightly controversial vegetable due to their bitter flavor, but cooked just right, they can be amazing.
My dish was definitely the showstopper: the Red Snapper on a bed of Plantain Mofongo with a Lemongrass-Chorizo Broth. The fish had an amazing texture, crispy on the outside and incredibly tender on the inside. It was topped with Ajilimójili (a mildly hot and slightly sweet sauce made with olive oil, garlic, cilantro, hot peppers, among other ingredients) which gave each bite a nice kick of spice. The mofongo was on point and the lemongrass-chorizo broth gave it a welcome level of moisture and additional flavor. I simply loved this dish.
Finally, it was time for dessert. We decided to go with the Fried Donuts with Tiramisu Cream for dipping. I am not a big dessert person, but these babies were out of this world! Sorry no pictures are available of this dish since my husband made sure to dig into the dessert as soon as it arrived on the table.
Zest was an all-around memorable dining experience. The food can be best described as a modern twist on Puerto Rican food. Chef Correa’s creations definitely demonstrated creativity, advanced cooking techniques, and his love for local ingredients. His servers were attentive, yet unobtrusive. We will definitely be back to try other menu items such as their iconic and gutsy Popcorn Soup. Pro tip: After dinner, head to the top floor for a night cap at Mist, where you can enjoy a spectacular view and stellar cocktails.