Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

On a rainy Friday evening, we headed over to the eastern side of the island to Rio Grande to spend the night at the St. Regis Bahia Beach.  The drive from Dorado beach took more than an hour and a half because of the rush hour traffic.  We checked in to the hotel at around 5:00 p.m. and went straight to our golf view deluxe room.  After unpacking our overnight bag and freshening up, we waited for a golf cart to take us back to the main building for dinner at their main restaurant, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Fern.
We were surprised to walk into an empty restaurant on a Friday evening until we realized that most guests were dining on the outdoor terrace.  The interiors are simple and modern – leather chairs and banquettes, wooden tabletops with just the silverware, a tumbler, a wine glass on a place mat with just the colorful artwork on the walls throughout the restaurant.
The dinner menu was on one page with around eight starters and eight main courses plus a six-course tasting menu for US$82 which could be paired with a different wine per course for an additional US$34.  There were also several dishes listed under the heading “simply cooked” which were grilled items like salmon, lobster, chicken and tenderloin and a list of sides like grilled asparagus, creamy black beans, ginger rice and crispy potatoes.  There were some interesting Asian influences in the menu items as well as typical hotel dishes like cheeseburgers.  After making our choices, we were served with warm focaccia bread, olive oil, sea salt and a flask of chili-infused tomato sauce which we dipped our bread in.  This was followed by an amuse-bouche of roasted grouper and avocado – a bite of hot fish contrasting with the cold avocado puree.

Our appetizers came next, which we asked them to set down in the middle of the table to share: the avocado pizza with jalapeno, cilantro and lime and the Asian-influenced black pepper octopus, sweet onions and aji dulce. The pizza was a delight – thin slices of creamy avocado over sliced onions on a crispy pizza base and topped with chopped jalapenos and sprinkled with just a hint of lemon and chopped cilantro.  It was a delicious novelty pizza – a pleasant surprise.  The black pepper octopus was heavenly and the kind of food that I remember Jean-Georges for – spicy black-pepper crusted octopus on a bed of sliced sweet onions and a dollop of sweet chili puree – Asian in origin yet French in execution.
Main courses followed soon after which we enjoyed with a glass of California Pinot Noir.  A had the veal milanese which was a classic bread-crumbed veal escalope topped with an arugula salad with dried cranberries and came with sweet potatoes.  I chose the waiter-recommended roasted grouper with aromatic black beans, avocado and scallions which was a seared grouper fillet over a black-bean-avocado salsa, perfectly cooked and tasty enough although I expected more Asian-influences from the main courses but sadly, there weren’t any.  For dessert, we chose the classic cheesecake from the half dozen items and were pleased with the creamy cheesecake which came with a cranberry compote, quince sorbet and an extra scoop of banana-lime ice cream with a sand of crushed sable cookies to add texture and crunch to the dessert.  Disappointing espressos ended the meal – one of my pet peeves is when a restaurant, especially a fine dining one, doesn’t have good coffee and the meal ends with an espresso that isn’t properly made.  It’s a good thing that the food was very good and the espresso didn’t ruin our dinner. 
at the St. Regis Bahia Beach
State Road 187 Km. 4.2
Rio Grande
Puerto Rico 00745
Telephone: +1 787 809 8000
*Open for dinner Mondays to Thursdays 6 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 6 to 11 p.m.
*Open daily for breakfast 7 to 11:30 a.m., Brunch on Sundays

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