A few month’s back, we finally made it to dinner at Jose Enrique after having heard rave reviews from everyone about this tiny restaurant. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, chef Jose Enrique had worked at in the U.S. before opening his restaurant in Santurce, right by the market, 2007.
Voted as one of the Best New Chefs of 2013 in Food and Wine, we knew that we had to make the effort to eat there. Why the effort? Well, because the restaurant doesn’t take any reservations and although they are open for lunch during the week and it’s probably easier to get a table then, we wanted to go for dinner so we showed up at early on a Saturday evening before the restaurant opened its’ doors at 6:00 and joined the already lengthy queue on the street. Doors did not open exactly at 6:30 so the line moved slowly until we got to the front where we were told that there were no more tables left. As we had already waited more than half an hour, we asked if there was any other possibility, for example at the bar and the hostess finally agreed to seat us at one corner of the bar where we could still order from the regular menu.
The place is nondescript to say the least and not particularly charming so we hoped that despite the lack of ambiance, the food would be good. Menus are written on whiteboards and just list the main ingredient: pollo (chicken), churrasco (skirt steak), filete de cerdo (pork loin) so we really couldn’t decide what to order on our won as we needed the server to explain how these dishes were prepared and what they came with.
We finally decided on carne ahumada (smoked meat), longaniza (local pork sausage) and the minutas (fried fish) to start with a glass of Sauvignon blanc to start. We could see the action from the tiny glassed-in kitchen where chef Jose Enrique was hard at work as the restaurant was packed for the first seating. The starters were served with two bottles of homemade hot sauce – one green chili and the other red chili. The sausage was good and came with a side of deep-fried tostones (mashed plantain fritters) and the deep-fried fish was delicious with a dip of the ubiquitous Puerto Rican sauce – mayoketchup (their version spicy of thousand island made with, as the name suggests, a combination of mayonnaise and ketchup). The smoked meat was a disappointment though and not interesting as an appetizer – it was chunks of tough deep-fried (again) meat topped with pickled fried onions and also served with the deep-fried tostones. What was also disappointing was the fact that most of the dishes, in true Puerto Rican style, were deep-fried and didn’t give enough variety cooking-wise.
For our main courses, we chose the signature dish Colirrubia – a butterflied whole fish with the flesh taken off the bone then deep-fried whole, head, tail, skin and all – and served with a salsa made of chopped avocados and tomatoes. We also had the pork loin which was a classic roast pork over mashed potatoes (boring side) and a chimichurri like sauce with tomatoes. The plainest dish that evening was the churrasco (skirt steak), which although fine, came with a cup of rice and another fried plantain – more like cafeteria food than restaurant food. Dessert was a giant portion of okay flan and a lackluster chocolate trio dessert of chocolate brownie, chocolate tartufo and a chocolate mousse.
Service as expected was rushed though courteous and the food was good but not impressive. I would probably go back for luncha nd give it another try but the thought of getting there and not being able to sit down and eat is a bit of a deal breaker. The no-reservation policy doesn’t help as one could show up for dinner, line up for more than half an hour and never get a table or get on a waiting list (they don’t have one) as had happened to the couple who were right behind us in the queue who ahd to give up and leave and frankly, if we were in any other big restaurant city like New York or London, it wouldn’t be a big deal because there will always another cool little place around the corner to eat at, but in Puerto Rico where there isn’t much available, it could ruin your evening.
176 Duffaut Street
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Telephone: +1 787 725 3518
*Open for lunch and dinner Tuesdays to Fridays: 11:30 am till closing
*Open for dinner only on Saturday: 6:30 pm till closing
*Closed Sunday and Monday