I actually want Michelin inspectors to go to San Juan just so that Marmalade can get a Michelin star. Pretty bold statement, I know, but T and I think it's that good. Actually we think it's the best restaurant in San Juan, period. The exterior of the restaurant screams deep orange befitting the colorful range of storefronts in Old San Juan.

 Stepping into Marmalade, we were transported to a place with warm and serene environment. We were very lucky to be seated at one of the couches and if I may say so, it was possibly the best seating in the restaurant. We sat next to each other on a wide sofa and behind our backs were so many pillows for us to lean our backs against.

Chef Peter Schintler, who also owns this restaurant, clearly is in his game. He does not only depend on his food to keep his customers. The entire night he periodically appeared from the kitchen and dropping by as many tables as he possibly could to create a personal dining experience among the crowd. He came over to our table at the beginning of the night to tell us about the Californian wines that they had on special.

We went with a 5-course prix fixe which allowed us to choose the items from their ala carte menu. It was a good decision as we got to sample several very delicious dishes. I use the word sample here very lightly because each item was a standard portion instead of a tasting portion like what we would have come to expect from a prix fixe multiple courses meal.

The scallop mojito was impressive from the time it was brought to our table right before we tasted it. Served in a martini glass, our server poured table side from a martini shaker a concoction of light coconut and rum liquid into the glasses. In the martini glass were scallops, thinly sliced avocado, slivers of red onion, and topped with mint. It was a refreshing start of our meal, to say the least.

If I had a choice, I normally would not choose a cream-based soup as I always find a lot of them too rich for my enjoyment. I really really love soups and always go for broth-based ones e.g. minestrone, chicken noodle, etc. At Marmalade, their signature item which is the white bean and black truffle soup is part of the prix fixe menu (so technically we had the signature item + four own chosen items). Granted, if this soup did not already come with the prix fixe option, I would most probably not have ordered it which would have been very unfortunate. This soup changed my mind on how I feel about rich creamy soup in general; I'm now a convert. It was one of those experiences where a person does not like a certain type of food possibly due to sub-par experiences but all it takes is just one perfect way of making that type of food to make the person fall in love with it. The black truffle oil that was drizzled on the soup was enough to make us excited to sip our soup away. Also topped with crispy pancetta and truffle bits, the soup was wonderful.

The portions of our foie gras was definitely memorable. It was huge and we each had one to our ownselves. I don't think we've even had an order of foie gras this generous in size before when sharing among the both of us. The foie gras was accompanied with blood sausage and raspberry. It was amazing but I have to admit that the far-from-petite size of the foie gras for each of us started becoming a little too rich for us towards the end of the course.

Next up we had truffled beef cheeks served on a bed of rice pilaf. The sauce was very beefy and definitely tasted like alot of everything beef went into it. T and I disagreed on how we felt about this. I could definitely taste the truffles in mine but he said he tasted the lack of it. The beef cheeks were very tender and smooth. It was definitely pleasing to the palette.

After the scallop mojito, white bean and truffle soup, foie gras and beef cheeks, we were ready for dessert. We ordered a different dessert each and I had doughnuts and coffee. Named so, it isn't because the doughnuts were served with a cup of coffee. Rather, it was because the macadamia-coated beignets were meant to be dunked into a cup of coffee and chocolate covered with a strawberry-lemongrass sauce and foam on the top. T's dessert was the answer to a chocolate lover's dream. The brownie-like cake came with milk chocolate mousse and dark chocolate pecans. And it was completed with guava glaze. The entire mini cake sat on two dark chocolate swirls.

This was one of those dining experiences that become memorable because the entire night was great on so many levels. The wonderful service was a great complement to the dishes that reflect the thought that went into them. There are many reasons as to why Marmalade will continue to succeed in San Juan and remain as one of people's favorites.

317 Cll Fortaleza
San Juan, PR 00901


La Bombonera

Nestled in the streets of Old San Juan, when we stepped into La Bombonera it felt like we were suddenly transported back to circa 1960. One could easily imagine his or her grandparents there in the yesteryear. This place was retro. It was nostalgic.

The front section of the cafe is a small bakery where you can get pastries to go. The baked pastries were displayed on the casing shelves by the window enticing people to come in. The shelves inside the bakery were filled with empty white paper boxes waiting to be filled with orders as customers trickled in. Behind the bakery counter was an elderly man folding the paper boxes who looked like he had been with La Bombonera for a long time.

Spilling out into the bakery section is the line to get seated in the cafe. It was brunch time and we found ourselves standing in line. This place was bustling. Impressively, we waited no more than 10 minutes before we got seated.

The famous mallorca is really something to remember by. This popular Puerto Rican item is a marriage between sweet and savory. The mallorca bread is grilled and stuffed with ham, bacon, eggs, cheese, and butter. The sandwich is not complete until it is generously dusted with confectioners sugar. The combination sounds like something that I'd need to get used to but I was taken by surprise as to how well the combination of tastes worked out.

Our server placed my mallorca on our table and the husband T and I just gaped at it for a few seconds. The server gave us a wide grin, said "You'll love it", and then walked away. The table next to us, also visiting Puerto Rico, couldn't help looking over at the mallorca that was just brought to our table. The one thing that scared me a little, I have to admit, was the really generous amount of confectioners sugar on the mallorca. But hey, we've got to live a little right? Interestingly despite the generous dusting of confectioners sugar, the mallorca was far from being as sweet as frosting on a cupcake, as one might come to expect. The sweetness of the mallorca was light, if that's the right word to describe it.

I sliced the mallorca into half and the warmth of the sandwich made the cheese looked like it was about to ooze out. Warm stuffings, toasty bread, and confectioners sugar-- the entire thing was simple decadence. My brunch was complete with an order of Puerto Rican coffee to accompany my mallorca.

T had the braised pork with rice and a fried plaintain which he found very tasty. I took a bite of it and it was lovely. I even thought to myself why didn't I order that dish before being reminded by the mallorca in front of me that it was as good.

La Bombonera is on Calle San Francisco (San Francisco Sreet) in Old San Juan. Get seated at the counter if possible.

La Bombonera
259 Cll San Francisco
San Juan, PR 00901


Old San Juan

San Juan Bay promenade

City + beach, all in one. It's like getting the best of both worlds and that's the great thing about San Juan, Puerto Rico. When we weren't out snorkeling in the water, ziplining in the rainforest, or reading on the beach, we were in Old San Juan. With its prominent colonial architecture, Old San Juan stands out as an historic area resilient in preserving what was left to, well, preserve.

Each shop house is colored differently reflecting its own unique character. The windows have their own personalities. Many of the streets are made of cobble stones. Some hilly streets of Old San Juan even reminded us of San Francisco but without the vibe of a massive city. Old San Juan is quaint and beautiful.

During the day it is bustling with pedestrians. At night, foot traffic is equally, if not more, heavy as the crowd trickles in for a good time at the many fantastic restaurants before heading to a bar located either a few doors, streets, or blocks away depending on where they are headed to. As much as we saw curious tourists, there were as many locals hanging out in Old San Juan.

Street vendors abound all through the day and night. The most memorable ones were definitely the many popsicle carts which we kept seeing over and over again. All of those popsicle carts sold the exact same three flavors: coconut, passion fruit, and pina colada. Even their carts and the labels on the carts looked exactly the same. The only difference between those carts was the person handling it. Before we became popsicled-out, luckily we saw the candy floss man who was ever so glad in posing with a peace sign for our camera.

We veered off the cobbled stone streets towards the bay where El Morro could be found. Historically this fort was built to guard San Juan Bay against enemies coming in from the sea. Today el Morro is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. San Juan also has an impressive city wall that is about 20ft in thickness and 60ft in height built to guard the city against attack.

El Morro
20ft thick city wall
Old San Juan is tremendously rich in history and culture. It really is a great example of how a city can be relevant as today's entertainment and nightlife district without all the contemporary exterior to it. It's
a perfect blend of the past and present.


Sailing and Snorkeling

During our Puerto Rico trip, we left San Juan for a day and sailed out off the coast of Fajardo. We went with Spread Eagle II and the entire day trip on the catamaran was wonderful. Sailing on the blue waters, taking in the air, and soaking up the sun, it was amazing. As I sit here typing this where it's currently 18 degrees F in Chicago, I'm reminiscing feeling the sun on my skin.

Pina coladas and other mixed rum drinks generously abound. It was time for good fun. The crew on the catamaran exuded sheer enjoyment and enthusiasm that it made it look like it wasn't just another job for them but something that they do out of passion. Their familiarity with sea navigation was impressive. We were in the middle of the sea and while we passed many faraway islands that looked all the same and appearing only as big as our arms with our naked eyes, the crew on our catamaran knew exactly which island was St Thomas and which other island was St Croix that we were sailing past.

Our first stop was at an uninhibited Spanish Virgin Islands specifically called Icacos Island. Just as we were preparing to dock by the shore, we looked out to the sea and saw two dolphins from afar. It felt surreal seeing the fins coming in and out of the water. It happened so fast and they disappeared never to be seen again in the ocean. It felt like paradise. There was no one else on the island except our group on the catamaran. I almost felt like I was in Lost. We stopped at an anchorage just off the shore and got off the catamaran into knee-deep water. After putting on our snorkeling gear, we headed straight into the water.

Snorkeling has always been one of those outdoor activities that I've always wanted to do since I was a kid but never got a chance to. In Malaysia, where I grew up, beautiful white sand and blue water beaches abound. There were plenty of opportunities to snorkel but as it turned out I am the only one in the family who finds passion in the outdoors, and so we never had snorkeling family trips. T, on the other hand, has snorkeled before as a child. I wonder where I got those outdoor-loving genes from. As an adult I finally snorkeled for the first time on our honeymoon. And it will not be my last snorkeling trip.

At this first snorkeling location, we saw mostly reefs and there were less fish swimming around us. The water here was also more shallow than our next stop which worked out really well as a snorkel starter in preparation for our next stop.

More snorkeling awaited when we next sailed to another nearby island. This time we stopped in the midst of deep waters, put on our snorkel gears while still aboard, and then proceeded to jump into the water for more snorkeling. This second stop was the highlight as we saw many more beautiful living reefs. The coral reefs ranged from bright green to maroon. Some of the coral reefs were swaying from their spots following the water movement under the sea. Tropical fish with bright yellow and blue stripes were swimming below us. It was amazing and I made sure to absorb all of it and to take in those moment where I could see with my eyes what life under the sea was like. We spend most of the year so absorbed in city dwelling that it was extremely refreshing to see how beautiful marine life was. The only thing we wish now was that our water camera wasn't as sucky as it turned out as the photos taken underwater from the water camera do not do them justice.

As luck would have it, we had another dolphin sighting just as we were sailing back to Fajardo. This time the little dolphin was alone. It made itself known first with its fin coming in and out of the water probably about 20 meters away from our catamaran. Just as we thought we lost it, the dolphin appeared again swimming swiftly right beside our catamaran and then off it disappeared again into the water never to be seen again. We also caught a mackerel fish but let it go.

We will remember this trip for a very long time and just like doing anything for the first time is always special, this first snorkeling experience for me was just as special. Perhaps its time to start thinking about where next we should do this.