Yesterday, after mass, I tried out a new restaurant. Not just new to me but also new to San Juan. I had been observing it over the past couple of weeks. The name is “Tavola” which sounded Italian. Obviously, I took note. Sure enough, a few days later there was a board out front saying it had homemade pasta and organic wine. A few more days later I happened to walk by when two gentlemen were having their photos taken in front of a sign that proudly said, “Tavola is now open, serving pizzas, homemade pasta, and organic wine. Join us!” And, so I did.
The wine list hadn’t yet been printed so they brought me a tablet (not like a Moses stone tablet but a Surface Pro digital tablet) with their, as-advertised, organic wines. I ordered the risotto after being assured it was not made with chicken stock. About 5 minutes later the waiter came out to clarify, “So, our risotto is made with chicken soup, but you just want water, instead?” Yup.
As I waited and enjoyed my organic vino, a young man came out with a Bluetooth speaker. He was getting it set up for the first time and placed it on the patio under a palm tree. I thought, “Well done, you. Creating ambiance but in a subtle way. You’ll capture the attention of passersby and immediately indicate the type of experience to expect. He must be the owner.” After he went back inside, my waiter came out to ask if the music was too loud: “He thinks he’s a DJ but he’s the cook.” I laughed out loud.
Then, after about 15 more minutes, my waiter returned again, “So, are you like a vegetarian with the cheese and butter?” I gave him an enthusiastic thumbs up to the cheese and butter. The risotto was delicious. Though, to be fair, there was enough truffle oil to have made dog food taste pretty good. I mentioned to the waiter that I’d noticed the sign saying they were new. He told me the crew had been working together at a different restaurant for years before Maria. After the hurricane, the two business partners separated and this group went with the “better” business partner moving operations to Condado. He said they all had to take Spanish classes so they could communicate with the tourists in the area. When I commended him on his language skills, he said, “I watched lots of Dora the Explorer!” I couldn’t help but laugh and tell him how English-speakers watch Dora the Explorer to learn Spanish. Un muy buen sábado. Yes, a very good Saturday, indeed.
Usually, I have great success with my travel guidebooks giving me indications of interesting local activities like farmer’s markets, weekend flea markets, and artisan markets. (Apparently, this marketer likes a good market.) However, I have been striking out in San Juan with my Lonely Planet book. Sure, there was a massive hurricane that devastated the local economy. I get that. And, I may sound unfeeling, but markets are usually pretty low-key productions — and, I would think, stimulate the local economy. Yet, when I visited the San Juan weekly weekend farmer’s market, it wasn’t there. When I visited the artisan market that happens the first Sunday of every month, it wasn’t there.
However, in seeking each out, I enjoyed plenty of other sights that weren’t necessarily in the guidebook — like the VIP Birthday event at the lagoon. (Gaby and Vivian, we should have monetized “Fourth Grade Birthday Weekend” all those years ago!!)
An area of town I hadn’t yet explored was Isla Verde so I decided to spring for the $10 Uber and check it out. At first, I marveled at the beautiful boutique hotels and luxury apartments. I had read that Condado (where I am staying) was considered the high-end neighborhood. Maybe Maria didn’t impact this area as much but these high rises were gorgeous.
Once at the beach, Isla Verde had a completely different feel than the touristy Condado beaches. These were locals enjoying their long holiday weekend. I had to, again, remind myself that I was not in a foreign country but rather a territory of America that primarily speaks Spanish.
I found a great oceanfront bar and grill (thanks, Google). They didn’t have any beach-facing seats available so the hostess suggested I put in my order and then sit next door at a shack-like bar until my food was ready. And, guess what, the fancy shack establishment had Miller Lite in a can! I haven’t yet mentioned the beer cans in Puerto Rico. They’re 10 ounces rather than 12 ounces so, even drinking a Miller Lite, you feel rather lady-like. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Anyway, when my food was ready I returned and found a seat facing the beach. Winner, winner, (vegetarian) chicken dinner! And the people-watching commenced.
The woman in charge was a no-nonsense, tiny, spitfire. Or, at least, I assume she was in charge. She reminded me of the San Juan mayor screaming about the enormity of Maria’s impact while Trump and the Puerto Rican governor were saying, “Storms happen. NBD.” I’m certain that this woman got her workers together as soon as possible after the hurricane to ensure they were back up and thriving — to support themselves and their patrons.
With that same “pulled up by my own bootstraps” spirit, the reason I was able to find a beach-facing seat available at the bar was because six feet away, a worker was cutting tile. That is not a quiet task. And one that produces a decent amount of tile dust. I decided, “It’s Labor Day!” and “Viva Puerto Rico Repairs!” (and also, “there aren’t any other seats available that face the beach”) so I stayed put. This allowed me to befriend little miss spitfire who eventually moved me to the best seat in the house. (She said she liked my keyboard and phone setup. Thanks, Amazon.)
However, before I left my people-watching perch I was treated to an absolute delight. A bodybuilder with his petite significant other sat at the bar with three friends: two hairy terriers and one pug pup. The person sitting next to the lady left her seat, to which she promptly placed two of the dogs in the vacant chair. Right, because dogs deserve seats at the bar?!? Amazing. I loved picturing this buff guy with their three dogs when she wasn’t around. I really hope he fawns over them and brushes their hair like I see it in my mind.
While I wanted to while away the day drinking mini Miller Lites and watching the Isla Verde world pass me by, I had other important business to attend to — a nap. I chalked up another couple thousand steps on my Fitbit exploring more of Isla Verde and then Ocean Beach and finally gave in to my whining feet and Uber’ed the rest of the way home.
Enjoy the photos from this weekend! Next week I’m taking a few vacation days off work and visiting Vieques. Then, Carolyn comes to visit and then my momma. Then, and I can hardly believe it, I head home. A month older, a shade tanner, a month wiser, and probably a tad wider, too. Speaking of, I think I’ll have Italian, tonight.