Monday, May 31, 2010

Eating the Island, Part 3: Aguaviva

I knew before leaving for Puerto Rico that I wanted to enjoy one uber fancy, most likely to be pricey, foodie meal in Puerto Rico.  Because I'm neurotic, I scoured the internet for ideas and decided that I would either dine at Dragonfly or Aguaviva, both of which are apart of Puerto Rico's OOF! Restaurant Group.   The two are located right next door to each other on Forteleza street, so I was really torn, going from one menu to the other. The manager of Aguaviva was standing outside and laughing at my dilemma, eventually luring me in with talk of a lobster stuffed snapper.  Sold. 

Aguaviva is trying to bring a hip, swank, yuppie NYC, DC, Miami vibe to Old San Juan.  The decorations were clean and modern, kitchen was visible, and the bar had high chairs and booths had fluffy pillows.  Here's the view from my seat:

360 View of Aguaviva from my seat from kashiad on Vimeo.

Our server came and asked for our drink order.  My boyfriend, being the adventurous soul that he is, ordered a rum and coke; I opted to find out the drink specials.  Our server recommended the mango martini and after ordering the manager informed me that this was Aguaviva's signature drink and that I would not be disappointed.  The cocktail was composed of vodka and mango puree, rimmed with sugar, and garnished with starfruit.* For me this drink was way too sweet and the raw sugar rim did not add anything to the drink, but I was appreciative of the floating bits of fresh mango and creative starfruit garnish.

Shortly after bringing our drinks, our server brought out the bread basket.  I love carbohydrates and whereas most people do not like to fill up on bread, I can easily nosh through an entire bread basket before a meal.  At Aguaviva, their bread is a weird yeasty, cornbread, focaccia-y thing that smelled heavily of rosemary, but lacked any true fact it was pretty dry.  I looked at the dish of white cream and decided to dip my bread into it.  This "white cream" turned out to be garlic aioli which woke things up!  With the aioli, the bread suddenly developed a taste and buttery feel.  I still consider this to be a big fail, because good bread should be able to stand alone and not be drowned in a sauce.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first bread basket I've ever asked to be taken away.

I moved on to try the raw oysters, something that Aguaviva advertises heavily.  The oysters change daily and while I was dining I got to try the Blue Point and Virginia oysters served on the half shell.  I'd never tried raw oysters before, the concept grossed me out, but I'm really glad I gave them a try because I fell in love.

In addition to the oysters, we ordered the salmon ceviche (seasoned fish "cooked" with citrus [usually lime] juice) with tostones (smashed and fried plantains).  After living in Peru and Chile, this ceviche was okay at best.  The fish was very fresh and the lime was heavy, but there was a lack of flavor.  I think it needed more onion or something along those lines to balance things out.  I'm not sure how to decscribe it, but anyone who has had good ceviche knows exactly what I'm talking about.

After a bit of a wait, our food finally arrived.  I ordered the bribery dish--A whole fried red snapper, stuffed with lobster mofongo.   I soon regretted my decision.  Before I get into the review of the fish, let me explain that my first memory of fried red snapper was in Panama where the fish is scored, stuffed with seasoning, and fried to perfection.  Fastforward.  Despite a pretty epic presentation, the fish had no flavor...really, a Captain D's batter would have given me better justice.  Adding to the disappointment of the fish, the "lobster" mofongo barely had visible pieces of the crustacean and on its own it was dry...a deadly sin for the smashed plaintains.  I couldn't even finish it, and wished I had more oysters.

My boyfriend's dish fared no better and seemed to suffer from food ADD.  His seafood risotto was smokey because of the bacon, but since all the fat did not get rendered off, the bacon was chewy which is in my eyes immoral and an amateurish culinary misstep.  Calamari, shrimp, and scallops were the sea creatures present in the risotto, but none really had a flavor as the cheese** and chewy bacon dominated the starch and its sea friends.  Also, the scallops on the dish itself were a bit undercooked, giving way to a weird stringy texture.  Also, the weirdest thing of all is that it was topped with what I concluded to be lemon infused coconut.  There was just too much going on.

The chef made me a personal batch (each serving is made to order so you can't exactly "sample" them) of lobster mashed potatoes since I'd mentioned to our server that I wanted to try (and blog about) them.  I found it absolutely ridiculous that the lobster mashed potatoes had more lobster in them than my lobster mofongo!  Furthermore, the potatoes were quite salty which overpowered the natural sweetness of lobster, but did have a nice hint of cream and were the perfect texture.  Overall: I'm glad I was sampling them and not paying for them as I would have been slightly incensed.

To end my meal, I ordered the vanilla creme brulee and watched like a little kid as the cook grabbed the torch and started caramelizing the sugar.  I grew concerned as I felt that he was torching for far too long, and my fears were confirmed when my dessert arrived....burnt.  SIGH.  I took my spoon and cracked away the burnt sugar to find a delightful custard underneath.  The custard had a consistancy of moouse and had a nice, but not overpowering vanilla flavor.  The strawberry garnish paired nicely and lightened things up.

All in all Aguaviva has great service, an innovative menu, and fresh seafood.  However, the flavors are still lacking and basic culinary missteps ruin classic and simple flavors.  I would say stop in to Aguaviva for some appetizers (hint: raw oysters or ceviche) and a cocktail, but head elsewhere for dinner.

364 Calle La Fortaleza
Old San Juan, San Juan

Overall Ranking:
Food: 2.5 out of 5 fros
Service: 5 out of 5 fros

*I discovered during my cocktail that I'm allergic to starfruit!
**Cheese + Seafood = Hot mess


  1. What a shame about the food, how disappointing...But the drink looks fantastic!

  2. Man, I'm sorry I didn't stumble across your blog before my trip this past wknd. Had a similar experience at Aquaviva. Tried 2 of their ceviches, one traditional, one that seemed a bit more unique and VERY spicy. Both were quite nice. But the main dish was lackluster and overcooked (and quite pricey), and one of the cocktails tasted like dimetapp instead of the berries and chambord that was the star. Ah well. Definitely recommend the watermelon sangria and the ceviche.


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