I have been so excited to share this post with you that I waited over two weeks to publish it to ensure I had enough time to write a review worthy of the special experience.
For New Years Eve, two friends and I traveled to Puerto Rico. For four days we stayed at the Caribe Hilton (which I highly recommend), which is just minutes away from Old San Juan.
Prior to the trip, I received recommendations from two people who had been there recently - my study abroad roommate and my sister (as part of her honeymoon). They both were adamant that if we only had time for one meal in Old San Juan, it had to be at El Picoteo in the Hotel Convento.
So on New Years Day, we hopped into a cab and headed toward the city. Our cab driver told us to walk straight down the main drag and once we got to the end, Hotel Convento would be just up the street on the right.
It wasn't immediately clear where the restaurant was within the hotel and thank goodness we asked, because it was up a tiny stair case inside the hotel's lobby.
El Picoteo is inside the hotel, but faces a courtyard covered in greenery.
The restaurant has a patio that juts out into the courtyard. It feels like an outdoor deck though technically, it's still inside the hotel.
The restaurant had several reservations for large parties, so they asked if we'd be open to sitting on their front patio. Front patio? We didn't even know they had one!
From our table, we had great views of a busy street with tons of people walking by. We later learned that just a few doors up was a Ben & Jerrys. Ha!
Once we were seated, our waitress immediately asked if she could interest us in some sangria. Before we could answer, she proclaimed, "We have three kinds - red, white and champagne." Hold. The. Phone. How have I lived 30 years without knowing people make champagne sangria?
Of course we ordered a pitcher of the elusive champagne sangria, a delightful choice for our first alcoholic beverages of 2015.
Our glasses were full when they arrived, as was our carafe. With this order, we each got two full glasses.
While sipping on our sangria, we scoured the menu. We eventually decided on six plates to share and surprise! They all arrived at the exact same time. The server carrying out our food looked at us, very perplexed, and right then, like a sangria fairy godmother, our waitress swooped in and said, "Need some more room on the table? Ladies, we can finish this." She then picked up our carafe of sangria, topped each of us off and disappeared with the empty pitcher.
When she walked away, we were left with this:
I like to call this, #FeastMode.
The first plate we attacked was the Manchego cheese, drizzled with truffle honey. Let me tell you, truffle honey is absolute food euphoria.
We kept the Manchego party going with a Manchego, tomato and pesto pizza. The pizza was a bit oily, but the pesto was yummy and there were a ton of tomatoes hidden beneath all of that cheese.
Now, you can't have a tapas dinner without tortilla española. The traditional Spanish dish, a potato and onion omelette, is one I fell in love with during my year abroad in Spain. The El Picoteo version of the dish had a bit more zest than others I've had. It was very tasty.
The one meat eater at the table selected the croquetas de pollo (chicken croquettes). When I asked her to describe them, she commented, "These are doughy on the outside, very soft on the inside. You can taste garlic, salt and pepper. They are best when dunked in the aioli."
We got some kick from one of my all time favorite tapas dishes, patatas bravas. The potatoes were expertly crisped and then garnished with a spicy aioli.
Our sixth and final dish was the champiñones al jerez, which is mushrooms cooked in sherry. This preparation was so delicious and flavorful.
The thing about tapas-style dining is that when you order, you always fear you didn't get enough and when you tap out (always with food left on the table), you ask yourself, "What were we thinking?" That chain of events most definitely happened at the end of this meal.
The atmosphere at El Picoteo was magical - from the glittering courtyard patio to the view of the city passing by to the surprise champagne sangria. When it comes to the food, El Picoteo's presentation is nothing fancy, but the execution is on point. This was one of the best meals we had the whole trip.
If you are planning a getaway to San Juan, be sure El Picoteo is on your list!