I left work a bit late for lunch today, not knowing where I was going. I ended up at My Old San Juan on Madison Boulevard, in the same shopping center as Saigon in southern Madison.
A friendly, attractive 40ish woman was my hostess, server, cook, and (I later learned) the owner. She would switch freely between English and Spanish when speaking with me, but I was always able to get her gist. She told me she’d had a misunderstanding with the previous owner, and consequently was still spinning her efforts up. This was quite evident in the appearance of the restaurant. It was reasonably clean, but with very much an “in progress” look. I expect she’ll have it looking snazzier in the weeks to come, given her apparent intentions to make this an evening destination.
I knew nearly nothing about Puerto Rican cuisine when I walked in the door. It seemed reasonable to suppose that it would live somewhere between Mexican and Caribbean. Professing my ignorance, I asked for her recommendation, and she suggested the roasted pork plate. Yes ma’am.
My soup, which comes with all entrees (as advertised on the front glass), arrived nearly immediately.
The broth seemed largely chicken-based, though there was no meat present. It tasted of cumin and cilantro. It also contained a few potato chunks and (surprise!) pasta, which was the most jarring detail of the meal for me. Wasn’t expecting to find such, but it’s well within the realm of the cuisine. The soup was palatable, but not especially memorable. It was the least impressive detail of the meal.
As I was finishing the soup, I spotted her in the kitchen window.
“Ma’am? Is this pork spicy?”
“You like spicy?”
“Yes, I like spicy very much.”
“I bring spicy (rapid Spanish) fresh made (more Spanish) jalapeno and habanero.”
“Thank you; sounds good.” (And it did. Two promising words at the end, yes?)
That turned out to be a cup of sauce. I asked her what else was in it besides jalapeno and habanero, and she smiled and said “top secret.” Heh. The sauce seemed to have a vinegar base, and I suspect it was made with fresh peppers today. A rich, earthy jalapeno flavor popped, carrying a little heat, and then the habanero hit. This was outstanding, and rather warm for a restaurant offering. I’m looking forward to my next encounter with this sauce.
My beans came next. These are red kidney beans, somewhat soupy and with more pepper chunks.
My main plate arrived shortly thereafter. She told me to put the beans in my rice to taste.
The beans and rice did indeed go well together, and the rice took up the peppery liquid nicely. The pork was very good, though by itself it presented nothing particularly new to me. I could have easily believed it was pulled pork from a local barbecue place. The house hot sauce went marvelously on everything, and was the primary source of any gestalt I pulled from a single Puerto Rican meal.
The plantain deserves specific mention. My previous experiences with plantains were at Mango’s, and while I ate on them both times, they weren’t a highlight for me. This plantain slice was from a much larger fruit, and pan-fried to a delightful crisp. It was delicious.
With an unsweetened tea and 18.4% for the server/restaurateur, my lunch bill was $13.
As with Mango’s, I’m not going to give a rating. This was my first experience with Puerto Rican cuisine, and I don’t have enough frame of reference to properly evaluate. I enjoyed my lunch today, and I’ll try it again.