Friendship, respect and the same love for local, fresh and seasonal ingredients are what I have in common with chef Vivoni Ventura.
So, on a recent and unexpected trip to my homeland Puerto Rico, I decided to give a try to his restaurant.
"Restaurarte Vida Ventura" is more than a place to eat. I was pretty sure dinner would be rich, but what you discover is much, much more.
It is a spiritual, familiar and "organic" experience; amazing sensations to your senses. It is necessary to experience it because words fall short.
Just two hours from San Juan, in Adjuntas - a town in the west central mountains of the island - you find yourself wrapped in nature on an antique and charming home called by the family "Hacienda Luz de Luna". Mr. Vivoni, chef Vivoni's father, welcomes you with a sparkling and aromatic citrus cocktail with ginger and lemongrass accents from his farm and then invites you to join him at the terrace... where the experience begins.
I was surprised they arranged all chairs in a circle like a spiritual retreat or a family reunion, with a table in the center with "heirloom" ciders, lemons and beautiful annatto seeds flowers. For an hour, host and guests share stories and relax. Vivoni tells with mischief the history of the family, talks about the place, its trees and even the cooking secrets of our jíbaros (Puerto Ricans who lived in the mountains) and taínos (the native Puerto Ricans), while the creations of my friend Ventura parade before our eyes. Mmmmm... and we begin to built up an appetite!
After the talk, he invites us to take a walk through his farm. There are fig trees, breadfruit, "carambola", all types of heirloom citruses and vegetables, even his own coffee and "jobos" with which they make preserves that visitors can buy.
We then move into the dining room of his home that sits around 25 people. He advise us that it will be "slow food" dinner; in other words, relax for a couple of hours and dine with tranquility. The atmosphere is so casual that you can chat with chef Vivoni in his kitchen while he is making dinner, which consists of seven or eight dishes that change daily.
In my memory remains the wonderful flavors of mangú croquettes with "salchichón", cheese and caramelized onions, the interactive roots (viandas) and veggie soup with goat cheese and sesame seeds, and the "lechón" (roasted pork) on crispy "viandas" risotto with mushrooms, roasted sofrito and beer demi, among others.
Trust me, you feel at home. Simply an unforgetable day. If you go, reserve an entire day to experience this relaxing mountain where the "coqui" sings at two in the afternoon!
Congrats to the entire Vivoni's family!