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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pasta y Pueblo: An Italian Flare in Puerto Rican Cuisine

Pasta y Pueblo
Luquillo, Puerto Rico
$$$$$
Dining Room - Five (5) Tables
We went to El Junque for the day and stopped in Luquillo to try the famous kiosks, but most were closed on New Years Eve. I searched Yelp nearby and found Pasta y Pueblo, but the map led us on a wild goose chase. I persisted and finally found the place using the photos.

The reviews raved about the food, so expectations were high. The place is literally a shack across from the beach, open air with a stiff breeze coming through the openings where windows should be. With just 5 tables, we had to wait about 45 minutes before being seated.


Scallops and Penne Carbonara ($20)
The young lady who took our name was also our server. My wife ordered the scallops and carbonara ($20.00), six nicely seared scallops marinated in a mild sauce atop a bed of penne carbonara (no egg or onion, but tasty nonetheless). I had the grilled skirt steak also with carbonara ($16.50), about 8 ounces of marinated deliciousness.

They have wine, $6/glass and $25 a bottle, beer and an assortment of soft drinks and juices. I had a generous glass of Spanish Tempranillo with dinner.

Skirt Steak with Penne Carbonara ($16)
For dessert there was room for a shared slice of guava cheesecake, at just $3.50 it was the best value in the menu. Thick and rich, the thin guava topping was just enough to accent the taste without overpowering.

A delightful experience with excellent food, fair prices and superb service, we may very we'll return before heading West next week.





CombatCritic Gives Pasta y Pueblo 8 Bombs Out of 10 ... BOMBAS ARE BUENO!
Guava Cheesecake ($3.50)


Key Words: combat, CombatCritic, critic, Luquillo, pasta, Pasta y Pueblo, pueblo, steak, scallops, chicken, mussles, wine, beer, puerto, Puerto Rico, rico, TravelValue

Seven Seas: An Outstanding Beach on PUERTO RICO'S Northwest Coast

Parque Nacional Balneario Seven Seas
Fajardo, Puerto Rico
$$$$$



Seven Seas is a very nice public beach and national park about 30 miles West of San Juan and is clean with a protected swimming area, public toilets, life guards, and access to a nearby snack bar (pastilillos).

Parking is $5.35, but worth the price thanks to the attendant who watches over the lot. There is street parking, but we were told that the police ticket cars, so pay the price or park in Casa de Los Patilillos parking lot. The beach is adjacent to both parking lots.

You can avoid paying the $5.35 parking fee by visiting on Monday or Tuesday when the national park is closed and park your car at Casa de Los Patilillos. Tito, the owner, is very friendly and speaks excellent English. He has a full bar, soft drinks, pastalillos (homemade deep-fried dough pastries with a variety of savory and sweet fillings), and entrees. We tried the ham and cheese (jamon con queso), ham and pineapple (jamon con piña) and beef and cheese (carne con queso), and all three were hot, fresh, and delicious!

The very fine sand on the beach is easy on the feet, but adheres easily to the skin. Much better than the rocky beaches of Greece, the sand is easily brushed or washed away with a towel or the sea.

The water drops off to about three feet then quickly drops off. There are numerous species of fish inside the reef, so bring your snorkeling gear. The bottom is sand and small, smooth rocks, and is easy on the feet. Water temperature was probably in the high 70's, perfectly cool enough to refresh while not so cold it shocks the system.

Mostly families and couples, Seven Seas is highly recommended while in the Northwest part of the island.

CombatCritic Gives Seven Seas 9 Out of 10 Bombs ... BOMBAS ARE Bueno!







Key Words: beach, CombatCritic, Seven Seas, snorkeling, fish, ocean, public, restroom, sand, sea, toilet, snack, bar, Fajardo, Puerto Rico, San Juan, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Keith's AirBnB Miramar (Avenida Miramar - San Juan), Puerto Rico Apartment ... Central, Afforadable, Friendly!


Living Room and Balcony
We found Keith's apartment in Marimar (San Juan) by chance and were we glad we did! For a reasonable price considering the location, we had a bedroom and access to the living area (bath, kitchen, living room, terrrace) of a modern apartment centrally located between downtown San Juan and Old San Juan (less than 2 miles). 

Kitchen
Keith was visiting relatives stateside when we arrived, so Tiffany (a student at University of Puerto Rico and tenant) was there to let us in, orient us to the area, and give us the keys, all on Christmas Eve. She was friendly and helpful before leaving for Ponce to spend the holiday with her family.

On Christmas day there was not a lot open, so we went to El Escambrón, a nice public beach between the apartment and Old San Juan with clean sand, public restrooms, snackbar, and parking ($5).

The next day we took the bus (M1) to Santurce Corazon station where we caught the train (Rio Piedras Station) to Mercado del Rio Piedras, a vibrant indoor market frequented by locals.



Bedroom
The apartment is on the 3rd floor of a modern high-rise with street parking that was at times difficult to find close by. We had to walk a few blocks much of the time there as the parking spots out front were occupied by static vehicles after day two.

Access to a fridge, stove/oven, washer/dryer was very convenient although we had to go out on Christmas Eve and find a Walgreens that happened to be open to buy enough toilet paper to get us through the holiday. The apartment was relatively clean with a lived-in feel and nice, although dated furnishings and decor. There was one beach chair and one beach towel, a thermal lunch bag, and small umbrella available for beach use and we took advantage of all on our trip to El Escambrón.

There is a tub/shower combo in the bathroom with plenty of hot water despite what the previous reviewer had written. Keith provided soap, shampoo, and conditioner as well as laundry detergent and fabric softener (which we replenished prior to departure), but I would advise bringing your own or purchasing at the local market just a few blocks away on Avenue Ponce de Leon, the hub of the area with upscale restaurants, markets, cinema, and fast food (Subway, Papa John's are close by). Having access to a washer and dryer was an unexpected luxury, and a definite advantage to staying here.

CombatCritic Gives Keith's Miramar Apartment 8 Out Of 10 Bombs ... BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: Keith Poimboeuf, Keith, Poimboeuf, apartment, airbnb, Miramar, San Juan, Puerto Rico, puerto, rico, washer, dryer, kitchen, bath, bedroom, terrace, balcony, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Friendly, Vibrant Vibe Awaits You at Mercado del Rio Piedras!

A Friendly, Vibrant Vibe Awaits You at Mercado del Rio Piedras!

Leaving the Rio Piedras train station, go straight one block to De Diego street, turn left, and go about 10 blocks. Mercado del Rio Piedras will be in your left. 

Occupying a full block, the market has fruit, vegetables, food stalls, clothing and sundry shops. Mostly locals, it's a good place to escape tourists and get a cheap lunch!

Strictly locals, this market has a little of everything either inside the large mercado or in the surrounding shopping zone. Inexpensive food stalls, fruit and vegetables, clothing, toys, souvenirs, and a friendly, vibrant vibe await you in Mercado del Rio Piedras! If you want to escape tourists and find some great bargains, THIS IS A MUST SEE in San Juan!

CombatCritic Gives Mercado del Rio Piedras 9 Bombs Out of 10 ... BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: Mercado del Rio Piedras, mercado, market, rio, piedras, river, stones, shopping, food, eat, clothing, shops, shoes, fruit, vegetables, San Juan, Puerto Rico, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Taco Rico Is Cheap and Muy Bueno!

Punta Santiago, Puerto Rico: Taco Rico is a small restaurant where you order at the counter, then they bring you your food. Our hosts, Tony and Bonnie, recommended Taco Rico, so we had to give it a try. It's a small place on Route 3 adjacent to a bar/ nightclub. The owners are very friendly and the men spoke limited English, so our poor Spanish was put to the test.

Tacos are $2, burritos $3.75-$5, burgers under $4. A whole meal including drink easily had for under $7.

The owners were very friendly and the men spoke limited English, so our poor Spanish was put to the test. The microwave was broken, thank heavens, so quesadillas and burgers weren't an option. So we went with the namesake tacos,

The shells were pre-fab, but the cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce were fresh and the meat flavorful. I had a beef burrito and at $3.75 was a great tasting value with beef, beans, lettuce, tomato and cheese. The salsa was "butt-burning" good, coming in a squeeze bottle.

For two dinners, a soft drink and two cervezas the bill came to under $15. Simple and unobtrusive, Taco Rico is nothing fancy, but was a very good value, hence my rating ...

CombatCritic Gives Taco Rico 7 Out of 10 Bombs ... BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: Taco Rico, taco, rico, rich, burrito, hamburger, French, fries, travel, value, CombatCritic, TravelValue, Punta Santiago, Puerto Rico, 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Delta Airlines ... Is "We Don't Care, We Don't Have To" A Thing Of The Past?

Happy Campers
Am I just lucky or is Delta Airlines more user friendly than they used to be? Our recent experience has been nothing but pleasant AND SURPRISING after many years of intercontinental travel and an “I could care less about you because you have no other choice” attitude by the vast majority of airlines. If you have flown in the last 25 years, you know exactly what I am talking about.

It all started when we found a decent airfare for a Christmas trip to Puerto Rico. At $600, more or less, for economy round-trip tickets, we decided that we could afford a few weeks away from the freezing cold and a holiday in the balmy breezes of our tropical Caribbean cousin. 

View From 1st Class ... Don't Get Used To It!
When it came time to choose our seats, I was shocked that the first class cabin was an option, so I jumped on seats 1A and 1B! Woo-hoo … could this be a glitch in Delta’s system or were we really getting “premier” seats for the cost of an economy ticket?

The day before departure, I went online to check-in. A relatively simple process, I had done my homework in advance and resigned myself to the fact that we would be paying $25 per bag for luggage. I heard on National Public Radio just the day before that one airline alone had made BILLION$ this year in baggage and other travel related fees. I never realized how lucrative the airlines add-ons actually were prior to that, so it’s no wonder why they changed the rules just a few short years ago. So when check-in was complete and there was NO $25 FEE for our luggage, I thought I had won the lotto … YIPEEEEEE!

The next surprise came when we arrived at the Kansas City International Airport (they can call it “international” because the apparently have one flight to Canada per day) early on Christmas Eve morning.  Arriving and hour-and-a-half prior to takeoff, there was no line at the Delta counter and we were greeted by a smiling and friendly agent … was I dreaming?

Atlanta, Georgia from 10,00 Feet
Being retired Air Force and having lived overseas for 9 of my 20-year career, I traveled quite extensively by plane and rarely, if ever, encountered a compassionate agent. The best I could normally hope for would be non-committal or neutral attitude and, at worst, an openly hostile and aggressive personality and “we don’t care, we don’t have to” interaction.

The Delta agent was actually quite friendly and helpful, and we breezed right through check-in in less than five minutes. As we approached the security, the TSA Agent told me “you are pre-screened Mr. Sorrentino, please proceed to the gate (without the usual security hassles – shoes/belt off, computer out of the bag, etc.). I never applied for a TSA clearance, so they must have comped me for having had a Top-Secret Clearance and being a retired lieutenant colonel.

All first-class got us on the flight from Kansas City to Atlanta was early boarding, a couple free bloody Marys, and a piece of pound cake. Gone are the days of Mimosas and filet mignons on domestic flights, but hey, who’s to complain!

After much consideration, I think it was just a fluke, one of those times when the planets simply align and everything goes more smoothly than it is supposed to. Deep down inside I hope that the airlines are finally treating us like humans AND WITH JUST A LITTLE DIGNITY AND RESPECT because, after all, WE PAY THEIR DAMN SALARIES … THANKS FOR THE NICE EXPERIENCE DELTA!

CombatCritic Gives Delta Airlines 8 Out of 10 Bombs (On This Trip – 3 Out of 10 Bombs Overall) … Bombs Are Good!







Title: Delta Airlines ... Is "We Don't Care, We Don't Have To" A Thing Of The Past?

Key Words: Delta, airlines, Delta Airlines, plane, airplane, trip, flight, vacation, customer, first-class, travel, value, TravelValue, CombatCritic, combat, critic

San Juan, Puerto Rico Bus and Train Information

San Juan, Puerto Rico Bus and Train Information

If traveling by public conveyance in San Juan, Puerto Rico, there is not a decent website or app I could find with a good map of the bus and train system. Not wanting my fellow travelers to hunt as much as I did to find a map, the folks at Puerto Rico DayTrips have published a decent product on their website:

http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/wp-post-images/san-juan-bus-routes.png

Courtesy of the Nice Folks, Ray and Gwenn, at Puerto Rico Day Trips (Link Above)
You can always go to a bus stop and ask someone for help as many locals speak English. There are information counters at the train stations where you can also buy free cards for the trains and busses that you can load as much money on as you like, eliminating the need to take rolls of quarters with you (required on trains - buses only take coins). 

Good luck!

CombatCritic ... On the Front Lines ...yadah...yadah...yadah

CombatCritic, Puerto Rico Bus and Train Information, San Juan, TravelValue, 

El Escambron (San Juan, Puerto Rico): Awesome Public Beach Near Old San Juan

Balneario El Escambrón (Public Beach)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
$$$$$



San Juan, Puerto Rico: El Escambron is a very nice public beach just West of Old San Juan. it is clean with a protected swimming area, public toilets (closed on Christmas Day unfortunately), a life guard, and snack bar.

Parking is $5, but worth the price thanks to the attendant who watches over the lot, accompanied by a police cruiser and several police officers the day we were there. The beach is adjacent to the parking lot.

The very fine sand is easy on the feet, but adheres easily to the skin. Much better than the rocky beaches of Greece, the sand is easily brushed or washed away with a towel or the sea.

The water drops off quickly to about three feet and remains fairly shallow all the way out to the rocks. There are numerous species of fish inside the reef, so bring your snorkeling gear. The bottom is sand and small, smooth rocks, and is easy on the feet. Water temperature on Christmas day was probably in the high 70's, perfectly cool enough to refresh while not so cold it shocks the system.

Mostly families and couples, El Escambron is highly recommended while in the San Juan area.

CombatCritic Gives El Escambron 8 Out of 10 Bombs ... BOMBS ARE GOOD!

The Leaning Tower of San Juan ... El Hamburguer


El Hamurguer
298 Ave Muñoz Rivera
San JuanPuerto Rico 00901
(787) 721-4269









$$$$$

San Juan, Puerto Rico: Feeling burger deprived all day after our horrible experience at El Patio de Sam last night, we walked 2 km (uphill in the snow … both ways!) for a real burger at El Hamburger!

My wife says she saw Anthony Bordain … “I eat, I travel, I drink too much” … eating there on one of his episodes in Puerto Rico and Yelp reviews were mostly 5 stars, so we had to try it. We almost literally ran into the place on Christmas day coming home from El Escambrón beach, so I knew where it was.


The place looks like it’s on fire with smoke billowing out the top and across the busy street from the dozens of small, very thick burgers being prepared for inhalation by their many ravenous patrons. It is rather small with one dining area seating about 40, a small counter, and another small room that we did not see well because of the crowd around the front door. The place was packed!


Counter and Cash Register

They had two servers, as far as we could tell, doing a remarkably fine job considering the number of people crammed inside. We ordered the bacon cheddar burgers ($3.60 each), a side of French fries, onion rings, a root beer, and a Medalla beer.


Leaning Tower of San Juan - $3.60

The burger patty, like El Patio de Sam, were smallish but thick, probably 5 ounces or so (but also $7 less than Sam) and smothered with cheddar cheese. There were several pieces of bacon wrapped in a heap on one bun and our server brought a container with plenty of lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. By the time I built my burger, it looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


The onion rings were good and plentiful for $1.90, but a little too well done for my taste. The fries were abundant for the $1.90 price, the shoestring variety, hot and crispy just the way I like them. Root beer is root beer ($1.49) and the local Medalla Light thirst quenchingly cold and at $3.60 a reasonable price.


Dining Area - Couples and Families

The servers are nice and the crowd mostly couples and families, so the noise level is moderate. They only take cash, so bring enough with or use the convenient ATM they parked right outside the door and you must pay the quiet, burly man behind the cash register before you leave.


El Hamburger serves a great, reasonably priced burger and all of the usual accompaniments, so if you are hungry for the all American meal, by all means … give them a try!


CombatCritic Gives El Hamburger 8 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!


 




Key Words: El Hamburger, hamburger, burger, French, fries, onion, rings, beer, soda, pop, Coke, Medalla, bacon, cheese, eat, food, lunch, dinner, CombatCritic, combat

Friday, December 27, 2013

El Patio de Sam ... More Like El Yucko de Sam!

Santa? What Are You Doing In This Dump?
El Patio de Sam
Calle San Sebastian 102
Old San JuanPuerto Rico 00936
(787) 723-1149


$$$$$

San Juan, Puerto Rico: We came for the piña coladas... advertised prominently out front as "2 for 1" until 7pm weekdays ... and decided to try a burger ($10.95) with cheese and fries because the server told us "our burgers are the best, not only in Puerto Rico, but in ALL OF THE US!" We trusted her, first mistake!

Pina Colada - $9
Our burger FINALLY arrived after 30 minutes and was slightly bigger than a White Castle (Whitey One-Bite). There was no sauce, the patty (advertised to be 8 ounces) was small, maybe 5 ounces at best, and accompanied by a pickle spear, very small slice of tomato, and a little lettuce. The fries were shoestrings and not many of them at that. We finished the sandwich literally in less than 3 minutes and I am not a fast eater by any stretch.


Thankfully, the piña coladas ($9) were large and tasty, not strong, good, but thank God it was happy hour because they were way overpriced … $33 for two drinks and an itty-bitty burger ... Never again!

CombatCritic Gives Patio de Sam 3 Out of 10 Bombs ... BOMS ARE GOOD!









Key Words: Patio de Sam, patio, Sam, Old San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico, old, San, Juan, bar, saloon, restaurant, pina colada, rum

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