Paulina Escanes

These mouthwatering croquettes are made with rice, cheese, and vegetables. >Gabriel López Albarrán

An intriguing variety of foods awaits in Paulina Escanes – Gourmandize.

Located in the Condado—an affluent area surrounded by hotels, lavish residences, and beautiful beaches—this restaurant is steadily becoming a favorite among locals.

THE WEEKLY JOURNAL had the opportunity to taste firsthand some of its exquisite offerings, as well as to talk with the head chef and proprietor, Paulina Escanes. A lively and adventurous spirit, Escanes explained that the entire concept of her restaurant was inspired by her many travels and her unending passion for conveying that same cultural enrichment through satisfying and delicious meals.

A native of Guadalajara, Escanes explained that she had been exposed to different ingredients, techniques and cuisines both in her native Mexico and in her international adventures. However, her foray into professional cooking was through a dessert business she owned, in which she would make sugary confections to sell to restaurants.

“I sold the dessert business and I took a sabbatical for about three years and then, after the sabbatical, I realized that I needed to return to my career,” Escanes said.

Shortly thereafter, she opened a small restaurant in Santurce’s Loíza street at a space she shared with a clothing and antique store. After Hurricane Maria in 2017, she was forced to close the shop, but Escanes and her husband—a Puerto Rican—quickly found a location on Ashford Avenue; a hotspot for bars, restaurants, and nightlife in a city environment.

“When we saw the space and the community in Condado, we fell in love and we decided to take it. And, contrary to the other place, we have better operational hours here,” the owner stated.

Paulina Escanes – Gourmandize has an ambitious schedule, serving meals every day of the week. From Monday to Friday, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. with no breaks. On Saturdays, she cooks up brunch from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and on Sundays, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. After brunch ends on the weekend, the restaurant serves its regular dining menu until 10 p.m.

As for her culinary offer, she made a point to emphasize that, although she is Mexican and her menu includes some Mexican items, Paulina Escanes – Gourmandize is not by any means a traditional Mexican restaurant, given that she gets inspired by her trips abroad.

She gracefully allowed THE WEEKLY JOURNAL to try her croquettes and the “Pescado Amalfi.”

Presently, the croquettes in the menu are made with shredded brisket and a creamy purple coleslaw, but for this occasion, she prepared its upcoming replacement, made with rice, cheese and vegetables, and served with fresh beets and garlic mayo on the side.

The four croquettes, called “Croquetas Pupplí,” were enormous, but their size paled in comparison to their immense flavor—creamy, savory, and oh, so mouthwatering.

As the croquettes vanished from the plate, Escanes explained that the transition from brisket to vegetables is part of her efforts to limit her restaurant’s ecological impact, as well as to offer more vegetarian options.

She stressed that she and other restauranteurs in the area are coordinating to reduce their waste by collecting scraps to create compost. Her commitment to the environment extends down to the biodegradable straws she offers at the restaurant, which are available upon request.

After the croquettes, Escanes served the “Pescado Amalfi,” inspired by Amalfi’s summer lemons. The dish was comprised of a fresh catch of the day over toasted capers, a clarified buttery sauce and wild rice made with almonds and leeks.

Surpassing all expectations, one bite is enough to enamor. The fish was fresh, buttery and extremely savory, while the rice offered a variety of textures and undertones, largely in part by the toastiness of the almonds.

Escanes explained that the catch of the day is brought in by local fishermen, adding that everything on the menu is prepared with local products or provided by local suppliers.

The extensive list of local businesses that she supports includes Fresh Fish PR, Aulet Dairy, Queso de K-bra, Frutos del Guacabo, El Horno de Pane, Alcor Foods Chorizo, Drouyn, Don Luis, Puente Selections, Feliche Artisan Yogurt, V. Suárez and more.

In celebration of the restaurant’s first anniversary, coming up on September, Escanes affirmed that she intends to change the menu, though she intends to keep the classics.

Some of her most coveted classics, as she calls them, are the “Tacos Escanes” and the “Queso Artesanal al Horno”.

The former is a serving of three tacos made with either regular or blue corn tortillas. There are three options to choose from: Tacos de Amigos, with grilled shrimp, beer, chorizo and melted cheese; Tacos de Carnitas, with shredded pork and melted cheese; and Tacos de Mamá, a vegan option as they are made with organic red lentils, potatoes and cold-pressed olive oil. For indecisive visitors, there is the option to order one of each.

Meanwhile, the “Queso Artesanal al Horno” is a serving of local organic cheese from Camuy stuffed with garlic and baked with olive oil and oregano, served with toasted baguette slices.

As for refreshments, Escanes intends to keep the Margarita—made with her husband’s recipe—and La Reina, a bright and delicious cocktail made with Cuervo Tradicional Tequila or Mezcal Amarás with St. Germain, ancho chile, fresh lime juice, a homemade hibiscus flower reduction, and spiced up with a piece of habanero pepper for an extra kick.

“I will leave the classics that everyone loves and then I will rotate nearly 90 percent of the dishes so that our regular customers don’t get bored and have different options, in addition to our specials. Because I’m telling you, I have clients that visit four or five times a week,” she said.

In fact, Escanes explained that most of her clients are returning visitors, whom she has come to know and welcome personally. Throughout the interview, she paused to greet and send off what she referred to as the “regulars.” Part of the reason is because she wants to make sure that everyone who steps inside feels at home.

“My food is essentially akin to going to my house; it is very homey food and everything is very fresh.... What better way is there than to have a restaurant that offers you food that feels as though you were eating at a friend’s house? Most restaurants are very structured in general. Sometimes the food is a little bit intimidating. But not me. I serve as if I was a friend, as your mom or your sister would serve you,” she affirmed.

Guests can also take comfort in the beautiful décor, designed by José Javier Toro. For his work in Paulina Escanes – Gourmandize, Toro won an honorable mention from AIA Puerto Rico, a chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Neutral colors, abundant lighting, and large windows with a stunning view of the city complement the homely nature of both the owner and her food.

“My dishes are not intimidating. We are not fine dining or anything of the sort... we are 100 percent homey food. When we bring you the plate, you realize that it’s very friendly,” Escanes affirmed.

“There is a culture that sees chefs as super-stars. I find it very amusing when people come here and ask to take a picture with me. I can’t even believe it!... and I think that is one of the reasons why people identify so much with the restaurant, because I come out to welcome them and I talk with them normally,” she added.

As the meeting ended, Escanes went on to greet some of her regular visitors and to talk excitedly about the interview.

-----------------

Editor's note: This story was published on the July 31 print edition of The Weekly Journal.

Reporter for The Weekly Journal. She is a journalist with experience in social media management and digital marketing. Giovanna is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Digital Narratives at Sacred Heart University in San Juan.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.