Beyond The Pina Colada: Champagne And Caviar At Condado Vanderbilt

Food & Drink

Puerto Rico is best known for its picturesque beaches, vibrant nightlife, and warm and welcoming people.

The most salient aspect of its cocktail culture? The island is the birthplace of the Pina Colada, the country’s national drink.

But for those seeking a more sophisticated experience, the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel offers a different kind of oasis. Guests stepping into Marabar by 1919, the stylish Champagne and Caviar Bar off the hotel’s lobby, are greeted by breathtaking views.

The windows behind the bar offer sweeping vistas of blue and white umbrellas dotting the beach and the aquamarine lagoon that merges with the Atlantic Ocean. At the far end of the room, a wine wall separates the bar from 1919, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant.

With only eight seats and a handful of well-spaced tables, Marabar by 1919 is intimate, ideal for a romantic aperitif or meeting up with friends before or after dinner.

The reinvented bar menu, carefully curated by Chef Juan Jose Cuevas, is befitting the spectacular setting. Caviar, foie gras, crudo, and mozzarella or stracciatella cheese are the star ingredients of the cold dishes. Equally delectable warm dishes include tuna tartare and caviar, warm lobster medallions and smoked salmon, and a truffled mozzarella bikini (sandwich).

The well-credentialed and innovative chef, an honors graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has meticulously crafted recipes that meld flavors into dishes that tantalize the taste buds.

Before joining Condado Vanderbilt in 2012, Chef Cuevas worked at the Michelin three-star Akelarre in San Sebastian, Spain; the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco; El Raco in Barcelona; and Essex House in New York City.

A native of Puerto Rico, the chef returned to his roots, propelling the then-nascent farm-to-table movement at home. Emphasizing sustainability, his seasonal restaurant and bar menus reflect his support for local farmers and food purveyors. Some 80 percent of the dishes are prepared with local or house-made ingredients.

“Last February, we transitioned from a martini bar to a champagne bar, driven by our desire to offer our guests a unique champagne and caviar experience,” says chef Cuevas. “We selected top quality caviar from Kaviari and exclusive Grower Champagnes.”

As the only Krug champagne ambassador in the Caribbean, the bar menu at Condado Vanderbilt showcases exclusive high-end bottles that include the Ace of Spades Brut Rose, Salon Grand Cru 2003, and Krug Clos du Mesni. Knowledgeable but unpretentious sommeliers and bar staff serve as wine educators, offering advice on the best pairings of plates with libations to enhance their flavors.

But the piece de resistance at Marabar by 1919 is the “Caviar Pie” made with Osetra caviar. A generous serving of the nutty, buttery caviar with a hint of sea salt tops a delicious fresh egg salad made with mustard and fine herbs. The dish is served with sweet potato blinis and buckwheat crepes. Its recommended complement is a Paul Clouet champagne made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes.

Servings are ample, and two or three small plate pairings with champagne can even suffice for dinner.

Guests visiting the bar would be remiss if they didn’t seize the opportunity to explore the hotel’s Grand Staircase and other public spaces. The magnificent Spanish Revival property—first built in 1919 by Frederick William Vanderbilt and designed by Warren and Whitmore (who designed Grand Central Station)—has been meticulously restored after it was abandoned for seven years in 2002.

A member of the Historic Hotels of America, Condado Vanderbilt was the first luxury hotel to open in Puerto Rico and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Among the many famous guests who have passed through its doors are Charles Lindbergh, Errol Flynn, the Roosevelts, and President John F. Kennedy.

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