When I’m away from home, I like to try to eat somewhere a little off the beaten path sometimes. On a visit to Cafe Manolin, I got to talking with the owner. I asked if he could recommend a good bakery in San Juan to procure some brazo Gitano, a jelly roll found from time to time in Puerto Rico. It was a goal of mine to find a really great one while I was there on this last trip.
So he recommended a place called Kasalta, which is located in Ocean Park, not terribly far from the Condado (where we were staying), but definitely far enough to need transportation.
I was able to do a little research on the menu before we went, but my research didn’t prepare me for the layout and scope of this place. The ground this place covers as far as the foods they offer is mind blowing. As you walk in, you pass cured meats, artisanal cheeses, baked goods, a deli counter, a sandwich counter, and a salads counter. The layout is very similar to a NY style Kosher deli.
Having seen the menu online, I was kind of surprised that I couldn’t notice any waited service. So we walked back to the last counter, got on the line, and then I choked. My Spanish has been slipping away over the years, and I was having a difficult time communicating with the staff, so I wound up ordering a simple Cuban sandwich.
Everyone else seemed to be ordering sandwiches and salads, so I figured the menu online was mistaken. As it turns out, at the counter where the cheeses and meats are, you can order from the main menu, and they bring it to your table when it’s ready.
The sandwich I had ordered was actually very good, and only disappointing because the main menu seemed so much more exciting. But there’s a fun story about eating in the restaurant.
A few years ago, President Obama visited Kasalta, and they have a plaque and some signs to commemorate the moment. We didn’t sit in his exact spot, but we were at the same table.
The main mission at Kasalta was to get some brazo Gitano, so I figured it would work out to pick a few baked goods to take back to the hotel for snacking.
One item I brought back was a little Oreo Cheesecake. It was a classic NY style cheesecake bite, but nowhere near as sweet. The cookie on top was a nice touch, but it was a little soggy from the osmotic effect of having a dry cookie atop a wet cake.
The chocolate brazo gitano was alright. The cake wound up being really dry. The frosting was very good and continued the trend of things not being as sweet as one would imagine. Sometimes less sugar is more with chocolate, as it helps to highlight some of the more subtle bitter flavors locked inside of fine dark chocolate. The shavings helped to accent the chocolate flavor and added some different texture. The cherry was just cute.
The Strawberry Brazo Gitano was exactly what I was looking for. The fruit compote helped to keep the cake moist, and the whipped cream frosting laced with additional strawberry flavor enriched every bite. This one was a fair bit more sweet than the other, so the chocolate added some bitter to counteract the sweet. It was delicious and a slice of heaven.
And then there was the other thing that we picked up.
Pan de Mallorca is another classic Puerto Rican staple. It’s a sweet, soft bread akin to Brioche in taste but much lighter. The bread has a distinct rolled appearance and dusted with powdered sugar. It’s common for ham and cheese sandwiches to be made on this bread in Puerto Rico, kind of like a Monte Cristo.
Since we visited Kasalta the night before we were scheduled to leave, I could think of nothing more pleasing than sipping some coffee and breaking away at a Pan de Mallorca while watching the waves crash on the coast. Well, waffles sounded just as pleasing, but I had to take the opportunity to eat a piece of bread that was half of the size of my head.
It was just as perfect as I had imagined.
As for Kasalta, I’d definitely stop back in, but I’m going to brush up on my Spanish before I do!