Tag Archives: restaurant review

Veggie Bites of Wisdom #65

30 Mar

Veggie Bites of Wisdom from KarmaFree Cooking

Cocina Abierta new vegetarian menu in Condado

12 Sep

I’ve told you about Cocina Abierta… a super cool restaurant owned by a former neighbor of mine, Martin Louzao. Martin is an awesome chef, one with a former vegetarian girlfriend. I would like to think that based on her insistence or my insistence on her asking if several of their dishes were truly vegetarian, that he decided to create a Vegetarian Menu in his new location in Condado.

Cocina Abierta is not a vegetarían restaurant… we still have a great opportunity for Vegetarian Fine Dining in Puerto Rico. But Martin has certainly captured my attention developing new dishes and adapting several true and tried favorites to create a vegetarian tasting menu fit for celebrations, to take vegetarian friends when they travel to Puerto Rico and when you want to enjoy truly good cooking overall.

If you ignore the smells of grilled steaks coming from the kitchen… you will find Cocina Abierta has a great ambiance and atmosphere. Their menu is divided into ACTS, like a play, but we only ordered from the Vegetarian side concert. I took my friend Andrew, who was visiting Puerto Rico for work. Aside from the Yoga Center cooking, he had not had the chance to experience fine dining in Puerto Rico.

We ordered:

Baby Arugula Salad with Almond-Stuffed Dates and Caramelized Onions

Cocina Abierta - Vegetarian Menu Salad

Eggplant Mignon over a bed of Curried Couscous

Eggplant Vegetarian Dish

Ricotta Gnocchi with Blue Cheese and Arugula

Cocina Abierta Vegetarian Menu

Gelatos – Salted Caramel and Strawberry Flavors

Cocina Abierta Vegetrian Menu

OMG!!!!   What an awesome experience we had!!! We shared everything because we wanted to taste as many things we could… I would have ordered another salad just for me… not because the serving was small, but because it was so delicious.

The Eggplant Mignon is something I would rarely order in a restaurant, yet I was very surprised to taste the flavors of India in a very refined manner, suitable for the Western taste buds. I am not too fond of Indian cooking and I enjoyed this very much…

The gnocchi are so rich and delicious… it was a good thing we shared. Because if not, I would have eaten the whole thing by myself and would have been counting the amount of calories for days.

The gelatos were spectacular, in particular the salted caramel one… with pieces of caramel inside. It was heaven on a plate. I may just go back and sit at their Dessert Bar just to have the salted caramel ice cream. Move over Mango Sorbet from Hagen Dasz, there’s a new frozen dessert in town!!!

I want to thank Martin and the whole Cocina Abierta team for a wonderful evening… our waitress Mari Carmen was a joy and made our dining experience all the better. When you have someone serving you who’s super excited about the food… it gets you excited too. We were very happy and Andrew even mentioned he might return again when his next business trip takes him back to San Juan.

I am glad I have an alternative to offer friends and people who ask on tour FB page – “Where can I eat in PR if I am vegetarian???” There’s no need to suffer or put your lifestyle aside if you’re traveling to Puerto Rico.

El Palenque in Montevideo… Delicious Vegetarian Parrillada???

27 Aug

I love good food… and I particularly like to eat good food when I am traveling. I love to find out what are the best local places and experience what’s typical and traditional about a specific country’s cuisine and culture. And try everything, within my dietary playing field…

When I traveled for the first time to Uruguay in 2003 for work, we were taken to El Palenque in Montevideo. Located in the historical Mercado del Puerto we were told this was Montevideo’s most loved restaurants by far. It’s a parrillada restaurant and I do not have to tell you what is served traditionally in these parrillada places. But I have always been one to be resourceful when analyzing menus and I ordered the Provençal Mushrooms with French Fries. It was delicious and everyone was gawking at my plate to see what the vegetarian was eating…


I loved it so much indeed… that a few days later I went back to El Palenque by myself, sat at the very typical counter inside the market and ordered the exact same thing again!!! That’s me… that when I find something I love, I go back to the same place and order it over and over and over again.


Flash forward 8 ½ years later… I got the chance again to visit Montevideo, now as a day trip with my mom after a week in Buenos Aires. We took the Buquebus from Puerto Madero to Montevideo which in a few hours takes you across the Río la Plata. I was so excited to show my mom around Montevideo, a place I had very much enjoyed a few years back.


I was not sure of how I would find the city after all these years, but one thing I was sure of… we would have lunch at El Palenque!!! This is what we ordered:

Provençal Mushrooms and French Fries

Lettuce, Tomato and Goat Cheese Salad


I felt we could now have a salad because we are now 2 sharing this meal and not just me eating by myself. And check out how the server made the balsamic vinaigrette in front of us… so cool!!!

Dressing our salad…


Cooking our mushrooms… 2012!!!


Here are my cooks in 2003… Doesn’t the guy on the left look like the chef cooking my mushrooms in my last trip??????

The food and the service were as good as I remembered it. Below you’ll find evidence if we enjoyed it or not…  Check out the pics from this trip and my first one… I think I look better now than what I did then, don’t you think???



I tried to locate another restaurant I enjoyed very much during my first trip – ROMA AMOR de Donatella, an Italian restaurant which taught me so much about enjoying delicious and beautiful food. It was sad it was no longer open. I really wanted to show it off to my mom and to you guys too!!!   😦

A tip to you travelers… Montevideo, for some reason, is mostly closed on the weekends. So much of what I enjoyed during my business trip, I was not able to show my mom because the streets were empty the Saturday we visited. So if you plan a trip to Montevideo, please keep that in mind when scheduling.

Do you have a favorite restaurant you love to visit whenever you travel to a specific city??? What is THE MUST thing to order there??? Tell me all about it….

Canada Welcomes Vegetarians – L’Usine du Spaghetti

11 Jun

Last winter I visited Canada… I know that it seems odd to be writing and posting about this when the weather is hot outside, but I just been so busy working and traveling that I have not had the time to share this part of my crazy vegetarian life with all of you.

This was my 3rd trip to Canada… I had visited both Quebec City and Montreal back in 1984 and Vancouver in 1986. So it had been a while (yep, 25+ years) since I had stepped onto such wonderful country. We always said you must have good karma to be born Canadian… it’s a peaceful, organized and very civilized country. Everyone is very polite, friendly and welcoming to visitors, even those who speak just a little bit of French, like me. My first 2 times in Canada was in the summertime, when we always had our family vacations. Then, I was not into food or a vegetarian, but I always had very good memories of Canada.

When I travel with my non-vegetarian friends I can’t expect to scout the vegetarian places, no matter how good they might be. It’s very different than when I travel with my yoga friends. So this time, I have to influence at least into visiting places that have alternatives for them and for me.

When we arrived into Montreal, we went to the old part of the city, Vieux Montreal, to have a late lunch and to walk around the streets a bit. To me, the best way to get to know a city is walking it. We were told that on Rue St, Paul we would find lots of restaurant options and it was certainly true. We decided for L’Usine du Spaghetti that translates to The Spaghetti Factory. It seemed cute enough and with options, even for the picky kids.

Something that got my attention is that every entrée comes with access to the all-you-can eat salad bar. It’s not super huge, but they have a nice selection of greens and fresh salad ingredients as well as some prepared salads like potato salad, pasta salad, couscous, etc. I never have those prepared salads because of the traditional mayo used. But they looked pretty…

The breads and garlic butter they serve at the table are just mouth-watering. They don’t have whole grain versions but you need to make exception sometimes when you travel. And you should not; I repeat… you should not miss this garlic butter!!!!

We also ordered some grilled mushrooms as a starter for the whole table. I was pleasantly surprised they came in a bed of lettuce salad. The mushrooms were exquisite… warm on top of the cool crisp lettuce. Nice contrast and hearty flavors. So I got to eat two salads that day!!!!!

We all ordered pastas… and I was super happy that most people ordered vegetarian pastas, so I could have a little taste of their plates too. Natalia ordered the cheese tortellini –OMG, these were DIVINE!!! It had a cheese gratin on top, but the pink sauce underneath was incredible. Because this was a kid’s dish they served it to her first. And we were all picking at her plate… it was that good… or maybe it was we were that hungry??? No, it was really delicious.

I ordered the penne with porcini mushrooms. I was in the mood for something lighter than the creamy heavy sauces that I usually go for.

Ana and Angie, both, they ordered the sun-dried tomato ravioli.

Alejandro had the cheese cannelloni, which were my second option.

Rafa’s and Mariana’s plates were off limits to us… 😦

To give you an idea of how good these pasta dishes were, just take a look at these empty plates.

See why I couldn’t wait any longer to tell you about this awesome place??? Oh, and the desserts are sooooo worth it. But they are not karma-free (hint – we ordered something with chocolate). That’s the only reason why I will not share pictures of them. But if you don’t avoid chocolate, like I should… by all means go for it.

So please… if you live in Montreal or are planning to visit this wonderful Canadian city this summer, stop by L’Usine du Spaghetti. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.

L’Usine Du Spaghetti du Vieux Montréal
273 Rue Saint Paul Est, Montréal, QC H2Y 1H2, Canada
(514) 866-0963

Have you eaten in L’Usine du Spaghetti??? What’s your favorite dish there??  Any other recomemndations for my next visit??

Cocina Abierta… Not Vegetarian, but very delicious options indeed

19 Dec

Cocina Abierta is one of the most popular restaurants in the San Juan/Metro Area… they have a Facebook Page and very loyal following. It’s been open for little over a year now and it was last week the first time I was able to eat there.

Martin Louzao, an Argentinian residing in Puerto Rico for a few years now, is the chef/owner of Cocina Abierta and he happens to be my neighbor too. I remember him arriving in his apartment with huge bags from Marshalls telling me all this new equipment was for the new restaurant he was opening soon, that I should visit him to try his food. If the food he makes tastes as good as the smells that came out of his apartment… this was going to be a delicious experience indeed.

It has taken me over a year to visit him because every time I had tried to eat there, the place was full. The concept… an open kitchen where all the guests can see the cooks at work. The menu, super dynamic… they work off what’s seasonal and fresh. They have a few favorites on the menu, but it changes constantly according to the chef’s whimsy and inspiration.

Last week I needed to have a working lunch meeting and decided I wanted to try if Cocina Abierta was available. They now have a lunch menu and some of the options caught my eye. This is what I had:

Arugula Salad with dates, goat cheese, parmesan flakes, almonds in a balsamic vinaigrette. Proscuitto not needed at all.

Feta and Spinach Ravioli with grated fresh tomato and Genovese pesto

I debated if I should have had the Pumpkin Risotto with parmesan cheese, onion marmalade and petit pois, which can be requested to be made with vegetable stock for vegetarians like me, but decided the ravioli seemed lighter fare for lunch.

The Arugula salad was one of the most delicious salads I’ve had in a long time. It’s extremely memorable and worthy of recommendations. I almost licked the plate clean. I divided one salad with my friend Angie, but the next time, I will order one just for myself. It’s that good… just as good as Bobby Flay’s Gala Apple salad and that’s a lot said right there.

The ravioli were pillowy and light. And the sauce was more like a dressing than a sauce per se. A little fresh tomato, very fruity olive oil and a dab of pesto atop each ravioli. The portion size was healthy, but I could have eaten a few more, certainly. Out of gluttony, of course.

The next time, I will try to order their Eggplant Ravioli with pine nuts. They were not available the day I visited… good, so I have something else to look forward to on my next visit.

Cocina Abierta is certainly not a vegetarian restaurant, but they make vegetarians feel welcome and understood. Thanks Martin for a wonderful lunch and hope to be able to visit sometime soon to taste some of your wonderful and delicious creations.

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