On our first night in San Juan, following a delightful lunch at Oceano, Nancy and I went to Orozco’s for dinner. It’s in the Condado, steps from our hotel. We ordered something light — snapper with a criollo sauce with arroz con gandulas (rice and pigeon peas, mixed) and a salad for me; and, for Nancy, grouper in garlic sauce with arroz y habicheulas (rice and beans) and a salad.
The seafood was fresh and properly cooked, and the garlic and crillo sauces were tasty. What really knocked me out, though, was their house-made hot sauce. It was easily the most complex and flavorful hot sauce I have ever had, and I’ve had a lot of hot sauces. Here’s a shot of the remains of our bottle, standing there with its best friend.
I didn’t really use almost a whole bottle. Of the hot sauce, I mean. Just a lot. And here’s a close-up.
You can get a sense of how many ingredients are in there. What a blend! The sauce was not all that hot. The heat was moderate, roughly like, oh, Texas Pete — just a nice little bite, the kind that is mildly addictive: you keep looking for more things to sauce up. But it was a uniquely sophisticated blending of flavors. It was just wonderful with the rice and pigeon peas or beans, and some found its way to my snapper. One of the waiters confided that he uses it on pasta, which sounds good.
Nancy loved her grouper in garlic sauce, and ordered it again when we went back on our penultimate night in San Juan. I started with the rellenos de papas, seasoned ground beef wrapped in mashed potatoes, a Puerto Rican specialty that my good friends Poli Marmolejos and Laura Cordero had talked up.
It was really good. The mashed potatoes were very light, and the rellenos had only been in the hot oil briefly, just long enough to create a light crust. They were delicious, especially with a touch of the hot sauce, which made everything better.
For my main course I had the pernil asado, (roasted pork shoulder) again with the rice and pigeon peas. I just had to wash away the experience of some disappointing pork another restaurant in San Juan, about which more anon.
And it did the trick. The pernil was fresh and moist, with a wonderful flavor of pork, garlic, and adobo. Just what I needed.
I thought about asking to buy a bottle of the hot sauce to bring home. I still think of that. Ultimately, I decided not to even try. I’m sure that TSA or the USDA folks at the airport would have taken it from me, and put me on some sort of watch list. There really ought to be a separate procedure for carrying on really good sauces, like Orozco’s hot sauce and Ollie’s barbecue sauce.
Orozco’s is a must-stop in the Condado. They have low prices, generous servings, good food, and the hot sauce, the hot sauce. Little wonder that there always seems to be a line of people waiting. Go early, but go.
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