Fran­cis Guzmán

Robb Report (USA) - - CARIBBEAN: BACK IN BUSINESS -

It took Fran­cis Guzmán an en­tire year to mas­ter sour­dough. “It was some­thing I re­ally wanted to make from scratch, pero [but] it was one of the few things I had never learned in other restau­rants,” the chef and co-owner of San Juan’s Vianda res­tau­rant re­calls. “So I got some cook­books, and started the trial and er­ror, and kept go­ing un­til I got it.”

It was a year well spent. The wild-yeast bread is the base for Vianda’s sig­na­ture starter: a sour­dough tostada topped with home­made ri­cotta, or­ganic green and yel­low zuc­chini, and pesto made from lo­cal basil. It’s a sim­ple yet con­fi­dent dish that proves the power of good ingredients. It’s also a soupçon of Guzmán’s cook­ing style: hyper-sea­sonal and un­fussy, pol­ished and re­fined.

To be sure, there’s an un­mis­tak­able streak of French clas­sic tech­nique in every­thing the chef cre­ates, a nod not only to his train­ing at the Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica but also to his three years as sous chef at New York’s the Mod­ern. (Other high­lights from his ré­sumé in­clude Dan Bar­ber’s Blue Hill and Jar­dinière in San Fran­cisco.) Yet Vianda is clearly rooted in Puerto Rico, in­cor­po­rat­ing the fla­vors from Guzmán’s up­bring­ing—as with his mariscada, which re­thinks the is­land sta­ple of mashed plan­tains known as mo­fongo by mix­ing it with

“WE SAW A GREAT OP­POR­TU­NITY TO COME AND RE­ALLY DO SOME­THING HERE.”

shrimp and mus­sels and serv­ing it be­neath grilled salmon—and ma­nip­u­lat­ing his menu weekly to use only the fresh­est lo­cal ingredients avail­able.

But Vianda, which Guzmán opened with his wife, Amelia Dill (shown), in March, isn’t just an act of nos­tal­gia—it’s a play for culi­nary progress. “San Fran­cisco and New York made us love restau­rants,

pero when we came back to Puerto Rico, we were frus­trated,” he says. “The ser­vice was sub­par, and the food was just what­ever. We saw a great op­por­tu­nity to come and re­ally do some­thing here.” And do some­thing they did, con­vert­ing a once-empty store­front in the San­turce neigh­bor­hood into a sleek din­ing space and hir­ing an im­pas­sioned team that in­cludes other re­turn­ing is­land na­tives like Gina Micheli, the res­tau­rant’s ef­fer­ves­cent som­me­lier.

Still, it is Guzmán’s care­ful and el­e­vated dishes—from his sour­dough tostadas to his spicy tom kha ba­calao to his tagli­atelle stuffed with braised rab­bit and turmeric— that rep­re­sent the fu­ture of Puerto Rico’s din­ing scene. And that fu­ture, how­ever long it takes to hap­pen, is cer­tainly bright.

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