ARETE & The Lemon Experience
I fondly remember my ARETĒ nights. So much excitement, so much build-up for the unforgettable 6-course meals prepared by Chef Mario Juan and proudly served by Kali & Bria Solak. Usually capped at 6 guests, the wait at times was two to three months. I of course, would frequently call and plead to be put on the waiting list or check-in to see if there had been any cancellations. Who knew being on stand-by list for anything other than to get on a plane could be so nerve-racking?
It became a monthly ritual. Once we had the reservation, my husband and I would assemble a group of fortunate friends and plan the wines. “I’ve got some champagne, a crisp Pinot Gris and some great Washington Pinot Noirs I tasted at my restaurant today,” would say a dear chef friend of ours. We all knew it was going to be a great night. The ingredients were almost entirely locally sourced. We had Caribbean spiny lobster with foie gras cream and pumpkin flower, lion fish marinated in yogurt and dashi, trigger fish poached in clarified butter, local clams in butter and duck broth served with apio mash. We tried watermelon radishes, manchego cheese ice cream and Mario even took me out of my comfort zone by one day incorporating crickets into one of the dishes. Crispy and nutty, they weren’t so bad!
During our many visits, we heard about Mario’s friend Miguel Sánchez Navarro, whom he met while staging at Pedro Subijana’s three Michelin-starred restaurant Akelarre in San Sebastián, Spain. Both assigned to the meat station, they were forced to work together from the beginning. A friendship soon developed outside the kitchen at the pintxo bars in the Old Town where the boys played darts and drank gin and tonics into the wee hours. “The hardest part was keeping a straight face with the bosses around as we were always trying to make each other laugh” says Mario. After their time in Spain they worked together in New York City at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin. In 2012, they did a series of Aretē dinners in Puerto Rico.
Miguel is now back in Puerto Rico with his friend Pedro Fernández Ruiz as part of their project, The Lemon Experience. Childhood friends from Murcia, Miguel and Pedro have embarked on a tour of Latin America, doing pop-up dinners throughout varies countries including Brazil, Perú and México starting with San Juan, Puerto Rico.
This Friday and Saturday, The Lemon Experience is teaming up with Aretē to do their first pop-up dinner at La Cubanita in Old San Juan. The 6-course meal will feature local ingredients with Murcian and Spanish techniques and references. The Chefs will also do a version of their Plaza del Mercado dish, where they will prepare and plate almost all ingredients found at the local market.
Stay tuned for more info on The Lemon Experiece and ARETĒ Colabs.
Written by Paulina Salach Antonetti