Adventure Rewind: Santo Domingo (Part 2)

20161227_223508This is a continuation of my post about my trip to Santo Domingo in December 2016.

Santo Domingo Dining

Aside from the one lackluster meal at the Jaragua pool restaurant (see Part 1), we had overwhelmingly wonderful dining experiences throughout Santo Domingo (and on an excursion out to the beach, which will have its own special section in Part 3 of this Adventure Rewind). It would be hard for me to recommend any one of the meals in Santo Domingo over another because each was wonderful and unique, but here is the short list of my favorites:

La Residence: Situated in the Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando, a four-star hotel in the Zona Colonial, La Residence provides a quiet and elegant locale for a great meal. We were originally drawn to the restaurant for its Spanish courtyard dining, which was reminiscent to us of one of our favorite Latin spots, El Picoteo in the Hotel El Convento in San Juan, PR (a review of my favorite spots in San Juan is still yet to come…).

The food and service were both quite good and we were able to get a few views of the hotel, which we still have on our list to try out sometime. Each dish that we had was really great, though the one that sticks in my memory is the seared rare tuna, which was both flavorful and light.

We were at the start of our trip and there was something about the mix of delicious colorful cocktails and the knowledge that it was the middle of the day, in the middle of the week – and all of our colleagues and friends were at work – that made this particular lunch feel so perfect.

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Pura Tasca: On the edge of the lovely Plaza España is a little row of restaurants. The first restaurant on that stretch, Pura Tasca, offers a wide selection of delicious entrees and tapas. Our favorite dish was by far the Gnocchi de Plátano Maduro, which was our first time having plantain gnocchi, and we felt that they really just knocked it out of the park. We dined alfresco, and the ambience was wonderful. The service was quite good; we especially appreciated that the hostess provided us with little book lamps to read our dinner menu with on the star-lit patio.20161227_223508

I know that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I personally appreciated the adorable little kitty friend that we made. She sat under our daughter’s high chair nearly all night (likely because she knew that I was a softy that would throw her a few delicious scraps).

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Note to the pictures below, unfortunately they really do not do the dishes justice, but were as good as we were able to get on the low-lit patio (we also don’t like to be “those” people who spend 20 minutes doing a photo-shoot of each dish…).

El Meson De La Cava: El Meson De La Cava has become a must-do for many travelers for both its location and its food. The restaurant is situated inside a natural limestone cave with all of the stalagmite splendor that cave promise. They have done an amazing job with the space and have made it both elegant and a bit whimsical. The service is wonderful, with servers dressed formally and trained in all aspects of fine dining. I found the food to be very good, but it was still a few steps down from the best food that I had in the Dominican Republic. It was potentially the most expensive meal that we had on our trip, and we left quite happy and pleased – and felt the expense was worth it – but a lot of that enjoyment came from more than just the food. In my opinion, the ambiance and service are some of the aspects that truly make this restaurant a destination.20161230_213736

We are hoping to get back to El Meson De La Cava on our upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic, in part because we didn’t have an opportunity to enjoy the really beautiful outdoor terrace on our last visit. It almost seems as if there are two separate (similarly ambient) experiences happening simultaneously, and we are eager to get an opportunity to have a drink on their gorgeous patio.

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El Conuco: As I have noted, atmosphere means a lot in my enjoyment of restaurants – and while El Conuco is far different from the aforementioned locales, it lands a similar place of distinction in my short list of favorites. El Conuco is the parade to every other restaurant’s march. It is so lively and fun that we wished we could have stayed all night. Everything about the place is bright – the colors, the flavors, the music. And with the music comes the dancing! El Conuco essentially offers dinner with a show as the staff and patrons participate in some latin spins on the dance floor.20161228_221700

The food and drinks are also quite good (the drinks being very STRONG – which made us very lucky to have a hotel within walking distance) and the presentation of the dishes is just as lively and fun as the restaurant itself. I highly recommend the Mofongo, which had the perfect texture and flavor!

Pat’e Palo: Just a few restaurant doors over from Pura Tasca (described above) is the European Brasserie Pat’e Palo. We had actually tried to get a table for dinner at Pat’e Palo, but they were completely booked on our first stop by. Determined to give this highly rated restaurant a try, we tried again for lunch on our last day in Santo Domingo and were pleased to have the opportunity to try it out. We sat on their patio overlooking the Plaza and reveled in the sunshine, wine and delicious food.

Thinking back to this lunch is a bit bittersweet, though, as it brings to mind the mix of emotions that I had that day. A mix of trying to enjoy and soak up every last moment and detail, while pushing away the inevitable sadness that a wonderful trip is coming to a close. There are some vacations where I have been ready to return to regular life by the end, but on this trip in particular, none of us were really quite ready to say goodbye to the relaxation and charm.

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That feeling on our last day in Santo Domingo is part of what has spurred us to visit the Dominican again next month. We will have to see if our upcoming trip will also leave us wanting more…but in the meantime, stay tuned for the third and final part of this Adventure Rewind!

Adventure Rewind: Santo Domingo (Part 1)

20161227_153339In addition to travel advice (with and without kids), I am also hoping to use this space to share some of my trip highlights and reviews. I have found it really hard to keep up with writing about current travel (mainly because the return from any trip is generally met with a backlog of work and home needs that require pretty immediate attention), but it is a new year, and one of my goals for the new year is to post more. My husband and I already have some great trips in the works for 2018, and there are so many amazing places we have been to in recent years that I would love to share.

In particular, our next upcoming getaway has me reminiscing about a similar retreat from just over a year ago – a wonderful winter break in Santo Domingo, DR. Here are some of the highlights from our last Dominican vacation:

Last Christmas (Christmas 2016), my husband and I were eager to find an affordable, warm destination to take our then 9-month old daughter to. My stepson was away visiting his mother out of state for the holiday, so it would just be the three of us, and we were looking forward to a slower-paced trip than our whirlwind travels to Europe and Asia. After a little research, we settled on the DR. Neither of us had ever been to the Dominican Republic before, and we were drawn to the colonial charm and the promise of warm weather and beautiful beaches.

Getting There

We found some great fares direct to/from Santo Domingo on Jet Blue (by far my favorite carrier!), at some less than desirable flight times, but completely manageable for the two of us and a sleepy baby (these times definitely would be less manageable had we been traveling with my stepson).  The flight from Boston to Santo Domingo is about 4 hours (note there is also an additional hour lost on the way out due to the time-change), which is feels quite short when flying in the middle of the night. Jet Blue was fantastic as always and our daughter slept the entire way, which is another bonus to flying in the middle of the night.

Staying There

After checking out a few hotel options in and near Santo Domingo, we settled on the Renaissance Santo Domingo Jaragua Hotel & Casino, and we were not disappointed. We arrived at the hotel at about 5:30 am, and had booked our room from the evening before so that we would have a room waiting for us upon arrival. This is a key recommendation for any traveling with kids, and provided your hotel isn’t breaking the bank each night, the extra cost is very much worth it. The hotel had our crib waiting for us when we arrived, which was super helpful, and we were able to get a little much-needed rest after the short naps that we all had on the plane.

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Art in the outdoor sitting area outside our room

Since we had our daughter with us, we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to lose our money in the Casino, but we took advantage of pretty much every other amenity. Our room was situated in a cute little building across an internal road from the main building and it was both quiet and lovely. One of the major items that drew us to the hotel to begin with was the gorgeous pool, and we found that the photos online were very much in line with what we saw when we got there. My husband prefers to stay out of the sun, and it was very easy for us to find a covered cabana pretty much every time we went to the pool. The only warning that I would give is that the ground surrounding the pool gets quite hot in the sun, so be sure to bring some water shoes or cheap flip flops to get you you’re your chair to the pool!

One of our favorite spots at the hotel was a cute coffee/ice cream shop right off the lobby that proved to be a great way to start our day, or to get a pick-me-up after a day out on the town. We also enjoyed ending our evenings at the hotel bar, which had cocktail tables and chic couches available. With our very active little girl, the couches proved to be a great spot!

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After-dinner drinks at the hotel lobby bar

The hotel was really overall quite fantastic, though the one area that I would recommend a little extra training and care be given to is the pool bar restaurant. We had lunch at the pool bar restaurant on our first day and were really disappointed in the 15 minutes that it took to be greeted after sitting down. The service at this restaurant was really slow and not really that cordial.  Conversely, the drink service for the cabanas at the pool was quite pleasant (though again, on a bit of island-time).

Part 2 (Santo Domingo Dining) Coming Soon!