You’re walking inside the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, looking for Laurel Kitchen + Art Bar. The Neoclassical building from 1920, formerly a hospital, now serves as the home to one of the most culturally important museums on the island and a renowned restaurant serving a creative fusion of Puerto Rican and French flavors.
The spaces inside the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico are open and crisp, allowing you to roam comfortably through the museum. Religious pieces and portraitures grace the walls, and you gaze at them in rapture. This is the Caribbean’s most extensive museum, holding more than 1,000 pieces and featuring the work of the most notable Puerto Rican artists from the 17th century to the present. You notice some of the pieces have subtle foreign influences, such as José Campeche’s florid masterpieces, all with an air of the French Rococo. Then, your attention is grabbed by a sculpture garden showcasing the work of 15 local artists. The pieces live beside lovely ponds, waterfalls, and exotic plants. It’s here where you gaze at beautiful herbs a tour guide tells you are used for dishes in the museum’s restaurant. Now, you’re curious.
After taking in all the art and history inside the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, you helplessly head to Laurel Kitchen + Art Bar. Suddenly, you find yourself biting into a juicy shrimp brûlée with a plantain crust, and your curiosity pays off. The restaurant is Chef Mario Pagan’s brainchild and a staple among those who appreciate a good marriage of food and art. This celebrity chef is mostly known for his time on the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef and for opening some of the most successful restaurants in Puerto Rico. He is the one responsible for the beautiful tempura of escargot you have in front of you, with white yam and bacon croquettes on the side. The dish entrances your senses with a mix of flavors and textures you didn’t know could coexist so flawlessly.
However, the next dish really takes you on a flavorful ride—a crispy yellowtail in Ibérico ham broth served with shaved asparagus and plantain spiders, the last one being a very popular, crumbly, and delicious local side dish. Then, dessert arrives and you stare in awe at the artful presentation of a RICHART chocolate and hazelnut mousse on a coconut crust. You get the feeling that your chef wants to make a clear statement that says masterpieces are not found only on museum walls.