viernes, 13 de marzo de 2015

TravelValue, TravelSafe, ValueTravel .... Follow CombatCritic To Travel Value

Title: TravelValue, TravelSafe, ValueTravel .... Follow CombatCritic To Travel Value

Key Words: Trademark, Copyright, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, TravelValue, TravelSafe, ValueTravel, Follow Me To TravelValue, CombatCritic, 3rd Wave Media Group, LLC

miércoles, 15 de enero de 2014

Marsana Wellness in Rincón, Puerto Rico Is Neither A Beachhouse Nor A Spa

"Marsana Wellness Beachhouse and Spa" is neither a spa nor a beach house, it is a large house with four guest rooms a couple blocks from a beach with hardly any sand and with an empty hot tub.

When we arrived after having informed the owner of our exact arrival time, his daughter Marina met us at the gate and asked “can I help you”, not in a friendly manner but as if we did not belong in the neighborhood. Once I told her we were guests, she was very friendly and escorted us to our room. We did not see her again for the next 7 days although it would have been nice to get some local information.

The room was nice, medium in size with a queen size bed, pull out futon-type sofa, a small fridge, wardrobe, TV with cable, and an air conditioning unit. Our room faced the back yard and had a large terrace with a table, two chairs, and a hammock and where we spent a majority of our time. The small bathroom was functional with a large tile shower, toilet and vanity.

Marina’s brother Yuri was around more than she was, doing odd jobs around the house and although friendly enough, never stopped to talk. The house is a work in progress and has a large terrace taking up 2/3 of the roof where there are tables, chairs, and the empty hot tub. The stars at night were fantastic as Rincón is a fairly small town far away from the bright city lights.

There are plenty of restaurants in the area, including Das Alpen Café, a German and Italian restaurant in the center of Rincón with small portions and large prices, El Tapatio, a good, inexpensive Mexican restaurant just north of the house on PR-115 going toward Aguada, and several bakeries, the best being Panaderia Eileen just a block south on 115 where you can get wonderful pastries ($1 each), cheap sandwiches ($2.00-$3.75), and assorted drinks and beer. The bakeries in Puerto Rico have a little bit of everything, including a hot table with carne guisada (beef stew - $2), ribs, chicken, rice, beans, and other local foods. They are a great place to pick up a quick lunch or take some food home for dinner and many have tables where you can eat your toasted sandwich or carne guisada.

Being winter, the winds blew from the East most of the three weeks we were in Puerto Rico, making for poor snorkeling and challenging swimming. The seas around Rincón were rough most of the week we were there, so we found a very nice beach about 10 miles north in Aguadilla called Crash Boat Beach. Crash Boat is clean, has nice sand, a shallow, sandy bottom, and because it faces southwest it avoids the swells and large waves from the north, making for clear water and good snorkeling. There is a bar in the parking lot with cheap beer (Medalla - $1.50) and drinks (piña colada - $4), and there are a few food vendors adjacent in the lot with grilled chicken, pizza, frappes and other snacks. There is not a reef in the area and few rocks, but the visibility was 40-50 feet and there were occasional visits by small schools of fish and a few large Jacks from time to time.

The only snorkeling beach in Rincón at this time of year was Balneario Rincón, a small beach just north of town of Route 430 with a reef that can be accessed from the small sandy beach on the north end past the boat ramp. Steps Beach, named after the set of concrete steps precariously perched on the reef, is reportedly the best snorkeling beach in the area and is quite beautiful, but the water was inaccessible during our stay due to the rough seas and lack of a sandy bottom, only reef. We saw Sandy Beach and Pools Beach, a mile or two north of Steps, but although quite pretty, neither were good for anything but sunbathing because they face north and water was rough.

The description of the property on AirBnB was deceiving because there are no spa services available, no meals or breakfast as advertised, and parking is a challenge with just two spaces available (unsecured) for at least four rooms. The “Jacuzzi” was empty and there are no doctors on staff. The highlight of the week were their four dogs who kept us company and were the sweetest they could be. If you do not like or are afraid of dogs, this is not the place for you. There is an outdoor kitchen for guests to use with few plates, utensils, or pots/pans, so cooking would prove challenging if so inclined. But at $45 a night the room was a decent value, but nothing special. I saw that they raised their rates to $60 since we booked and believe you can find better value elsewhere in the area, possibly on the ocean or with a sea view.

CombatCritic Gives Marsana Wellness Beachhouse and Spa 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

PostScript: AirBnB asks guests to review the properties where they stay as well as providing feedback to the host. This is the feedback I provided to Dr. Michael Morales, our host, who was not on the property during the week we stayed at "Marsana Wellness Beachhouse and Spa":
"We enjoyed our stay, especially your sweet, wonderful dogs. We were pleased overall with the accommodations, but felt your description was misleading. As a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, honesty and integrity are very important to me and I do not like being misled. My decision to stay at your “beachhouse and spa” was partially influenced by your description:

“mountain-beach views” 
- I could barely see the water from the roof, not a beach in sight 
“organic natural macrobiotic and vegan cuisine" 
- Yuri and Marina may be eating it, but we were never told about it
“wholistic therapies, treatments, classes” 
- Where, when? Why were we not informed of these options and who was leading them? 
“natural foods catering, meals available” 
- Again, we were not informed of this option 
“concierge services, natural beauty care treatments” 
- If you call the 5 minutes Marina spent with us the evening we arrived “concierge services”, that is misleading 
“2 naturapathic doctors on site” 
- Are Yuri and Marina naturopathic doctors? 
“acupuncturists, herbalist, nutritionist, physical therapist ,massage therapist, cooking classes and surfboards available” 
- Available where? 
“we have installed our outdoor Jacuzzi” 
- True, but it was empty the entire time we were there and by the rust on the metal, it looks like it probably does not work 
My recommendation is to be more honest in your description or actually provide the options you say you have. My 6 Out of 10 rating is very generous and strictly based on the value of what we got for what we paid ($45 a night for a basic room) and I did not deduct for the deceiving description. 
Again, we were not displeased with our stay, only the misleading description. 
As a travel critic I have the duty to report honestly and accurately to my readers and followers and would be doing them a disservice if I omitted the facts I described above. Because this review will be published  on AirBnB and my blog,, I would be remiss if I were not completely honest. I hope you understand. 
Finally, I think you should consider reducing your rate to the $50 per night range as your new $60 rate is probably more than the room is worth. 
Thanks for having us!"
Key Words: Marsana, wellness, beachhouse, spa, AirBnB, hotel, room, beach, Rincón, Aguada, PR, 115, Puerto Rico, puerto, rico, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue, travel, value 

lunes, 13 de enero de 2014

Palmas: Good, Friendly, Nothing Special, Overpriced

Palmas: Good, Friendly, Nothing Special, Overpriced

Palmas de Boulevard
281 San Sebastian Street
at Tanaca Corner

San JuanPuerto Rico 00901
(787) 630-4725

We drove past Palmas looking for a parking place in Old San Juan and returned after seeing what looked like a fiesta going on in the street outside. It was a small place with a large crowd outside and music blaring off the beaten path on the north (uphill) side of town.

We ordered the Asopao de Pollo (chicken and rice stew - $13.99) and Queso Frito (fried cheese with mango sauce -$8.95). The cheese was good, probably $3 overpriced for the size even in Old San Juan, with a mango dipping sauce.

The chicken stew (Asopao de Pollo) was very good, but at $13.99 for a few chunks of gristly chicken, some red bell pepper, and a half a cup of rice in chicken broth was probably $6 more than it should have been while still allowing a fair profit for the proprietor.

I had two cervezas Medalla and at $3 a pop they were twice the price I had paid our entire 3 weeks on the island.

Javier, the owner, stopped by our table and lopped- off half of an avocado the size of a watermelon (Javier and CombatCritic pictured). I tossed it in my stew and added some butt-kicking hot sauce, but made the mistake of touching my eye  ... EYE CARAMBA!

Don't get me wrong, the food was good and the bill came to $42 including 20% tip, not horrific, but more than we should have paid for a couple local beers, an appetizer, and an cheap-to-make entree.

I hope Javier figures out that knocking a couple bucks off the prices will result in happy customers, glowing reviews, and much more customers and money in his pocket. He and his staff were very nice and we enjoyed our visit even if it was not the best TravelValue in Puerto Rico.

CombatCritic Gives Palmas de Boulevard 6 Bombs Out of 10 ... BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: Palmas, de Boulevard, restaurant, food, Caribbean, Puerto Rico, puerto, rico, old san juan, old, san, juan, chicken, stew, asopao, cheese, fried, frito, queso, CombatCritic, TravelValue

sábado, 11 de enero de 2014

El Tapatio; Good, Cheap Mexican Food ... and Potent Margaritas ... Near Rincón, Puerto Rico

El Tapatio; Good, Cheap Mexican Food ... and Potent Margaritas ... Near Rincón, Puerto Rico
Margarita - $6.25
Unassuming from the outside, we decided to give El Tapatio a try after some so-so dining experiences in the Rincón area. It lies on the East side of PR-115 just a mile or two South of downtown Aguada in an area that is mostly residential with the odd kiosk Criollo here and there. The food was very good, the prices fair, and the margaritas very strong ... they sure don't skimp on the tequila!

We started with the carne y queso (meat and cheese) nachos  ($3.50), a 4 ounce guacamole ($2), and a large pico di gallo ($2). The nachos were not huge, but tasty, coming in a cardboard serving tray with homemade chips, generous portions of ground beef, and smothered in melted cheese. The guacamole not too bad and that is coming from the GUACAMOLE KING and the pico de gallo fresh and spicy. All three starters were a very good value.

Tacos Duros - $1.60 Each
For dinner we shared a cheese and beef quesadilla ($4.50), two tacos duros (hard tacos - $1.60 each), and a beef and cheese enchilada ($4.75). The tacos were good, especially with some guacamole and pico added. The quesadilla hot and decent, and the enchilada (which came with a small portion of refried beans) substantial and delicious.

Beef and Cheese Enchilada - $4.75
A surprisingly good dinner for $32, including two margaritas ($6.25), that were some of the most potent I have had in recent memory.

CombatCritic Gives El Tapatio 7 Out of 10 Bombs ... BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: El Tapatio, el, tapatio, Mexican, food, restaurant, eat, taco, enchilada, burrito, quesadilla, nacho, margarita, CombatCritic, Aguada, Puerto Rico, TravelValue

Nonna Cucina Rustica Serves Food My Grandmother (Nonna) Would Be Proud Of!

San Juan: Nonna Cucina Rustica Italiana is very nice, somewhat small, slightly upscale classic Italian restaurant near downtown and not far from Miramar where we were staying. We found her on Yelp* and the reviews were very positive. We had difficulty finding a restaurant open on Christmas Eve when we arrived in San Juan, so I figured that Christmas day would be even worse. To our surprise, Nonna was open (as were several restaurants we saw - everything else was closed as they should be) and had a table available ... "we'll be right there!"

Waze, our eMap, was a bit off, so we called the restaurant and the manager guided us in (a couple blocks ahead of where Waze took us), sticking her head out the door until she spotted us pulling up. They have Valet Service, but we decided to go through the next signal and found plenty of street parking in the next block.

It is nearly impossible to find a traditional Italian kitchen in the US and we were expecting as much in Puerto Rico ... WE WERE VERY PLEASANTLY SURPRISED!

Homemade Mozzarella Caprese ($9) and Vido di Alicante
Carmen, our server, was extremely pleasant even though, still being on "non-island time" and expecting things to move rapidly like they do on the continent, we were hungry and a little impatient to start. I ordered a Spanish Alicante red, a simple yet robust dark red wine ($27), to accompany our meal.

For antipasti, we had the veal polpette (meatballs) and homemade mozzarella, and both were excellent. The polpette (3 for $9 - polpettone, by the way, is Italian meatloaf) came atop a bed of mashed potatoes (polenta would have been a more traditional and excellent choice) and covered with a light tomato sauce. We had to ask for bread and it took a while to arrive, a very small basket of what looked like foccacia sliced into small pieces, and the only disappointment of the night. Local bread on the table is standard in all Italian restaurants, even in Italy, so when I did not see bread on a single table and had to ask for it, I was a bit surprised. It was decent, but too little to accompany the wonderful appetizers, both of which cried out for bread, good bread!

Polpette with Mashed Potatoes and Tomato Sauce - $9
The homemade mozzarella was also delicious. Atop the four rather small, thin slices ($9) of mozzarella were three large cherry tomatoes, a few pieces of arugula, and a hefty dose of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped, toasted hazelnuts. A kind of insalata Caprese, you would never see balsamic vinegar on mozzarella in Italy, but it was very tasty if not filling.

The Casoncelli alla Bergamasca ($17), a light yet complex dish of pasta shells (the size of perogi) was stuffed with sausage and quickly sautéed in a mild butter and sage sauce. They were sublime, the only fault being that the obviously homemade pasta shells were a bit too "al dente" and could have been boiled another minute or two. Otherwise, we were quite pleased.

Casoncelli alla Bergamasca - $17
I ordered the lasagna ($18), which came in its own 7" x 7" baking dish with a crispy layer of cheese and béchamel sauce and it was exquisite! More than I needed to eat, it was layered with a hefty portion of minced lamb, lasagna noodles, spinach, and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. The lamb tasted very much like lamb, so if you are not into lamb, DO NOT order this dish. I like lamb on occasion, not daily, and was very happy with my choice.

Lamb Lasagna - $18
For dessert, offered by the very sweet, young pastry chef with a huge smile, we had the tiramisu. Untraditional in every way, I had seen it on other tables throughout the night and thought it was an ice cream sunday, but it was not! All of the usual ingredients were there, cookies, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa (accompanied by a shot of espresso to pour over the top), but a scoop of ice cream was also included along with chocolate syrup. It did not taste like any tiramisu I have ever eaten (and at $12 it was the most expensive tiramisu I have eaten), but it was extravagant.

Not cheap by any stretch, Nonna was a delight and extremely good value ... BUONISSIMO!

CombatCritic Gives Nonna Cucina Italiana 9 Out of 10 Bombs ... BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: Nonna, cucina, rustica, Italiana, Italian, restaurant, food, San Juan, Puerto Rico, eat, dinner, delicious, pasta, wine, mozzarella, cheese, tiramisu, CombatCritic

jueves, 9 de enero de 2014

Punta Santiago Apartment: Spacious, Friendly, And A Bit Noisy Dog Lover's Delight

First of all, Bonnie, Tony, and the boys and girls are a delight, wonderful human beings and dogies (all 10) who made our stay in Punta Santiago comfortable and caring ... THANK YOU ALL!

Found on AirBnB at $75 a night, the apartment was the most expensive of the three we reserved during our 3-week stay, but it is an entire private one-bedroom/one-bath apartment with a kitchen/dining room, living room, and a HUGE terrace just a few blocks from the beach.

Furnishings are basic and somewhat dated, but in working order with the exception of the stove which we were unable to use. There are AC units in the bedroom and living room and were sufficient in providing cool sleeping conditions. The apartment gets plenty of air from trade winds, so the AC really is not necessary much of the time. There is an older color TV with cable in the living room (be sure to ask Tony how to get rid of the "blue" screen) and the wireless internet worked well the entire week we were there.

There is a market down the street with most everything you need at reasonable prices and several small restaurants (see Taco Rico review) and bars just across the street, so food is abundant. Playa Naguabo (ten minute drive North) has several seaside restaurants including Waterfront Cantina and an outdoor cafe with three food stalls that serves fresh fish to hundreds at a time arriving on busses.

The towns of Humacao and Fajardo are close by, so restaurants are abundant and the islands of Vieques and Culebra are a little over an hour away by ferry from Fajardo. The Humacao Nature Reserve is less than a 10-minute drive, offering trails, a secluded beach, wildlife, and mangrove swamps.

The primary drawback as other guests have mentioned is the noise at night from the bar across the street, blaring music at decibles in the hundreds as well as the occasional vehicles with custom stereo blaring music at all hours of the day and night running up and down PR-3 adjacent to the house. Bring earplugs and/or a white noise machine as we did and unless you are a very light sleeper, you should not have any problems.

If you love dogs, the sea, friendly people, and life in a relatively quiet fishing village, you will love the time you stay with Bonnie and Tony in Punta Santiago.

CombatCritic Gives Bonnie and Tony's Punta Santiago Apartment 7 Out of 1o Bombs ... BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: Bonnie, Tony, Antonio, Punta Santiago, AirBnB, punta, santiago, Humacao, Puerto Rico, puerto rico, travel, value, CombatCritic, TravelValue, apartment, room, hotel

miércoles, 8 de enero de 2014

Das Alpen Café (Rincón): Pretentious, Overpriced, Microwaved?

Dinner Salad
Rincón is better known for big waves, deeply tanned surfers, and pizza joints than it is for fine dining and Das Alpen Café will not change that image. At the Southwest end of the plaza in heart of downtown Rincón, the restaurant is unassuming and having arrived on Three Kings Day (Puerto Rico’s second Christmas) we were not sure it was even open for business based on the sparseness of furnishings inside. If they were going for a minimalist look, they were highly successful.

We arrived shortly after six two nights later and beside the hostess and a waiter, we were the only people in sight. The hostess sat us and quickly returned to her dinner at the bar while typing away on her cell phone. The only thing in the room that looks Bavarian is the flag hanging in front of the kitchen entrance, the tables few and uncovered, and the music a light jazz with no resemblance to anything either Italian or German as is advertised.

Potato Leek Soup ($3.50) and Goat Cheese Tart ($8)
Our server, Jeffrey, was very nice and attentive. I ordered a stout ($9.50), one of only two draught beers on the menu and the closest thing to a Warsteiner Dunkle available and one of the most expensive beers I have consumed, including at overpriced airports. We started with the savory goat cheese tart (described as goat cheese with caramelized onions and basil - $8) and a cup of “crème of potatoes and leek soup” ($3.50). The soup quickly arrived and, while reasonably tasty, was lukewarm and could have used a garnish to add some color. We had to ask for bread, but by the time it finally arrived what was left of my soup was long cold. The tart was an utter disappointment. Looking more like a small, sad piece of quiche than a tart, it had obviously been “nuked” with the soggy crust separating from the filling and no caramelized onions or basil in sight.

Jägerschnitzel - $20
I had the Jaeger Schnitzel, described as “Hunters Schnitzel, a pork cutlet with white wine and cream reduction with bacon and wild mushroom served with red cabbage and homemade bread dumplings”. As a schnitzel lover, I have eaten schnitzel dozens of times throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and the United States, I was surprised by the size of the cutlet and not in a good way. German schnitzel normally covers a large plate, but the red cabbage dwarfed this one, yet looking massive next to “the” lone dumpling (not “dumplings” as was described on the menu). A little bigger than a Swedish meatball, I had to ration the little dumpling to make it last as long as possible. The hunter sauce was good, a bit too salty, with small pieces of mushroom, minced onion, and bacon, but barely enough to cover the cutlet and none leftover for the dumpling or bread, which was being rationed three small pieces at a time.

Forest Schnitzel - $20
My wife ordered the Forest Schnitzel, a “pork cutlet with Marsala wine and mushroom sauce served with red cabbage and homemade bread dumpling”. Again, the cutlet was small in comparison to every other schnitzel I have ever had, but the Marsala sauce was very good, light, and slightly sweet from the reduction of this fruity wine from the small town in Sicily where it gets its name. She also received one dumpling, slightly larger than mine, and left most of her red cabbage which was sweet and acidic as Bavarian red cabbage should be, but overcooked and soggy.

Das Alpen Café attempts to appear “gourmet” with large prices and small portions, but fails to deliver. German food in general and schnitzel in particular is meant to be consumed in large portions with an abundance of sauce and mushrooms, a large portion of potatoes or spaetzel, and nothing red or soggy on the plate. Granted, Rincón is a tourist area and prices are expected to be a bit higher than small fishing villages like Punta Santiago, but Das Alpen Café left me uninspired in terms of TravelValue.

CombatCritic Gives Das Alpen Café 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GUT!

Key Words: Das Alpen Café, alpen, café, Rincón, Ricon, Puerto Rico, puerto, rico, German, Italian, food, dinner, tart, schnitzel, Jaeger, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Jaeger (Jäger) Schnitzel Recipe

1-pound thin veal or pork cutlets
1/2-teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3-cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-cup fine, dry bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 lb. Mushrooms, washed and cut into bite-size slices
2-3 slices bacon, sliced into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2-cup vegetable, beef, or chicken broth
1/2-cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon dried thy
A small bunch parsley, finely chopped
Extra milk as needed

Season each cutlet with salt and pepper (both sides) and let stand at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. You will need 3 plates, adding flour to the first, eggs to the second, and breadcrumbs to the third. Arrange the plates in a row, close to the stove. Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet or pan over moderately high heat for about 2 minutes. Coat each cutlet with flour, dunk it in the eggs, and then coat it with breadcrumbs, putting the coated cutlet immediately into the hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3 minutes or until each side is a deep golden brown. Remove the schnitzel and place it on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any extra grease and keep warm in the oven.

Using the same pan as you made the schnitzel in, fry the mushrooms until they begin releasing water. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Add a little butter to the same pan, add onions and bacon, and cook until the onions begin to brown. Add the mushrooms back to the pan, then add the broth, cream, salt, pepper, and thyme. Bring mixture up to a simmer and continue until liquid has noticeably reduced (about 15-20 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Stir milk into the sauce until the sauce reaches the desired consistency (shouldn't be too thin). Remove pan from heat, stir in 2/3 of the chopped parsley, and add salt and pepper as needed. To serve, place a schnitzel on a plate and top with the sauce, sprinkling some chopped parsley over the sauce and serve with pan-fried potatoes or spaetzel (spätzel) … ENJOY!