One of the more recent restaurants to open in the Old Port, Sur Lie— which is named after a wine aging process—has quickly established itself as a constantly evolving dining experience. The varied menu, with dishes conducive to sharing, is grouped by taste descriptors, such as “crisp” and “bold,” rather than the traditional appetizer and entrée approach.
Both a flower shop and a juice bar formerly occupied the sprawling space, and the redesign is quite impressive. According to owners Krista Cole and Antonio Alviar, the aesthetic goal was to keep the space rustic at its core, repurposing much of the wood left behind by the previous tenants, but to make it decidedly more sleek, with simple, modern furnishings and lots of natural light. The kitchen is entirely visible from most of the dining area, and the bar, in a neighboring room, is able to create a scene all its own.
Rounding out the crew is chef Emil Rivera, a Puerto Rico native who learned his trade in such prestigious European-influenced kitchens as Augusto’s Cuisine in San Juan before continuing his career in Washington, D.C., working for the likes of legendary Spanish American chef José Andrés. Despite the European focus of Rivera’s experience, his menus remain varied, incorporating an equal amount of influence from the comfort foods prepared by his grandfather, to whom both pancakes and grilled cheese were like a religion, as well as classics from Puerto Rico like escabeche.
“Though I have always been inspired by the greats like Charlie Trotter, Lidia Bastianich, and even José,” Rivera tells me, “At the end of the day I cook what I love to eat.” Two dishes in particular reflect this contrast brilliantly.
The first is four perfectly seared scallops, which rest in a puree of white sweet potatoes (a Puerto Rican variety), and are topped with pickled red onion and mojo. At the other end of the comfort food spectrum is the pork belly doughnut, which is a succulent piece of braised pork belly sandwiched into the middle of a sweet, chewy doughnut.
More staples include simple preparations like shrimp al ajillo, sautéed in olive oil with garlic and chile de árbol, as well as cross- cultural dishes such as country-fried chicken with black bean and corn relish served in a lettuce wrapper. Also ever-present is the requisite meat and cheese board.