Talk about memories. Pura Vida is one of those restaurants that has stood the test of time for me. The scene of many dates, meeting of friends, and countless pitchers of sangria. It was where me and AD used to hang out with a pack of cigarettes back in the day when you could still smoke in public.
Chef and owner Hector Santiago was one of three Atlanta chefs competing on last season’s Top Chef, and although he went home relatively early, it surely garnered him and the restaurant some appreciated publicity.
The menu has undergone many changes over the years. Originally, Puerto Rican tapas dominated, now it is an amalgam of Latin flavors. Some dishes, like the garlicky mushrooms, the malanga root chips, and the chicken empanadas, are mainstays. The hanger steak pinchos is another, although Santiago has revised the presentation. I always order it and it was among the few tapas ST and I shared for a late night dinner Saturday. Chunks of tender steak are skewered and grilled, then drizzled with a punchy cilantro chimichurri.
Another staple is the sangria. Pura Vida serves both white and red, the best in town! The white sangria is full of fruits like pear, grapefruit, and apple while the red has grapes, orange, and apple, all liquor soaked. I always request lots of fruit and eat it out of my glass with a spoon. Our server, Nathan (or was it Andrew?) was efficient and cute.
Since it was ST’s first visit to Pura Vida and, like, my 50th, I wanted him to try some of my favorites. It had been a while since I had the coctel de camerones. The updated version is called diablo shrimp coctel….same basic ingredients of butternut squash, a creamy sauce and a hot sauce. Still awesome.
My all-time favorite dish is the duck maduros, plantains layered with duck meat. Santiago took it off the menu for quite some time, much to my dismay. Then it was back. Now it has evolved into the duck confit with caramelized plantains. OK, can’t complain! It is basically the same flavor as the duck maduros, a lusty combination of gamey duck and sweet plantains.
For a while, chef explored Latino variations on foie gras, creative, expensive, pretty damn good. These days he is back to basics. the little pork and ham sandwiches called mi media noche (midnight snack) and the burrito are prime examples. A few years ago he began offering goat, slow cooked in coconut milk with green banana mash. It is delicious, although the mash could use more flavor.
The atmosphere is festive. I usually enjoy sitting at the bar but it was late so ST and I snuggled in a booth which usually require a reservation, or at least a wait. Thanks Pura Vida for yet another great memory.
656 N. Highland Ave. 404-870-9797 www.puravidatapas.com