From Sea to Shore: La Mona Restaurant at Cap Cana

There’s a first time for everything. I was able to ring in the new year overseas in Punta Cana. I usually celebrate NYE in my hometown of Chicago, but as an avid travel enthusiast, it only seemed right to celebrate the arrival of 2017 in a native land where palm trees replaced skyscrapers and gorgeous saltwater beaches replaced concrete sidewalks.

Punta Cana, the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic where the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet. The island is known for its beautiful beaches, clear waters, popular tourist excursions and an array of lavish all inclusive resorts like Alsol Luxury Village (the resort my fiancé and I stayed in) that stretch along the water. The island’s rich culture and history screams beauty within the natives themselves – a rainbow of melanin, speaking in Spanish tongues. With one full day left before returning to the states, my fiancé Nieman and I couldn’t leave this beautiful country without trying La Mona Restaurant at Cap Cana – a local hot spot known for it’s nouvelle cuisine, beach style cocktails and out of this world views of the Caribbean Sea.

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We were seated and our stomachs were growling with anticipation. Before ordering anything on the menu, we took a few minutes to appreciate the view. We were literally staring out into the Caribbean Sea. The waters were shades of deep blues and crystal clear. The view added an even greater experience to the already stunning outdoor ambience of dining on Juanillo Beach, where La Mona Restaurant resides.

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After basking in the view, it was time for the good stuff. The food.

Tuna Tartar: Ordered straight from the “Raw” section of the menu, we were served Yellowtail tuna marinated in citrus, spicy mayo, avocado and tomatoes accompanied with a side of crispy sweet potato chips. I’m not much of a tartar fan, but the succulence of the tuna, tang from the citrus and a small kick from the spicy mayo did this dish much justice. I recommend putting a small dab of tuna tartar on a crispy sweet potato chip to add a bit of crunch to contrast the soft texture.

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Thinly sliced Kobe Tiradito: Kobe beef is considered one of the top three brands of beef from the Japanese raised Wagyu cattle and a known delicacy. I now understand why Nieman insisted on trying this dish. Each thinly sliced beef was filled with flavor, tenderness and the perfect amount of fatty texture every meat lover would appreciate. A must try as a starter.

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Chicano Ceviche: We shifted from the Kobe Tiradito to a heavily Mexican influenced dish off the “Mexican Summer” section of the menu. Out of all choices, the Chicano Ceviche won our hearts. The dish consisted of shrimps marinated in a coriander pesto, rocoto, fresh guacamole and crispy tortilla chips all garnished with jalapeños, onions, and delicious Peruvian roasted corn. If you’re looking for a light, refreshing dish that’s not too heavy, then this my friend is for you.

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Grilled Lobster: The finale to our feast was a 5 pound grilled lobster garnished with lime and a side of garlic butter. By far one of the freshest lobsters I’ve tasted in my lifetime. So fresh to the point where you can still taste traces of the natural salt water caught from the Caribbean Sea. I recommend squeezing some juice from the limes on the lobster meat which pairs well when dipping it into the simple but flavorful garlic butter. Believe me when I say this, when it comes to seasoning, you need nothing more.

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After rounds of delicious starters and entrees, it was time to wash it all down with some beach themed cocktails to cool us down. The Mai Tai was Nieman’s drink of choice. I chose the Banana Colada because anything with “colada” at the end of it has to be good.

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Our stomachs wanted to forfeit even though our taste buds kept wanting more. We decided to keep dessert sweet and simple with the Vanilla Bean ice cream. The dessert came out in a cute waffle cone shaped cup and surprisingly enough for a party of two. The richness of the vanilla bean in every scoop is what made this simple dessert unique.

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A big thanks to La Mona Restaurant’s General Manager Alix Puntiel who greeted us with his warm smile and hospitality. A month before coming to Punta Cana, I reached out to the restaurant to cover for the blog with a goal to highlight at least one local hot spot during my time there to share with my readers and travel enthusiasts alike. With only one full day left before leaving to head back to Chicago, I was worried I wouldn’t make it to the restaurant in time. But fate brought me here and Alix Putiel made it happen.

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If you’re ever in Punta Cana or it’s on your bucket list of destinations to visit, this beach dining oasis should not go unnoticed. I highly recommend it. We can’t wait to come back. You have a couple new fans.

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*LA MONA RESTAURANT AT CAP CANA PROVIDED ALL FOOD COMPLIMENTARY. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY OWN.

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A Taste of Sichuan In Chicago

My friend Karina and I had the pleasure to attend the pre-opening on November 29th for media/influencers at Won Fun Chinese and 2Fun Chinese (905 W. Randolph St). Only a day before the main opening to the public. Many thanks to owner Austin Baker for inviting me to be apart of his newest accomplishment, a bi-level Chinese restaurant, bar and lounge opening right in the heart of Chicago’s Fulton Market area. What’s also cool about this new addition is that it’s neighbors to J.P. Graziano – a fourth-generation family-owned Italian grocery and deli that’s been around since the 1930’s. Judging from my amazing experience covering Austin’s first restaurant Bar Marta back in September, my expectations for his second restaurant was on an all time high.

Before Karina and I walked into Won Fun Chinese (lower level), we didn’t know what to expect. But in my mind I was preparing my eyes and tastebuds for yet another unforgettable experience. As we walked into the restaurant, the feeling of being in Chicago was left at the front door. We immediately transported into a sexy, red illuminated restaurant, feeling as if we were in the heart of China due to the restaurant’s Asian inspired decor. I’ve personally never been to China before, but that night I definitely embodied a piece of it’s culture. As we were escorted to our seats, we walked down a long aisle passing 60-seats filled with anxious diners just as excited as we were to try some authentic Sichuan dishes served family style. One other thing that won’t go unnoticed, the cute miniature red lanterns hanging from the ceiling. A perfect extension of the decor coupled perfectly with the exposed bricks, giving you that industrial feel the Fulton Market area is known to exude. Karina and I were seated across the open kitchen where we caught the chefs in action.  

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Now let’s get down to the good stuff, what’s on the menu.

BBQ Bao & Chongqing Fried Chicken Karina and I were hungry, but not too hungry to the point where we needed our own dishes. So shared plates was the route to go. We tried small plates of BBQ Bao (Smoked Pork, Chinese BBQ) and the Chongqing Fried Chicken (Double Fried, Double Spicy) – one of Won Fun Chinese’ Sichuan Classics. If you’re looking for the right amount of sweet and salty with a hint of spice to top it off, both dishes are a perfect match. The Chongqing Fried Chicken was extra crispy like I like it. The chicken was perfectly seasoned and the spices were rolling off our tongues. You know your food is good if no additional seasoning is necessary.  I will forewarn you, the Chongqing Fried Chicken is a whole chicken cut into pieces. So the portion size is pretty large for two. But if you’re anything like me, that doesn’t stop you. Ask for a to go box and savor the moment. Both dishes I highly recommend.

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Then there were drinks. Another thing I couldn’t wait to try. Especially after hearing that the restaurant had Kombucha on draft. I’m sold. Here’s what we ordered.

Pina Colada & Strawberry Daiquiri – My drink of choice was the Pina Colada (Three Rums, Pineapple, Coconut). To top off the drink, I requested the Cruzan Rum Float – a shot of Cruzan Rum that’s poured on top of the Pina Colada. My drink had a delicious frozen creaminess and you can taste the pineapple in every sip. Karina ordered the Strawberry Daiquiri (Rum, Pisco, Pineapple, Coconut) and also requested the Cruzan Rum Float to be poured on top. Both drinks lived up to its hype and we were slightly in a Caribbean state of mind.

You don’t have to order the Cruzan Rum Float for either drink, but I highly recommend it. Why? Because c’mon, it’s rum. You can never go wrong.

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As we finished our food, we made our way up to 2Fun Chinese – the second level bar and lounge. Steep black stairs led us upstairs where we were greeted by a huge red dragon that hung above the bar and red lights that continued to illuminate every corner of the space. Here is where all of the boozy cocktail action happens. The bar offers drink options including the Oolong Island iced tea with four oolong-infused liquors and popping boba, the Chengdu mule (Vodka, Baijiu, lime, ginger beer) and an array of local and Chinese beer on tap to name a few. 2Fun Chinese also offers karaoke and has a small section serving up hot dim sum for your foodie needs.

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Overall, Won Fun Chinese and 2Fun Chinese is a two for one special, covering all of your food, drink and entertainment needs. A perfect place for happy hour, a late night dinner, catching up with friends, or even a date. Well done Austin.

I found a new hangout and I’m looking forward to happy hour with my friend this Saturday for some amazing authentic Sichuan food, great drinks and a little R&R time.

If you’re in the area, swing by and come say hi!

*WON FUN CHINESE PROVIDED ALL FOOD COMPLIMENTARY. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY OWN.