From its airy front bar and skylit dining room to its menu of Old San Juan Puerto Rico and Cuban fare, every element of Bolo — Philadelphia Chef Yun Josué Fuentes Morales’ new restaurant — is open, communal and forward.
Located in Rittenhouse Square, Bolo honors familial culinary traditions in a new and uniquely flavorful way. And the longer that Chef Fuentes talks about Bolo, the more you realize that man and menu are one in the same.
“When it came to location, all variables aligned… and the room spoke to me,” said Fuentes, who not only wanted to pay homage to his ancestors and their history, but to the feel and look of how he lived his childhood in Puerto Rico. “When I first saw myself in that building, Bolo appeared – dynamic, fun and happening, but taking seriously its heritage and how we present ourselves.”
Bolo’s airy entrance, to Fuentes, is a tribute to the American contractors who came to Puerto Rico and built mid-Century houses with open carports as outdoor living rooms or “marquesinas” that welcome you into a home environment before you even get in the door. “In my grandmother’s house, there was a outside foyer to a beauty parlor that she opened in the back of her home. Ladies would sit, wait their turn and my grandfather would offer them snacks and pitchers of sangria so that they would stick around. It was about being a good host.”
The influence of his time in Cuba, the high ceilings of Colonial Old San Juan and the communal aspects of being a good host make Fuentes’ new restaurant and rum bar joyous, free and filled with the spirits of the past. There is even a painting of Fuentes’ grandfather in the center of the dining room as a reminder of family.
Yet, for the sake of modernizing his menu’s legacy – the traditions of cultural heritage – Bolo is something else all-together. Fuentes’ Bolo takes the idea of tradition and pushes the needle forward with finessed flavors and sophisticated tastes of homespun cuisine in the maelstrom of the Latin Diaspora.
“Tradition for me is in constant motion,” he said. “Tradition travels with you. Old stories get newly told through non-verbal means. Food is one of those things.”
The old school tradition of bacon-wrapped dates is deconstructed and reverse engineered as his Pan con Queso and its whirlwind of whipped goat cheese, garlic honey, and morsels of dates and cured bacon with olive oil. The Chicken Chicharron is tender, more like Korean fried chicken, only done up in pork lard and garlic. Fuentes’ Flan de Queso with candied Papaya is richer and denser than your usual flan, cheesecake-like without the guilt. Then there is the hearty, whole broiled Caribbean Red Snapper at Bolo, his true signature dish. Though his steaks are rare, and his poached lobsters’ buttery, it is the snapper with its springtime sancocho based on seasonality – something he might not normally have embraced in Puerto Rico – that is most special.
“I would not have found spring vegetables at my grandmother’s house, in a pot on a low simmer, and so I bring that meal forward, now, in time and place with this new iteration,” he said. “I want to be true to traditional flavors and this other product, spring vegetables. So, we bring in English peas, asparagus and haricot verts with this sancocho flavor profile.”
Bringing in fresh new ingredients into the traditional flavors of home, then adding light, liquor and music best describes the communal vibe of Bolo, from its tastes and shared plates through to the layout of its space.
“Because I built this on the concept of home and community, I want those who dine and drink with us to feel at home, and part of us,” said Fuentes.