When outsiders think of San Escobar they usually imagine rolling waves lapping onto white sand beaches. the soothing warmth of the sun hovering like a quilt and a quaint main street with colonial architecture, diagonal parking, a hardware store run by the same family for 85 years and a movie theater that shows one film a week and sells popcorn tossed with freshly-churned local butter for $3 a carton.
And that's exactly what recently former United States Army Special Operations Forces Sgt. Murray Rubinstein discovered two years ago on his first trip to the island country of 13,000 people that - until last week - was somewhat of a "secret island nation", located 100 kilometers off the coast of east Belize.
"After what I had been doing for more than a decade, San Escobar was paradise found, so I decided to move here and open a little restaurant," Rubinstein said via Skype early Sunday morning. "Who knew?"
What Murray was "who knewing" about was the news that broke Saturday that his "little restaurant", 'il Pierogi Palace" had been awarded two coveted Michelin stars, the first restaurant in the Southwest hemisphere to be so honored by the prestigious guide.
"I thought it was a joke when I got the Skype call from Michelin," said Rubinstein. "He looked like a drunk and sounded like a comedian doing an over-the-top French accent. But, then, just when I was about to disconnect, Joel Robuchon stood next to him and I knew it was for real."
Rubinstein lived in the "unreal" for many years. Born and raised in a 99.7% black neighborhood of North Philadelphia he said he had to prove himself early in life. "Look, I grew up on 21st and Montgomery and my name was Murray Rubinstin. It might as well as been Jewy Jew. I had to fight back or be squashed. I took my share of ass whuppins', but I earned respect. I learned a lot from the corner boys."
After the 2001 September 11 attacks, Rubinstein joined the Army and within a year he was a member of the 101st Airborne Division. After a year in Afghanistan, he was sent for further training at Fort Bragg and was made a member of the Army's zultra-elite Delta Force.
"Dude, I can't begin to tell you what I did in Delta for a few reasons, one of them being I was drunk most of the time", said Rubinstein who has been sober for more than two years except for drinking malt liquor. "I can say I was in Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq, Tora Bora in Afghanistan, Benghazi in Libya, South Bangui in the Central African Republic and Watts in Los Angeles. And believe me, I was not whistling Dixie. My deployment was a never ending "Trouble in River City",
The trouble looks like it is over now.
Before opening Murray trained at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, one of the revered restaurants of living legend Nancy Silverton. It was from Silverton that Rubinstein learned the sweet - and savory - science of dough-making.
"Il Pierogi Palace " opened to rave reviews in the local papers and word spread to savvy foodies. His pierogis, made with both the traditional unleavened and radical leavened dough, are, in the words, of influential French restaurant critic Marcel "Puff" Duvlaueax, "Like eating a cumulus clouds filled with earthly delights."
The most popular pierogis are filled night-caught local fish including trout, white snapper, and overweight sea shrimp.
"MIchielin stars or not, I will be the same," said Rubinstien ho vowed that half of the 35 seats of his restaurant will be for locals. "That's what? Let's see. That's 17 and a half seats for my new peeps. I believe I as born for this opportunity."