The designated location for this update is Cariari, a high rent district because of three large hotels, a casino and a country club on site, but first a potpourri of other stuff:
My wonderful wife, Joan Hall, is back from having had surgery in California with great post op cancer-free news. A cause to celebrate. Add to that her 60th birthday and celebrate we did with a lot of private fun and a seafood meal at her favorite Pescatore Restaurant in Escazú 600 meters south of Multiplaza across from the BMW dealership, They serve beautiful seafood with both Peruvian and Italian options. (Open every day for lunch and dinner but only noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Phone: 2289 8010.) Yes it was an excellent choice. The seafood pasta I had may be the best in Costa Rica, replete with lobster tail. It cost about $24. Until recently it had been my favorite seafood option. I suggest that you skip the al fresco option during busy traffic hours out front.
While she was away, I ate at Na Praia in the central courtyard of the Sigma Business Center 50 meters west of Mall San Pedro with my friend Tio Steve. It is equally or even more impressive, but much farther from our home or I would be a regular. The tastefully appointed modern grey, black and white space is comfortable, free of any road noise or vehicle fumes and does offer validated free parking in the building’s garage. The large bar is very well stocked. The seafood is definitely the star at this eatery. Bravo to chef/owner Nacho and Chino his sous chef. Oysters, lobsters, balsamic glazed octopus, tuna seared, but rare inside, atop either tomato-based risotto or my favorite, the same tuna on a bed of buckwheat soba noodles with the flavor of sweet sake, soy and a hint of sesame. The mixed seafood ceviche and the tuna carpaccio appetizers are lovely. Reasonably priced; less than Pescatore. Beautifully presented. Absolutely fresh. Perfectly prepared. Seamless service. Casually pleasant. Clearly the best new seafood restaurant and raw bar in town. May it prosper. 11:30 a.m. to 11p.m. daily. 2234-0133
Susan tried the ribs at Augusto’s en Atenas after she read our last review and loved them. She wondered, however, why I hadn’t included Dominic’s barbecue food truck in my Atenas overview. She liked his ribs as well. The answer dear Susan is that I really liked his barbecue at the Atenas Chili Cook Off, but after that he seemed to have disappeared. Don, the talented and amiable chef-owner at PHO in Santa Ana filled me in. Dominic’s food truck was sabotaged. He has made the necessary repairs and plans to take up residence soon in front of Mega Super in Santa Ana across the pista from the Forum. For all you lucky nearby workers, his truck will rapidly become a favorite lunchtime destination. I plan to visit often.
And Don also told me that PHO Vietnamese Restaurant and Café on the Santa Ana Radial, Centro Comercial Boulevard, just south of Momentum introduced a new expanded menu in April. I have always loved his food. We have been to Vietnam for lengthy vacations twice and adore the cuisine. Exact authenticity would be impossible to create in our country, but Don is always striving for improved authenticity and flavor. I am anxious to try the new menu items and will visit again soon. Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30-3 pm and 6pm-9:30pm, Sat 11:30-9:30 pm. Phone: 2203-6969
Banzai in Plaza Florencia also has a newly expanded menu according to my friend, the owner and head chef Cassius. It includes half a dozen bento box specials at lunch and a handful of new main courses. It appears that his new neighbor, Mrs. Cotoletta, will be interesting to evaluate. Tune in to the July update and find out.
Our Monday night men’s night out for dinner group still rotates among a handful of relatively inexpensive Santa Ana restaurants that serve wine by the glass and craft beers. We have a new favorite. Very popular Tap House Bar and Restaurant (Plaza 5 de Marzo Centro Comercial, east of Bacchus) had nearly outgrown its space and parking when the owner opened a second location with easy access and ample parking also in Santa Ana called Tap House City. The menu, quality and choices of craft beers are the same. The second location is Centro Comercial City Place (in the back of the complex) just south of Taco Bar. Owner David is a Texan and the food reflects it nicely. In case you have forgotten my take on the first location, they serve good pulled pork, smoked brisket, Philly cheese steak, Reubens, artisanal burgers, nachos, sides of all the standards including decent mac ‘n cheese, pecan pie with ice cream and much more with friendly, attentive service and competitive prices.
So long to Solano’s Trattoria in Belén. A good chef and food in a difficult location. He will be missed.
Thanks to Shirley, Roz, Bill and Sid for their insider local tips.
El Novillo Alegre Parrilla Argentina Well-known, upscale steak and parrillada BBQ beef chain. I have eaten at a few, but not this one. All have a similar menu of well prepared food, served by highly professional staff in tastefully artistic surroundings at premium prices. Adjacent to Fresh Market, there are a string of three second-floor restaurants opposite an unfinished parking lot. They are La Focaccia, Lapa Roja and finally El Novillo Alegre.
Giorgio’s pizza, pasta, calzone and bocas abuts Mas Ke Café. It is a busy, modern, popular beehive of activity that serves large portions to a young crowd. The pizza options are many. The pies are crispy, thin crusted, and priced about the norm for comparable locations. Their pasta dishes are pre-prepared in oven heated tin aluminum bowls that come to the table with melted mozzarella cheese atop pasta that is softer than al dente with a bright red rich tomato sauce. The sauce however is devoid of any hint of Italy, sans garlic, onion, oregano, basil or crushed red pepper. Their Tico clientele seems to love it just the way it is. They also serve hot flavorful dense roll to the customers waiting for their orders. Other menu items include Strombolis, pepperoni rolls, focaccias, mozzarella sticks, stuffed mushrooms and garlic twists.
Hard Rock Café We collected t-shirts from Hard Rock Cafes for our daughter for a few years when she was a high-schooler and she loved them – Mombasa, Prague, London, Barcelona. Never had more than a cold drink or an infrequent burger at any of them, but was surprised to see the crowd of well-dressed workers having lunch at the Hard Rock Café in Cariari. We got there as the doors opened at noon. By 12:20 p.m. there were about 40 patrons. The executive lunches were all ₡5000 except for olla de carne (₡3000) and their take on chifrijo (₡4000). From our balcony vantage point, I could see that the olla de carne was far and away the most popular. A large bowl of fork tender chunks of beef, fresh corn on the cob, root vegetables, potatoes in a very tasty clear broth with a mound of rice on the side. All the specials came with a side of salad, soup, veggies or fries and a drink. Prices on the a la carte menu for larger servings were about double. I opted for ribs that came with fries and a side of soup, (it happened to be olla de carne, which allowed me to taste what so many others had ordered as main courses). The three well-prepared smoked and sauced ribs were quite good though a bit dry. Crisp fries sat alongside the ribs. A full serving was about three times the price, but the less expensive executive lunch special was adequate for me. Joan had a well-composed classic cobb salad. The same rock music memorabilia adorned the walls. The servers exuded happiness and attentiveness. Hours: Noon to 11p.m. daily. Phone: 2239 2828
La Focaccia Restaurante Di Martino Very nice upscale Italian restaurant that began in resort Martino Hotel and Spa in La Garita across from Zoo Ave. Another location sprang up next to PHO Café just south of Momentum Lindora and yet a fourth in Alajuela. They also serve decent sushi. Nice veal dishes. Wide variety of straight forward Italian dishes. Excellent sage scented focaccia, thin crust pizza, ravioli, fresh fish and more. Flawless service. Lovely surroundings and table settings. Many choices that are not too expensive. Tuesday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Phone: 2239-2338
Lapa Roja Sandwiched between La Focaccia and El Novillo Alegre around the corner from Fresh Market, this provider of typical Tico dishes improves on the standards with better than average quality ingredients and defter seasoning. The concierge at nearby Country Inn and Suites seems to recommend it to all his clients and the majority of them are quite pleased. They rated it mostly 5 stars with fewer 4 stars and rare 3 stars. No lower ratings. Their olla de carne is also very popular as is the ayote pudding. They all thought that it was a good value. Hours: 11a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday, but Monday. Tuesdays through Fridays they offer a 4900 executive menu from noon to 4. 2239-1500
Mas Ke Café shares the same strip of sidewalk as the entrance to Shang Hao. What was once a small coffee shop that served sandwiches and breakfast has aged fairly well. The triangular chairs around circular tables out front have become a bit tattered. The menu is basic Tico. The big draw is now a lunchtime buffet for a skosh less than ₡4000.
19th Hole The newly remodeled bar at the Double Tree Hotel where golfers exit the course is designed to accommodate members, but if you pay cash, no one cares about membership identification. Their breakfast fruit plate is particularly nice.
Ponderox Grill & Steak House is closed.
Quattro Restaurant Attached to the Wyndham Hotel, this modern restaurant abuts the casino on one side and Sakura on the other both behind Hard Rock Café. The first impression upon entering seems tastefully soft lighted and comfortable, but a closer look puzzles – a faux antique chandelier, modern amber hanging globes and a multifaceted disco ball all share ceiling space. Soft pastel backlights add to the disjointed concept that is not at all unpleasant despite the flat screen sports channel TV flashing through open arches of the adjacent room. The prices are high. $25 for a burger, most pasta dishes between $15 and $20, small pizza for one person, $16, but it is really a hotel restaurant and therefore not out-of-step for cost. What proved to be out-of-step was my food experiences. 83 out of 93 reviews on Tripadvisor rated the food as excellent or very good. Only 9 thought it was poor or terrible. I had spinach ravioli in in a thin, but tasty white sauce. The only trace of spinach was the green tasteless color of the pasta. The filling was dry crumbled white cheese. The raviolis were the thickest and toughest I have ever eaten and needed to be cut with a knife. My wife’s Panini was nicely toasted and the cheese, olive, pepper filling tasted OK but was so wet that the Panini was soggy. Her herb and parmesan fries were tasty, but no parmesan cheese was in evidence. My guess is that on the Monday we were there, the chef had the day off as many do on Sunday and Monday, and had we returned on another day of the week we might have enjoyed the food as much as most of the Tripadvisor posters. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Phone: 2209-9860
Restaurante El Mesón de Cariari Follow the right hand fork in the road as you turn into the Doubletree entrance away from the front of the hotel, then left at the restaurant sign to park in front. Nice older venue with a spacious terrace. Large variety of tapas that cost between ₡4000 and ₡12000. They prepare all the standards including Serrano and Iberico ham, mussels, calamari, pulpo, shrimp, clams, meatballs and croquettes. My favorite is the mixed mushrooms with bits of Serrano ham. The only disappointment, the chicken croquettes that were cheese filled, absent any hint of chicken. Good sangria and nice wine selection, Attentive service. Quiet pastoral setting. Spartan décor. Hours: Tuesday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays. Phone: 2239-1491
Sakura Nice peaceful location and amenities at Wyndham Herradura Hotel. Behind the modern stone façade, the old creaky wooden floors and walls and typically Japanese building remains as it had for decades before the outer wall appeared. The decorative art, curved bridge and ceiling fans reek nostalgia. The food has always been above average if not great. Wait staff includes helpful English speakers. Large menu. Pricey by Costa Rican standards, but average for hotel food. Like many Tico Asian restaurants, the kitchen overdoes soy sauce. Nice presentations. Cute sushi boat. Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 11a.m.-3p.m. & 6p.m.-11p.m.; Sun: 12:30 p.m. -10 p.m. Phone: 2209-9841
Shang Hao, not Shanghai, is the name of a new Cantonese restaurant in Cariari. Hao means good. Hen hao means very good. Shang hao means the most superior or top notch good. Indeed this restaurant is at least hen hao if you order correctly. Shanghai translates as on top of the sea. I have tried their steamed buns filled with roast pork (cha siu bao), fried potstickers (guo tie), Singapore style curried rice noodles (sing chow chow mei fun), pork in oyster sauce with vegetables and wonton soup among other dishes and have enjoyed them all. Folks who have ordered dishes that are included on the menu to accommodate Tico tastes have been less impressed. The young woman owner is a Tica with roots in Gaungdong, South China. Her partner/chef is also a bona fide classically trained Cantonese chef from Guangdong. The menu offers a number of classics including sizzling rice dishes, seafood in a pastry nest and all the standards including some dishes from other regions of China such as kung pao chicken originally from Sichuan, but less incendiary here. He even makes it with fried tofu instead of chicken for vegetarians. His southern style hot pots are the less piquant version of the Mongolian-Hunanese dish for which you needn’t have an asbestos palate. The vegetarian options are many and special. The large comfortable venue bears the bold and red classic décor. The English speaking server was surprisingly knowledgeable and helpful. It is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. or to 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Near Fresh Market and the golf club. Well marked. Phone: 4700-0274.
Sura is the new name of the Soli Mart, the last door farthest away from Shang Hao on the same sidewalk. The charming older woman who runs the place loves her organic produce, gluten free flour, Tico preserves of all kinds and other gourmet and artisanal products in her small shop. Not a place to eat, but a friendly venue for take home items.