Kiraku When Sushi Kai closed, I lost my favorite Japanese venue. So many are similar, but what made that place my favorite was Tomo, the chef from Tokyo who added art and culture true to Japanese cuisine to the standard array of available ingredients. Knife cuts were perfect, fish very fresh and plating simplistically elegant. I have been remiss for nearly ten months. Tomo and some backers opened their own restaurant, Kiraku, in Plaza Natura across the road from World Gym in Escazú about 300 meters west of Paco Commercial Center. I didn’t find it until a few weeks ago. Rediscovering his near perfection delighted me. We sampled sushi, tempura, pork katsu, salad and miso pleasurably. The only flaw was that the pork cutlet was tough. It was however perfectly fried and dressed with classic katsu sauce. The tempura was crisp and oil-free. Typical of the majority of sushi places, the nigiri sushi pairs and rolls are not cheap. The few places that offer cheap alternatives have never matched up to my expectations. His rolls are beautiful. The crunchy-coated last one on his sushi page seemed to be the most popular among his devoted regular diners.
Executive lunch specials offer a nice value package of tasty miso soup, pleasantly dressed salad, rice, potato wedges and a choice of katsus and teriyakis for ₡4000 to ₡4500 including both salmon and beef teriyaki.
Pleasing minimalistic décor and good service. For my selfish pleasure, I hope he thrives for a very long time in a location that has seen other restaurants fail.
Plaza Natura has two levels. Kiraku is on the upper level. Phone: 2289-5201 Hours are lunch from noon to 2:30 pm Tuesday thru Saturday and dinner from 5:30-10:30 pm. Open noon to 9 pm on Sunday. Closed Mondays.
Ron is a fan of Studio Café Bar and Grill. The information he shared with me was accurate. They offer a very nice executive lunch menu from noon to 3 pm on weekdays that includes chicken, fish, beef or pasta main courses, soup or salad appetizer, a drink and either coffee or a sweet for dessert for ₡5500. They also offer a ₡5000 Saturday and Sunday buffet from 6am to 11am. The breakfast/brunch buffet is pretty standard for a hotel, designed mostly for the convenience of its registered guests, but also open to the public. The offerings are juice, coffee, pastry, toast, fruit, fresh baked bread, cereals, and bain maries of scrambled eggs, gallo pinto and bacon or mini sausages. Ron was batting a thousand until we ate off the a la carte menu for lunch on a Saturday. First the positives: excellent attentive service, lovely presentation, very nicely seasoned dishes and a small warm loaf of bread. The cons were that most of the components - soup, appetizer and main course on our particular visit were prepared well in advance and reheated with a microwave before serving. Savory French onion soup would have been most pleasing had the soup been heated even enough to melt the nice mild cheese atop the untoasted bread that supplanted a crunchy crouton. The baked potato seemed as if the pureed filling had been nuked and spooned into limpid skins long detached from the crispness of an oven. The topping of caramelized onions added nice complimentary flavor, but the plate had to revisit the microwave to be heated past tepid. Then there was perfectly tender properly grilled tenderloin of beef. Delicious, but served with a garlic-laden chimichuri rather than the citrus butter advertised on the menu. The chef explained himself by claiming that the steak was slathered in citrus butter before and during grilling. That may indeed be the case, but neither of us was able to detect even a hint of flavor from citrus or browned butter. Lastly, I had fried calamari rings beautifully presented in a basket alongside lovely crisp plantain chips. The rings however were stuck together, rubbery and the coating was falling off and not crisp. Freshly fried rings could not have suffered so. Alas I guess they came from the microwave having been fried at an earlier time. The interior is visually appealing, seats hard and proximity to the busy street at times off-putting, particularly around rush hour. The wine and beer selections are very nice. The hotel per se has the reputation of being an excellent five star boutique venue.
Sorry Ron. I’ll take your word for it that the ₡4500 beer and boca combo, executive lunches and a la carte evening meals hit the mark, but they need to change their weekend lunch approach. One of my trusted scouts “had a just ok dinner there, that was a bit pricy.” She also commented on the superb service afforded by the waitstaff. 50 meters north of Cruz Roja de Santa Ana, Santa Ana, Costa Rica. Phone: 2282-0515 Monday through Thursday, 11am to 11pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 12 midnight and on Sundays, it is open until 9 pm. Twice a week the place offers live music.
Opa! Soren is a retired Bostonian gourmet who used to visit his two grandkids and his daughter in San Pedro every four months. His son-in-law has been transferred to corporate headquarters in New York, so no more great tips from Soren. Mea culpa. His tips were always good, but I ignored one about a smallish café that primarily served limited breakfasts and the typical soup, sandwiches and salads, plus a few executive lunch options and nice pastries, adjacent to San Pedro Mall. I was excited at first because the name Opa! sounded Greek. When he told me that Patryk, the owner and chef, was Polish – not Greek, I lost my enthusiasm. In September, Patryk opened a second Opa! with the same menu in Momentum Lindora. It is in the corner location up front where Spoon and then Te Con Te had come and gone. Soren scores again even in absentia. The eclectic combination of well-seasoned and artistically-plated foods with quality ingredients are all the more appealing because of the modest prices even in a high rent location.
The menu is small but creativity abounds. Where else can you find Polish pierogi (meat, red cabbage or potato) with a creamy white sauce seasoned with chives? I had a mix of all three kinds for ₡3800. Yum. Joan had a smoked turkey sandwich with real turkey, not deli slices, gouda cheese and cranberries on a fresh baguette half. Her side of potato salad was delicious and pink from red onions. She had a bowl of very rich roasted tomato soup. The flavors of paprika and tomato blended perfectly. Her combo of soup, salad and half sandwich was ₡4700 and more than she could eat. We shared excellent hummus made a little red from paprika and a little tomato. It was refreshingly tastier than cookie-cutter hummus. The homemade pastries are lovely. Both apple and pecan pies are outstanding. I tried a croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs for breakfast and it was great, as was a large fresh fruit salad with cups of yogurt and granola on the side. Both were less than ₡1500. Pinto is also available.
Other menu offerings include lasagna (₡4500); mushrooms stuffed with bacon, three cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes and basil (₡4200); sirloin salad and soup (₡6000); executive lunches of beef, turkey or leg of pork (₡4200) and a host of flavor packed combination sandwiches (₡3800-4300). Soup choices are three; French onion, tomato and chicken with krupnik, Polish honey liquor. Good service, easy parking, open at 8 am every day. Closes at 8 pm, except on Sunday when it closes at 7 pm. (The San Pedro venue is closed on Sunday.) Good luck to Patryk and his staff. We shall return often.
Kitchen by Rausch Restaurant in the Sheraton Hotel in Escazú. Confessions of a sugar-free soft drink person: I buy cases of Shasta for ₡250 a can at Pequeño Mundo to last beyond the holidays so I can avoid the shopping crush. The exit out of their parking lot wraps around the Sheraton. A sign advertised executive lunch from ₡5900. “Let`s try it.” “OK.” Parking is easy. Enter the Sheraton and go left from the cocktail lounge past the blue felt pool table to the charming upscale restaurant. Professional helpful soft-spoken servers greet and seat us at a tastefully appointed table.
“The executive lunches are two. The light one offers salad at the buffet and either pasta or ceviche plus a glass of sangria.” “How much? ₡5990. The full executive lunch adds lomo, polo or pescado to salad and sangria. How much? ₡10,000 .”
“Yes the pasta is penne or spaghetti and the sauces are carbonara, pesto or pomodoro. The ceviche is marlin.” The salad bar was very nice with multiple, lovely choices of standard fare – nothing exotic. The beet salad was a little bland and the pineapple past prime. A fairly small bowl of ceviche came with one patacon. Marlin used to be my favorite fish for ceviche until I read about the mercury content in it. My penne carbonara was tasty, properly cooked and enough to fill my gastric void after a large salad. The bacon bits were nearly microscopic, but the flavor came through nicely and matched well with the grated cheese and mushrooms. We drank white and red sangrias respectively. They tasted surprisingly similar. Both were large, reasonably flavorful, but 90% of the fruit was diced temple orange with much more peel and pith than flesh. The rolls were forgettable. Worth it? Definitely, if your priorities are tranquility, comfort, seamless service and decent, but not memorable food in a genteel setting. The table spacing and low occupancy add to comfortable chats. Great place to relax over leisurely lunch and talk with a friend. Dress Code: Casual. Hours: 6:30 am - 10:30 am; 12:00 pm - 3:00 pm. The dinner menu in the bistro sounds nice, but my scouts have deemed it pricy, forgettable and challenged in the service department. I have not tried it.
Doris Metropolitan Alice sent me a note from New Orleans. She and two old classmates had just had a “spectacular steak dinner” near Jackson Square in the French Quarter at Doris Metropolitan. The three ordered an appetizer each for about $15 apiece and a 34 ounce Porterhouse steak that they shared for “a little more than $80.” They couldn’t even finish it. But “it may have been the best steak I have ever eaten.” Her question to me was about the Santa Ana venue and whether she could get an affordable comparable steak. The answer is a qualified yes. Their porterhouse may indeed be the best steak in Costa Rica, but it, too, costs more than $80. It can easily feed two and maybe three. For the best value options on their menu I suggested she try either of their executive menu’s two steak options. The executive menu of veal carpaccio or Cesar salad followed by a number of main course choices and concluded with caramel ice cream costs ₡11950. The 200 gram flaming tenderloin is one of the options. The steak is very tender, adequately thick and juicy and cooked to perfection. Of the three sauces, I chose the green peppercorn, over special steak sauce or gorgonzola. It was great. The single side was a lettuce salad dressed in nice honey vinaigrette. For my first course, I had the veal carpaccio. The plating was beautiful and featured not only paper thin slices of veal, but also finely sliced parmesan cheese, arugula and caviar. My only criticism was that the chef used a bit too much very rich top quality balsamic vinegar reduction and it overwhelmed any veal flavor. Beware that the pretty little green pepper rings are jalapeños, not sweet bell pepper. Joan began with the Cesar. The salad was fine, the dressing classic. She opted for the other steak option on the executive menu, a 300gm sirloin with oven browned potato wedges for an additional ₡2500. Her steak was also thick and juicy with great flavor enhanced by bits of attached caramelized fat. It may have even been tastier than my tenderloin, but not as tender. Slicing it thinly across the grain made it easier to chew. The potatoes were perfect. She couldn’t finish. So, Alice, don’t cringe that these executive meals were pricier than any other executive menu offerings. Compared to regular steak dinners at other upscale restaurants, they are more than competitive. The restaurant is among the very best in Costa Rica, the service perfect and the ambiance understated elegant. I love the hot loaves of tarragon and salt baguettes too. I asked how their personal herd of cattle had fared in devastated Guanacaste and learned that they had to end the operation there two years ago. All their meats are now imported from the US. Phone: 2282-2221. If you head east on the main road thru Santa Ana from Cruz Roja towards Escazú, turn left (north) past the back of the old stone church and you will see it a block and a half later on the right. Noon to 11 pm every day.
Happy holidays. See you again in January. Please share your experiences both good and bad and your favorites or questions. Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the word FOOD in the subject line to escape my spam filter.