Adios Cerruti. Thank you for many years of memorable fine dining. You gave us romantic charm, elegant service and fabulous haute cuisine. I’m afraid that my first two choices for this update are far more pedestrian than Cerruti was. But they serve good wholesome dishes at far more affordable prices. My third choice serves excellent quality food in a far more relaxed and casual manner.
Adios tambien to Il Torino for its years of delivering fine Italian deli comestibles to eat in house or to take home. You will be missed. Both places suffered from rising prices that limited appeal to a wealthier, smaller clientele. Los Cebollinas tried to appeal to the wealthier end of the Mexican food market as well and closed.
La Posada de Las Brujas
Many thanks to David B. and David M. for touting my new favorite basic Tico eatery. First the location: 250 meters east of the main Catholic Church in Escazu center. On the south side of the street a charming old house sits on a hillside with an ample parking lot at the end of its driveway. The house became a restaurant about two years ago.
60 oversized inexpensive bocas very nicely prepared by Tico chef Tony easily outshine the competition. If that were not enough, he uses a very hot parrilla to grill steaks from churrasco to lomito and New York cut and a superb chicken breast(s). I added the (s) because the portion size must indeed be from more than a single chicken. It came with grill-marked exterior, yet moist and tender inside, a rarity in Costa Rica where breast meat is usually overcooked and dry. The chimichurri sauce was good. On the plate were both a baked potato napped in a light and delicious Hollandaise-like sauce and a salad dominated by fresh tomatoes in lovely sweet vinaigrette. The portion was so large that my wife took home half of all three components for another satisfying meal. Two meals for ₡6300.
Describing a liver dish may turn off some of you, but I shall, to reinforce how Tony wins my praise. The very large slices were well caramelized as were the mound of grilled onions. Every single bit of chewy vein had been removed. The ample half plate of fries came golden brown, crunchy on the outside and very soft inside. I can guess that they were boiled first, dried, lightly floured, and fried in oil that was both fresh and adequately hot to avoid any surface grease. ₡1800.
Among the bocas are every standard you can imagine and nearly all were ₡2500 or less. The parade of dishes filing past our table all looked scrumptious and bountiful.
Typically, the dining room is less than a designer’s showpiece with basic full bar and two flat screen TVs. The servers are pleasant efficient young women. Despite the absence of romantic trappings, it is cozy and cute with all the witch symbols and statues extending out the door, down the stairs and along the driveway. Three reasons to visit: food, value and food (sic). Phone: 2228-1645. Hours: Tuesday thru Sunday 11am to 1am.
This small very humble Caribbean eatery in Barva serves very tasty authentic dishes loaded with flavor. Joan and I really like it.
It took us a while to find it and I’m afraid my directions are less than precise. If you can find your way to the park and large white church in the center of town you are only a few blocks away. So many of the narrow one-way streets look the same to me. Ask directions to the Casa de Cultura. It sits on a corner with the entrance facing one street and the side facing another street. If you stand on the side of the street next to the building’s side and look across the street in the same direction as the sidewalk you are standing on, you will see a large sign for an attorney and notary office. Cocori is right behind it. The fence has a poster showing owner/chef Walter’s adorable little boy. The three walled green and yellow venue sits back about 20 meters. The tantalizing aromas greet you half way. Inside there is a single ordinary table with four chairs and four wooden picnic tables with attached boards for seats. Bring a cushion if you are backside-challenged as I am. Ignore the pocked paint and rustic surroundings and enjoy good home-style food.
Walter is a charming fountain of information bedecked in dreadlocks. He and wife Janet are from Puerto Viejo. He will explain any menu item or spice medley that may puzzle you, take your order and cook your food. He knows his flavors. A Caribbean favorite of mine has always been snapper in the style of Veracruz (huachinango Veracruzano), scored and pan-fried whole fish smothered in a sauce of sliced and diced peppers, onions, tomatoes, lime juice and lots of thyme. Walter does his snapper the same way and it is yummy. A large fish is ₡6000 and a smaller one is ₡5000. The plate includes coconut milk flavored rice and beans, a small salad and patacones. The Caribbean chicken consists of two pieces on the bone flavored beautifully and served with same accompaniments for ₡3000. Both dishes require a little fork and knife tenacity, perhaps a little finger assistance, and a few extra napkins. Not for dainties, but fine for gourmands. Other options include other fish, rendon soup, shrimp, paty and whatever he brought from the market that morning. If you like Panamanian incendiary peppers, try Janet’s homemade hot sauce.
If you are a ginger lover, you must have a glass of hiel, the essence of gingersnap in liquid form. It is more flavorful than usual agua de sapo, Walter explained that hiel was the original name until some folks added chan (chia seeds) that looked like frog eggs suspended in the drink. Now, away from the Caribbean coast, the drink is called agua de sapo even without the seeds (₡1000). A variety of batidos also go for ₡1000.
The sweet dessert turnovers (₡1000) are filled with either delicious minced coconut or plantain. If you try the coconut, it comes two ways, with or without ginger. For me the ginger version rocks. The savory turnovers, paty, come spicy or much less spicy. I like lots of spice, but the spicy version may be a bit to hot for most folks.
Five of Walter’s customers have rated Cocori four and a half stars on Tripadvisor, remarkable for such an out-of-the-way humble place. I agree. Phone: 6089-5260
When Saul (sah-ool) opened 4 or 5 months ago, I received so many conflicting reports that frankly I was confused. Was it a “cool and trendy hot cocktail lounge where hipsters go to be seen,” or a “laid back preserved old adobe full of understated charm, perfect for relaxing with friends,” or “so well staffed by efficient and friendly waiters that all eight of us received exactly what we ordered with minimal wait,” or “the service was slow and our hot breakfast food came to the table cold,” or “very expensive hamburger ₡8000 and just bar food,” or “great ingredients beautifully prepared and presented at very reasonable prices for super quality”? Wisely I waited for management to work out the kinks, and they most certainly have. The food, ambiance, service and décor have become fabulous.
Let’s start with the team. The Tico chef has years of quality international experience and executes the vision of the owners to perfection. They, the Mendez family from Guatemala, own more than 20 restaurants and their experience and expertise show. Their flagship venue in Guatemala is also called Saul. In five or six months they will open their second Costa Rican Saul near Curridabat. All have unique identities rather than the cookie-cutter chain essence. Family member Gustavo Guzman Mendez shared that the Escazu bistro is intended to be a place for people to relax unhurried with friends and enjoy basic light food made to perfection. By design, beer and wine, not hard drinks, are offered along with creative fruit and/or specialty coffee drinks. This is neither a nightclub nor a cocktail lounge. The waitstaff team is professional, well informed and attentive. Coordination with the kitchen now appears to be excellent with hot foods served hot and cold foods cold. Turn-around times do not seem lengthy.
Yes the burger is ₡8000, but it is inches tall quality juicy beef capped with melted goat and Gruyere cheese and a pickle on an artisanal roll with an arugula and cherry tomato salad and shot glass of gazpacho. A word about the gazpacho – it is so loaded with flavor that it nearly explodes in one’s mouth from herbaceous, spicy and vinegar elements in bold harmony.
Three other sandwich plates worthy of mention are all ₡6500. El Nordico is a toasted submarine roll overflowing with imported moist, delicious Canadian salmon, crema tartara, sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, arugula and avocado. Fabulous and filling combination of flavors and textures. I had a small bowl of mixed yuca, plantain, potato and papaya chips on the side. Joan’s steak club was huge on three pieces of fine artisanal bread with tender steak fillet, a Dijon mustard mayonnaise, Virginia ham, slices, lettuce, tomato, egg slices and bacon. She chose a side of fresh hand torn lettuce and cherry tomatoes dressed in creamy vinaigrette with a hint of garlic. The Vietnamese sandwich has slices of sirloin, cucumber, mint and an aioli spiced up with chipotle peppers. Three well-crafted sandwiches with beautifully matched medleys of ingredients.
The rest of the menu includes other sandwiches, pasta, pizza, creative salads, soups, savory and sweet crepes and a wide variety of breakfasts served until 10:30 pm. I have tasted neither the French toast nor the crepes, but have heard from reliable sources that both are outstanding. Most of my knowledgeable friends prefer breakfast to either lunch or dinner at Saul.
The building is indeed a resurrected old adobe clad in playful imaginative accessories and both a small garden and bamboo forest. The sounds from the old Santa Ana to Escazu road virtually vanish under the trio of castanet-like clacking of bamboo tree on bamboo tree, laughing wind chimes and the sounds of the tumbling water from a recycling line of spouts in the front garden. You may also choose to sit in the charming back patio.
It is exactly what Gustavo shared as the family image and a unique addition to our dining scene. We will return often. It is rated among the top 10 % of Escazu restaurants with four-and-a-half stars by Tripadvisor despite its past growing pains. Bravo!
Open 7am to 10pm every day. 2228-8685. Adjacent to Plaza Laureles on the Old Road from Santa Ana to Escazu there is a C shaped side road that is one way from West to East. The restaurant entrance is on the side road at 7 Bancas. The opposite side of the restaurant faces the Old Road.
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