Aquí Es I listened intently as two friends debated the merits of their favorite Argentinean restaurants. Both acknowledged that Esquina de Buenos Aires was great. One, however, claimed that his current favorite was Aquí Es, a block south of Paseo Colon on 38th Street at Avenida 2. (Turn south at the corner of Paseo Colón by Subway and a public parking lot is on the left just twenty meters before the restaurant). The original restaurant was tiny, the square front part of the current location. Three years ago Mateus, the friendly welcoming owner, expanded the space and created a charming Parisienne bistro-like setting with walls covered in photos and paintings. The ease of getting there and finding seating is superior to the always crowded and tumultuous Esquina de Buenos Aires. And the food? Very good indeed. My friend, who loves the place, says that the rib eye with mushroom sauce or four-cheese sauce is the best steak in Costa Rica. We tried it with the mushroom sauce and sampled a bit of the cheese sauce on the side. It was very, very good but it did not emerge a cut above our other favorites at Furca, Doris Metropolitan or La Trocha Del Boyero (lomito en salsa jalapeño). It was, however, nearly in the same class and quite reasonably priced for generous portion size and quality. I liked the mushroom sauce very much. The cheese sauce had a bit too much Parmesan dominance, but was tasty. The pork and chicken empanadas were perfect. Flawless baked pastry and well seasoned generous fillings. Our friends had grilled fresh tuna and chicken salads. They are huge and very well crafted. I am a sucker for parilla-grilled thinly sliced sweetbreads. The appetizer plate rocked. It could have worked as a lunch plate by itself. The sides with the steak were roasted potatoes and tomatoes and grilled vegetables. Very nice additions. Dessert was a blast. We had flan with swirls of dulce de leche. Whipped cream and syrup filled the central crater in the flan. Marvelous. Very attentive service. Which is better between these steakhouses? They are close. Personal preference is yours to determine, but we shall return often to Aquí Es as ours. We favor the price to portion ratio, better sides, flan and empanadas, Tip: It is growing rapidly in popularity. We had a table for four in a half empty dining room a few minutes before noon. Every table was filled by 12:30. Try arriving outside peak lunch hours. Phone: 2221-5727. Open 7 days. Monday to Thursday 11:30am to 6:30pm. Friday to Sunday noon to 10:30pm.
Challenged to compare, we revisited Esquina de Buenos Aires. Like Aquí Es, it began as a small Argentinean bistro, bought out the house next door and expanded into one of the top ten fixtures it rapidly became. Friends Susan and David are moving back to Portland after decades in Costa Rica. We offered them a goodbye lunch at any restaurant of their choosing. Esquina is far and away their favorite. They were greeted like family members throughout our lunch and were comped after-dinner drinks. We shared empanadas, shrimp in garlic butter and three different tenderloin steaks. All were reasonably tender, prepared as ordered and well seasoned. The portobello mushroom sauce was excellent. The dark, rich reduction of malbec wine a bit too sweet for my taste. The sides were ok, but not out of the ordinary. I had a green salad with average dressing. Dessert flan with dulce de leche was better than average. The empanadas were nicely fried and not at all oily. The best flavor went to the empanada “filled” with blue cheese, walnuts and celery. It was half empty, however, from a paucity of filling. Over the years, I have never had an inferior meal at Esquina. The service has always been amazing. Their sweetbreads are also great. They will remain number one among their traditionally loyal patrons. Calle 11 and avenida 4, open for lunch and dinner. If you are there at noon when they open, you should have no trouble being seated. Thirty minutes later, they are likely to be full. Phone: 2223-1909.
We are indeed fortunate to have such a fine collection of Middle Eastern restaurants here in the Central Valley: Sash – Lebanese, Aya Sophia – Turkish, Istanbul – Turkish, Sisso – Israeli, Mediterraneo – Romanian/Turkish, Lubnan – Lebanese, Beirut- Lebanese and now two new ones, our first Persian restaurant and another Lebanese both featuring kabobs.
Kebabs & Sherabs We had lunch on a Saturday at this new Persian restaurant in Santa Ana called Kebabs & Sherabs (wine). Foods included a beautiful lamb kebab and lots of other yummy sides (cornichons, roasted red pepper, French fries, mashed eggplant, roasted tomatoes) for ₡4500. Other dishes included: chicken biryani, stew-like beef and greens with basil and oregano, mashed eggplant, chicken with yellow lentils, ginger chicken with basmati rice and large kefte (meatballs) filled with dried cranberries and egg. The basmati rice is the real deal, c-shaped, thin, fragrant grains, not the faux basmati served all over Costa Rica. The spice mixes reminded me of home cooked Persian meals. I don’t know if young handsome chef Medi uses advieh, an Iranian spice mix like a milder garam masala or whether he blends cumin, oregano, thyme and sumac to his own taste. I know only that the flavors work. Weekdays they have a buffet for ₡5500. I tried it a few days later and was totally satisfied. Lots of choices well prepared including most of their menu entrees and six salads. The restaurant is located across from Studio Hotel on the Santa Ana radial in the new Murano Mall. It has only been open for a month. Usually I give new places at least two or three months to shake out the glitches and hit their stride. I jumped the gun here for two reasons. First, they are already running a smooth operation and second, when I find a place I like, I try to give them a PR boost to help them succeed for purely selfish reasons, so they will still be in business when I return. Very nice people. They speak some English. The service is friendly and efficient. Plenty of easy parking is located nearby. Phone: 2582-2814 Hours: Open every day from 11am to 9pm or later if diners are still eating.
Kabobgy is a Lebanese restaurant in Plaza Itskazu. It has been open for about eight months and has attracted a number of devotees on Trip Advisor. Hanging from the ceiling, red and white drapes simulate an upscale faux tent. The setting is striking and comfortable for everything from an informal lunch to a formal business meeting or romantic date.
The shish kebab cubes of beef are cooked perfectly, tender, juicy, and loaded with authentic flavors that I would guess to be sumac, thyme and oregano. The pita is remarkably thin and serves dual purposes as a toasted wrap and as crisp flakes in the fattoush (mixed bread salad). To add acidity to the salad, the talented Nicaraguan chef, Marjorie, uses pickle juice in her vinaigrette. She also adds pickles to her wraps. Her kibbeh lamb and beef balls exude nice flavors. The hummus is rich though a tiny bit bitter from the tahini. Appetizers are ₡2900 for small portions and ₡4900 for large. They include falafel, dolmas, tobuleh (their spelling), babaganoush, fried kibbeh, creamy garlic dip and fattoush salad.
I assume that because of high rental costs, everything in Plaza Itskazu tends to be pricey. Their best values appear to be the lunch special that last for a week at a time and their combo wraps. A falafel in pita with fattoush salad and a fruit drink for ₡4500 was a recent special. The combo wraps combine foot-long, generously filled, tasty wraps oven toasted with fattoush salad and a drink for ₡5900. With hummus, the combos are ₡7900. The kibbeh and tender cubes of chicken breast in our wraps were fine. Main courses with fattoush and rice were ₡9900 to ₡10,900. The baklava was nice. Good service. Phone: 2588-2923. Hours: Open daily 11am to 10pm.
Of the two, Joan prefers the bolder flavors, use of pickles and pickle juice, thinnest pita anywhere and classier setting at Kabobgy. I prefer Kebabs & Sherabs for value, the buffet and my personal aversion to the vinegar dominance of pickles and pickle juice.