Costa Rica Eats Inaugural Culinary Excursion

Central Valley Epicurean Extravaganza: Saturday & Sunday, November 10-11, 2012

Finca Rosa BlancaCoffee, chocolate, honey, herbs, fresh organic fruits & vegetables and fine wine & dining—capped off with a night of luxury at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn. Experience a range of farm to table delicacies from right here in our own backyards.

The tour includes 3 culinary-themed tours, 3 full meals, a wide-ranging wine tasting, transportation, and Junior Suite accommodations at Finca Rosa Blanca. You can opt to not spend the night, and return home after dinner and dessert are served, although you’ll want to stay…

Sibu ChocolatesThe tour begins with pickups around San Jose and the lower Central Valley beginning at 10am, followed by a scenic drive to Sibu Chocolates in San Isidro de Heredia.

At Sibu  Chocolates we will uncover the history and how-to of turning cacao into chocolate, learning how to temper chocolate by hand, and watching as they create their prized organic chocolates.

Sibu ChocolatesAt Sibu, we will also be treated to a full lunch, featuring a warm squash soup, organic micro green salad, homemade vegetarian enchiladas topped with a smoky tomato sauce and baked in their wood-fired brick oven.  We’ll also enjoy our fill of delicious sweet treats and cups of warm hot chocolate.

Costa Rica ApiariesAfter lunch, we drive through the lush hills of Heredia to the Ark Herb Farm, for a tour of this unique organic farm, boasting one of the finest collections of medicinal and aromatic herbs and plants in the neo-Tropics. While here, we will also be treated to a presentation and tasting of fresh honey, mead and goat cheese farmed and produced by Costa Rica Apiaries, who have their bee hives on the Ark Herb Farm grounds.

From here, it’s a short drive to Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn, one of Costa Rica’s top boutique hotels, where you can relax in your plush room, walk the lovely planted gardens, swim in the pool, soak in the hot tub, or sign up for a treatment at the hotel’s El Targua Spa.

El Tigre Vestido Dinner will be a 5-course “Coffee Connoisseur” tasting extravaganza at the hotel’s acclaimed El Tigre Vestido restaurant. Featured dishes include roasted tomato and coffee soup with crispy leeks, and filet mignon in a red wine, espresso and cinnamon reduction. A range of complementary wine pairings will be provided by Sabores Argentinos.

FRB Coffee CuppingAfter breakfast in the morning, we will enjoy a tour of Finca Rosa Blanca’s organic coffee plantation. We will experience coffee through the ages; learning how coffee was discovered, traded and consumed, while strolling the lanes of this organic sustainable coffee plantation and learning the entire process of organic cultivation and harvest. Since this is November, we will also be able to participate, in a small part, in the harvesting of some ripe beans. After the walking tour, we will learn how the experts discern and rate gourmet coffee by participating in a “coffee cupping”.

In the end, transportation will be provided back to your home or pick-up points in San Jose and around the Central Valley.

All reservations must be confirmed by November 2. Reserve via the contact form on this web site, or by calling 2282-4973.

 

Maxi’s Caribbean Restaurant In Santa Ana

Maxi's MenuYes, Maxi’s is now in Santa Ana, in an old converted home that had previously housed the Italian restaurant Casa 97. This is the real deal, folks. Ricky Barthley and his wife, who opened the original Maxi’s some 20 years ago, have moved to the city and brought their famous Caribbean cuisine with them.

On a recent weeknight visit, the place was pretty crowded and festive, with heavy wood furniture, painted in the bright colors of the Jamaican flag, filling several rooms and covered outdoor patio spaces. The menu was Maxi’s traditional menu, with classic Rice ‘n Beans coming served with your choice of chicken, fish, shrimp, steak, pork or lobster, alongside a whole host of other options.

Plantain AppetizerThere’s always Ron Don on the menu, as well as seafood pasta and shrimp in coconut sauce over pasta. The mixed seafood platter, or mariscada is also a longstanding favorite.

I’ll admit it, right off the bat, I have a soft spot for Maxi’s. I first ate at Maxi’s over 17 years ago, when Manzanillo was a forgotten little village at the far end of a rugged dirt road.  And I’ve eaten there regularly over the years. This isn’t fine dining, but it is authentic Costa Rican Caribbean cooking.

Red Snapper Rice 'n BeansWe were served a complimentary appetizer of little bite-sized bowls made of plantain filled with a few different fillings—including guacamole, garbanzos, chorizo and refried beans. All were quite good.

My whole red snapper was on the small size (it’s all they had available, and was priced by weight), but wonderful. Maria Jose’s chicken in peanut sauce was a bit bland, and the sauce itself too thick and lacking in finesse. Fabrizio’s fried chicken did the trick, and the patacones were large, thin and crisp, just the way we like them.

RickyAnother plus, while Maxi’s down in Manzanillo had become a bit of a victim of its own success—too crowded, too loud, sometimes lax service—Ricky and crew are working hard to make a name for themselves in a new spot and are very on top of things.

They don’t have a liquor license yet, but you can bring your own, with no corkage fee.

Longtime fans of Maxi’s in Manzanillo will notice the lack of Barcelona futbol memorabilia, although I was assured it was on its way. I was also assured that the original restaurant was going strong under the care of some relatives.

Maxi’s is located about 350 meters south of Broadway Beauty, which itself is just a few hundred meters outside of downtown Santa Ana on the Old Road to Escazu.

Hotel Bougainvillea Wine Tasting & Dinner, October 19

The Club de Catadores, Alpiste Distributors and the Hotel Bougainvillea will be hosting a dinner and wine tasting on October 19. Chilean vineyard Montes has always been a favorite of mine and will be a featured producer alongside Kaiken, from Argentina and Napa Angel, which is also put out by Montes.

Special deals will be offered on wines from all three vineyards.

The event begins at 7:30pm, and costs c25,000 per person.

Montes Wine Dinner

Gastro Bar en el 38

Gastro Bar en el 38Located just off the lobby of the downtown Tryp Sabana hotel inside the Centro Colon, Gastro Bar en el 38 is a chic, new spot equally suited for casual drinks and appetizers or a more formal meal. The décor stands out, with bold colors, striking lighting and a mod-art deco feel. On weekends, the bar can actually get hopping.

Ceviche

The menu features a mix of tapas and contemporary fusion cuisine.  On a recent visit everything was beautifully presented, tasty and perfectly prepared.

Ceviche came with sides of sweet potato chips, avocado and a corn relish. The traditional Andalusian Gazpacho was hearty and flavorful.

 

Pumpkin AgnolottiPasta options on the wide-ranging dinner menu include pumpkin, ricotta and prosciutto filled agnolotti in a burned butter sauce and orecchiette in a rabbit ragú accompanied by garlic chips.

 

TunaThe thick tuna steak was well-seared and served with a herbs de Provence and watercress pesto, while a tender filet of mahi mahi came with a light romesco sauce over sautéed vegetables and lima beans.

 

The tapas menu features a host of traditional favorites: patatas bravas, tortilla espñola, and  shrimp in garlic sauce, as well as a few dishes with Costa Rican and Caribbean influences, including pati and patacones.

GazpachoThe fairly priced wine list is accompanied by a good and varied selection of wines by the glass.

This place offers live music on Thursday evenings, as well as a daily lunch special (plato ejecutivo).

Fast Food Wine Pairings – Vinum La Enoteca, October 18

I’m not quite sure how I feel about this. But I’ve been to some great events at Vinum La Enoteca, so I’m gonna give them the benefit of the doubt. Learn how to pair wines with hot dogs, chop suey and taquitos.

The event takes place Thursday, October 18, at their Plaza Los Laureles storefront at 7pm, and costs $45 per person. Reservations are required.

La Enoteca Fast Food

Mixed Bag at The Market

The MarketThe Market is the Hotel Intercontinental’s newest restaurant. A casual and lively spot, they boast a range of “create-your-own” options, particularly in the realm of sandwiches, pizzas, burgers and pasta dishes.

Let me start off with the good. The burgers here are the best I’ve had in Costa Rica. I ordered the lamb burger, a generally risky choice. It came out moist and tender, with fabulous flavor. A companion had the traditional beef burger and was equally impressed.  Other options included fresh tuna, chicken breast and Portobello mushroom burgers.

The BurgerThe buns were wonderful, fresh-baked affairs of perfect size and up to the task at hand, a rare case in this country, where meager, mealy buns often wilt and fall apart before you’re half-way through your burger.  In contrast, at The Market you can choose between classic, whole grain, olive, bell pepper and sesame buns.

Toppings, cheeses and sauces were widely varied and of high quality. I’ll definitely be going back here fo a burger (c7,500).

TunaCarpaccioThe Tuna Carpaccio (c6,000) appetizer was also excellent, as was the homemade ice cream that topped our dessert choice…

However, the Chocolate Opera (c4,250) was inedible. A dry and tasteless layered creation of cake, chocolate and cream it had clearly been sitting in their display case for several days, if not more. Moreover, throughout the meal, service was horrendous.  Unknowledgeable waiters, long waits, and mixed up orders were the norm.  On the plus side here, our complaints to management were met with a healthy correction to the final bill.

The Market Open Kitchen

Rave #3: Grano de Oro Restaurant

Grano de Oro RestaurantThe Hotel Grano de Oro has long been downtown San José’s most elegant boutique hotel. And their in-house restaurant has always been one of my favorites. But they’ve kicked things up several notches of late. Invited for another look on a recent night, I was surprised—and often wowed—by some of the changes and improvements.

Trio of AppetizersThe Grano de Oro now boasts a 110+ label wine list, including several premium wines offered up by the glass. During a pre-dinner visit to the restaurant’s beautiful new wine cellar, we were treated to a tasty ceviche with avocado foam, crisp crostini with homemade pate, and a bite-sized slice of salmon and goat cheese crepe.

Escargot on Garlic FoamOther menu highlights include a slow poached salmon in a vanilla sauce, served with raspberry pearls and green-apple compote. Escargot come already taken out of their shells, sautéed in butter and served over a garlic flan, with a foamy parsley sauce.

Vanilla Poached Salmon

 

Chef Francis Canal has embraced elements of contemporary Fusion cuisine and molecular cooking techniques—without overdoing it or falling into cliché. The palette-cleansing arugula sorbet was cunning, a deft balance of sweet and bitter that perfectly performed its designated task.

Roast Duck

Our main course was a roasted duck breast served with a caramelized fig on a round of roasted butternut squash and sautéed snow peas, all graced with a pate-smeared breadstick.

On this night, the popular Grano de Oro pie, a decadent chocolate and mocha delight that I usually order, was replaced by a delicate dark chocolate globe upon which a warm white chocolate and espresso mixture is poured, melting the whole thing into a lush dessert “soup.”

GrappaWe finished everything up with a smoky grappa from the owner’s private stash, but they do have an ample selection of grappa and other fine after dinner drinks for the general public, as well.

La Focaccia di Martino

I must be jinxed. For the second time in under a week I headed out to check out a (new-to-me) restaurant only to find it shuttered. CoMi was a relatively new option advertising “California cuisine” and housed in the old Antonio’s between the Ramada and Doubletree Cariari hotels. Well, that didn’t last long…

La Focaccia Pizza OvenSince we were in the area, we headed to the nearby Plaza Cariari, which boasts a handful of restaurants, bars and other food outlets. Kid in tow, we decided on La Focaccia di Martino. A blazing wood-burning brick oven greets you at the entrance, but, by far, the best seats are spread out on a wrap-around terrace under a taut canvas awning, which unfortunately leaks a little during heavy rains.

PizzaThe meal started out with some fresh rosemary focaccia and packaged, imported Italian bread sticks. The thin-crust pizza comes properly cooked and appropriately charred. And the sauce, topping and cheeses are excellent. Unfortunately, the dough itself had a slightly dry, almost cardboard taste to it, far inferior to that served up at La Fabbrica, Tutti Li and even Pane e Vino.

Spaghetti CarbonaraOther dishes were also good, if not great. The spaghetti carbonara was well-done, well-sauced and tasty. Although Fabrizio wasn’t singing its praises, as he has grown up overly fond of gooey, too cheesy carbonaras he’s been fed around Costa Rica.
Maria’s corvina was a fresh, well-cooked piece of sea bass in a tangy, balanced tomato sauce, served with fresh steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes. Pet peeve: a small side of pasta would be much better and more authentic as a side.

CorvinaPerhaps the biggest winner of the night was the crocante dessert, a layered frozen ball of crème, chocolate ice cream, crushed almonds, and a hard chocolate coating.

The mini-mall has several other dining options attached, including La Focaccia’s sister restaurant Arsenio’s Sushi Bar, Tijuana Mexican Restaurant, Bufalos Mojados (a sport bar and wing joint), Fika (a pastry shop and gelateria), and La Tache (a contemporary, Fusion lounge, café and restaurant).

NahuaMy favorite foodie shop in the complex is Nahua, an elegant little boutique dedicated to fine chocolate and coffee. They offer up a range of individual chocolates crafted by Sibu, as well as bags of cacao nibs, cacao butter and their own brand and roast of coffee.

Sabor y Arte

ExteriorThe night started out inauspiciously, with a plan to check out Saigon a new Vietnamese and Pan-Asian restaurant in a new mini-mall on the old road to Santa Ana. Finding it closed (i.e. already out of business), we quickly shifted gears and headed to Sabor y Arte.

Housed in a converted home in downtown Escazu, this place has been open about 8 months. The decor is artsy and eclectic, with the several rooms and patio spaces spread over two floors. There’s plenty of contemporary art and chic design touches, and they have their own art gallery on site.

The menu features creative fusion cuisine, with some interesting uses of obscure local ingredients. The pejibaye soup features bits of fried pejibaye in a rich tomato and pejibaye broth. Unfortunately, I found the tomato to somewhat overpower the pejibaye, a minor quibble, as it was quite good.

Another appetizer featured slow braised lamb inside a crispy croquet made of nampi. For a main course I had the Lomito Bombones, a tender cut of grilled tenderloin, sliced thin, set on a bed of creamy, vanilla-infused mashed nampi and topped with grilled asparagus.

One of the odder features here is the separate “flambee” menu, with a dedicated flambee chef. Located in a corner on the second floor, this chef churns out a range of meat, fish, poultry and pasta dishes, with fire and flare.  Although, you’ll miss the show if you choose to sit downstairs.

The wine list is well-thought out, varied and very fairly priced. Main courses, however, were pricey, averaging between c9,500 and c13,600.

Overall, we were quite pleased, and this place will definitely get a second look.