Cooking and eating through a new culture

Archive for the category “Restaurants…somebody else’s kitchen”

Jardín Del Parque, my substitute kitchen

Everytime I think about it, I give a mournful sigh. I miss it with a depth of sorrow few people can understand and, at times, it can lead me into quite a funk.  Maybe that is why I covet those of others. I want my kitchen.

Circumstances being what they are, Rafa and I are only guests, or how I sometimes see it: homeless. Sure, we have a comfortable place to live, but it is not ours and that wears on me. We have been in a long limbo waiting for opportunities to manifest and we still have some time to go. So we wait, and I ache for a kitchen of my own.

Normally, my kitchen would be stocked with a plethora of good-for-you goodies. I love cooking healthy because going out meant splurging on a hamburger, chicharrónes, a plate of prosciutto and cheese, or any number of tasty delicacies I wouldn’t necessarily make (although Rafa savoringly raves about my hand packed hamburgers.) For the most part, what we eat out is what we don’t normally have, but since I have not been cooking, I miss a nice healthy meal of food I feel good about.  Enter Jardín Del Parque .

Jardín Del Parque was, oddly enough, right under my nose all along but it took me, and my never-ending search for good eats, to tentatively begin talking to (and then never seeming to shut up) to the owner, whom I met at the Feria Verde. I am horribly self-conscious about my limited Spanish and pointing at everything I see with a childlike “¿Qué es eso?” Then someone speaks English to me and I start chattering away like a monkey in a tree looking for a treat. Needless to say, English is widely spoken at this restaurant.

Only open since the beginning of the year, this lovely establishment is set east of the Parque de National tucked into a small hotel of the same name. The eating area is under a wonderful custom-made bamboo tent, made by the same person who built their tables and chairs. One of my biggest pet peeves about  eating around here are wobbly tables. I have shimmed countless tables to keep my food from sliding around but these are perfectly sturdy and something I would even invest in for my future home…*sigh*

Sometimes I find vegetarian food a little lacking (like meat) but you will not miss your portion of protein with these flavorful meals. Not only is the food tasty but everything is organic, locally grown, free of refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated fats, artificial colors, artificial flavors and GMOs. Basically, just like I make!

The plato del dia is an ever-changing delicious offer of all that is good in the world. The meal includes a starter of soup or salad and a generous main meal with a choice of drink. The day I went, I had a mushroom risotto that I still long for. Curious about good fresh mushrooms, I was told these were a combination of some personally grown and farm produced from around Cartago. Oh, how I love mushrooms.

I plowed halfway through this before I remembered about taking a picture.

The drinks are wonderfully creative mixing fruit and spice to tantalize your taste buds, like ginger mango, or blackberry cinnamon.  There is fine coffee and loose tea (no commercial tea bags here) should you need something to chase away the cool blast of afternoon showers. Since those showers can linger a bit, be sure to add one of their sweet and savory desserts too. I have been finding that my sweet tooth is being refined with my added consumption of Costa Rican made chocolate. It’s not the sweetness I crave, but the depth and complexity of flavor. Needless to say, all the chocolate used at Jardín Del Parque comes from the finest chocolatiers (more on that soon!)

I tend to take my time through the menu since it all looks divine. Open Monday through Friday (because weekends are for decadence) from 11am to 7pm. Be sure to check daily specials on their Facebook page and drool over the luscious pictures they post. Luckily, all this is a short jaunt from where we live. I have a feeling I will be making this place a regular escape. If they get their wifi up, I may just take up permanent residence.


Lubnan: A Hankering for Hummus

I started this blog because, well…it’s fun chronicling and consuming my way through Costa Rica, but also I found such a lack of information (and misinformation) about what was out there in term of the whole gastronomic experience. I mean, who the hell writes for Lonely Planet and when was the last time they updated their CR food section?  Frommers is no better either, and they have a puny restaurant guide too. So for those of you who are making a go at it here in CR, regardless of where you originated from, let me tell you… Costa Rica is poised to be the culinary capital of Central America. I truly believe that. So keep reading my posts, and I will prove it too.

For instance, who would have thought, here in downtown San Jose, you could get Lebanese food! Ok…the surprise may not be the place itself, but how I now crave grilled lamb. From the outside, it’s a nondescript little place tucked on Passo Colon, the main (and freshly paved!) road into downtown. It’s easy to miss and even harder to park, but if you can overcome those tiny little obstacles, it’s worth it.

Inside, you are transported to another world of fez wearing waiters luring you into the dimly lit, cozy dinning area. There you can sit at tables or cushions on the floor (better to smoke your hookah) and be lulled by the exotic sounds of a kanun. Or was it a rebab? Either way, you are far from the craziness of the Central Valley. I am not an expert on Lebanese food, but I know I like it. So if your mediterranean tastes are more defined than mine feel free to pick one of the dishes off the menu. BUT if like myself, it all looks so damn good, go for the mezza entre. This meal is listed for two, but easily serves more. It is basically a table full of all that is on the menu, served in small dishes.

Fantastic Falafel

And when I say table full, I’m not kidding. There had to be 16 dishes of hot and cold items, not to mention a big basket of pita, covering our table and everything was fresh and flavorful. Rafa and I have always been the couple that swaps plates mid meal, but with the mezza, all you do is share and nibble and drink and just enjoy. Few more glasses of wine, and I would have been sharing with the table next to me too. I could graze on the mezza at least one a week.

So if tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, kibbeh, luscious lamb, and grilled kabobs make you drool, make some reservations and hump down there (get it!…camel…hump….nevermind).

Paseo Colón, Cs. 22-24, Paseo Colón, San José, 10103

2257-6071 (Don’t even bother with thier Facebook page. It sucks.)

Festival Cerveza Artesanal!

Wow. No, really…wow. I know I have a tendency to be overly upbeat about things but it’s tough not to be optimistic here. At least for me. But when I heard about the Festival Cerveza Artesanal, I dare say I was worried. I wanted it so much to be good that I was even thinking about not posting about it if it was bad. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about that. It was fucking great.

Not only was it great, it blew my expectations out of the water, especially since it’s the first EVER here in Costa Rica (maybe even in Central America). I have gone to my share of beer festivals and some have come to near riots when beer ran out midway through the event, so when Rafa and I finally got there, nearly four hours after it started, I was a tad panicked. People packed under a long sprawling tent lined with beer vendors, most of which I never heard of. I was vibrating with excitement.

The event was organized by Product C, seafood restaurants, and Costa Rica Craft Brewery. Both highly successful and perfection driven companies that broke into the new market of Costa Rica. Many of the brewers that participated were just fledgling businesses, with no distribution yet, and even others were only personal brewing enthusiasts. With a limited amount of tickets being sold, it made the whole event quite intimate. People where there for the love of good beer.

Ticket holders were given one of two booklets to rate the beers. The “VIP” tickets allowed access to the full selection of  beers, while the rest were only allowed to sample eight. Since the “VIP” tickets were already sold out, Rafa and I were relegated to the lower class. Based on past beer festival experience, I told Rafa not to offer the booklet unless asked. We pretty much weaseled our way into all we wanted to try. I guess it also helps to tell them you are going to give them free advertising too. What really surprised me the most was the variety of beer. Each vendor went out of their way to produce some unique and amazing brews. There were porters, stouts, reds, divine pale ales, and a delicate petite saison by fellow blogger and beer lover Thristy Pilgrim. I was blown away. There was a cacao stout on the VIP list who initially refused my request, but I got it anyway in the end (nah, nah) and malpais pale ale  by La Perra Hermosa, that was out of this world. Look for Treintaycinco to break into the market on creativity and sheer enthusiasm alone, not to mention they swept up many of the awards in the festival.

Treintaycinco gang

Volcano Brewery looks to be the next big craft beer on the market and will be giving CRCB a run for their money. Competition is good. It keeps quality up. I could go on and on about these brewers but I am going to let you in on a little secret. I plan on trekking to and posting about each one. What better way to get the word out there?!

In the meantime fellow Costa Ricans and parched expats, should you have the initiative to try brewing your own batch be sure to look into La Bodega de Chema for all your beer brewing needs. I can think of no better way to learn Spanish than taking a class on how to brew beer. I feel truly sad for those of you who missed this opportunity BUT fret not! All it takes is for you to demand good beer and well, look for it. If you drink it, they will brew it. Check out the links I have posted and make connections. Life is too short to drink crappy beer, especially in paradise. Stay thirsty my friends.

Product C calamari to die for!

Getting yer Irish on

Green beer at Stan's!

Saint Patrick’s Day has always been a favorite of mine. More so than any of the “big” holidays. Not only is it a time for copious amount of beer and sweet reverie, but as fortune would have it, it is also the day a Latino leprechaun stole my heart. I had never been a big believer in luck or fate, but that day certainly marked a huge and wonderful turning point in my life. I still consider myself very lucky, even with all the crazy challenges here. So crank up some Flogging Molly or Pouges and get yourself ready for a wee bit o’ fun.

Stan’s Irish Pub

Last year, Rafa and I inadvertently stumbled into Stan’s with the thought of a quick beer and an early night. Oh, how wrong we were. It was a banner night and it led to many wonderful discoveries, which I posted last year here. I like Stan’s and I like Stan. He is a great guy and he runs a good business. Besides, this is my hood now and even though I have mellowed these past years, I like having a neighborhood bar.  If you find yourself on the Eastside of the valley, Stan’s is the place. I know there are other places around that may be hipper or newer, but no one will have a world-class bagpipper gracing their establishment making me weep and want to go into battle at the same time.

Time Out Tavern

I have recently given them snaps here. But what I had failed to include (because I finally diverted from my hamburgers and wings) was their awesome reuben sandwich. I don’t know what it is about March and my sudden craving for fermented cabbage, but it happens every year. Sauerkraut is an acquired taste and it is certainly not on the in Tico diet, but I love it, and strangely enough, so does Rafa.  Not only that, this sandwich is huge! Big ol’ pile of corn beef and kraut! It may not have been on the dark rye bread I am use to, but it was still damn good!

Granted, there are other places around Costa Rica but these are my suggestions. Besides, I’m not going to endorse a place I have not been to. I will get to them and vet them carefully. I do have standards, you know!  Rest assured, both offer good food and have Costa Rica Craft Beer on tap too (a MUST). The best part is that CRCB has brewed a batch of stout specially for St. Patrick’s Day. Guinness is certainly a go-to but do yourself a favor and down a pint of CRCB stout. It’s divine. I have been lucky to see and visit parts of this country that maybe are not necessarily on the radar of the typical tourist/expat. At least in my research, there has been nothing that touched on what I wanted to know. Maybe this little blog, with its tidbits about Costa Rica, will help you get lucky too. I can only hope.   

May your days be many and your troubles be few. May all God’s blessings descend upon you. May peace be within you may your heart be strong. May you find what you’re seeking wherever you roam.

Time Out Tavern…A gringo’s guilty pleasure.

I love food. That should not come as a shock, but I love all food and as conscious as I am about what I eat, I do have a soft spot for comfort food, like a big o’ piece of meat and a beer! A woman cannot live on bean sprouts and green tea alone, especially this woman. So when the mood strikes, Rafa and I will head to the Time Out Tavern to drink good beer, watch sports, and nosh on some exceptional bar food. Now, I will be the first to admit. I was rather reluctant to check this place out. I just never thought they would be able to capture what it is, at least for me, to be a honest-to-God real American, hometown bar but it is a skill the proprietors have. That’s because the Grahams are from upstate New York and no one quite does a tavern than a drinking area with a sports problem (that’s for you, Nickel City).

The Time Out has a large horseshoe bar usually lined with the assortment of people you would expect…or maybe not. Don’t be surprised to find people representing every corner of the globe and with the added social lubrication of alcohol, be warmly invited into conversation. And that’s what sealed the deal for me. Bars from my hometown were not meant to be places to hunker down and hide. You went there to escape the cold, but expecting people you know, or know you through someone else. There was, at the most, maybe three degrees of separation from anyone within a 100 miles of where I grew up. Here you’re not recognized from high school, but as a fellow outlier and that’s pretty comforting. Regardless of the circumstance that brought you to Costa Rica, and keeps you in Costa Rica, it’s good to get back to your roots and commiserate with your fellow expats.

The bar is lined with not only choice sports paraphernalia, but 13 TVs tuned to every sport imaginable. For us, it was our guilty pleasure of watching the live UFC fight over a pint or two. For some time now, Rafa and I would find ourself snuggling on the couch gleefully watching men beat the living shit out of each other. It may have stemmed from the fact there is nothing on Costa Rican cable (and not enough pirate taxi drivers), but we are now avid followers of the UFC. Other treks to the Time Out have included getting my hockey fix, especially now since the playoffs are gearing up, and trying to find some sort of redemption in my hometown football team…which lasted about 3 games, *sigh*. There is not a doubt in my mind that they would tune to any sport on one of the numerous TVs, if asked politely. The World Junior Curling Championship is going on now if you are so inclined to sit down to a brew and watch the excitement.

If sports are just too stimulating for you, the Time Out also has a book exchange. Sometimes finding a good English read can be challenging here and it is a great service they offer. Easy to see them lined along the wall as you walk in, or as you peruse the specials board, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find. For us it was, The God Forsaken Sea. I have passed along a few of my own too. No Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer, please. Have some decency people.

This most recent time around we just stayed with a pitcher of the new IPA by Costa Rica Craft Brewery. CRCB never disappoints and their IPA is no exception. But if you should need to soak up some of that fine brew, rest assured the menu is sure to please. Daily specials are listed when you walk in and it will be full of any number of local hometown favorites. Pizza seems to be a very popular option too, although I just haven’t been able to go beyond the usual burger or chicken wings. They also offer blue cheese with their wings, which may seem like a no-brainer, but can be a challenging find here. If you are going to watch your favorite team (getting their asses handed to them, like mine), beer and burgers are the way to go. Then again, nothing says UFC than chewing the meat off the bones of something smaller and tastier.

300 Meters South of the Costa Rica Country Club, 1250 Escazú, Costa Rica

Pork, Platanos, and Peace of Mind

Everyone has moments in their life when things have gotten a tad stressful. Be it as it may, I was finding myself in just one of those moments and it is usually at times like these, one may emotionally digress…aka, freak the shit out. I must confess, I did. Now, hindsight is always 20/20 and reflecting back on things, I was a bit of a drama queen. Just a bit. But it is what you DO with these situations that A. Repeats losing ones shit on a regular basis. Or B. Reflects, analyzes, grows and moves on. Needless to say, I fucking hate drama.

Rafa, even though I have yet to get him on a horse, was my knight on dusty flip-flops and armed with some extra cash, a fine bottle of sparkling wine, and a clear lovely day, we certainly set things right.

Start with one seriously awesome chicharrón  place in Paraiso, Piso de Tierra; old school dirt floors with pictures of the family from times gone by. I wish I could give you directions to the place, but alas, Costa Rica has yet to invest in street signage. I suggest just stopping a person on the street. The place is loved by the locals.

The Ritz....we got take out.

The destination: open skies, and breath-taking views of Orosi. Nothing facilitates good digestion and calms frazzled nerves like fresh air and sunshine…well, mimosas too. The Orosi valley is only a short 37 mile drive from San Jose and offers some of the best views on the planet. Dubbed as the most picturesque valley in Costa Rica, it is one of my favorite places to tool around. The hillsides are covered in coffee and dotted with hot springs. If you travel south along the river you will end up in Parque Nacional Tapantí Macizo Cerro de la Muerte, which covers about 600 km² and forms the northernmost section of a massive collection of nature parks that extends into Panama. Awhile back, Rafa and I did a trek into Tapantí and it was stunning.

The view.

The meal: Chicharrón , platanos, frijoles (purred black beans), and escabeche (pickled vegetables). A word about the chicharrón; in a nutshell, it is seasoned deep-fried pork. Some may think of those nasty fried pieces of pig skin but here, they are chunks of pork, usually from the leg, with only minimal amounts of fat or skin drizzled with fresh squeezed lime.  They are tender, salty, savory chunks of piggy bliss. For us, there needs to be a low-fat, high meat ratio for us to return. Add to that some awesome platanos with smooth flavorful frijoles. Plantanos, if you remember, are sections of sweet plantains flattened and fried and are usually treated like a cracker, and in this case, topped with slow cooked, smashed black beans. Finger food at its finest! Of the course, the final finishing touch: a delightful mimosa to settle the stomach and lift spirits.

The meal.

I gotta give snaps to this guy. I won’t brag…too much. There are moments in one’s life that will stand out in the end. Moments of such sweet divine bliss that you will relive each second over and over. It could be a wedding, the birth of a child, or a Sunday afternoon over looking a beautiful valley sharing food with the only person who can make everything right in the world.

The Man.

2011…in review

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So I made it a year. Tis the time to look back and reassess, adapt and move on. Usually, moving on meant just barely keeping my shit together, but this year I seriously evolved. This was not something I was actively trying to accomplish either. It’s just that when I think back, to things that only happened a little over a year ago, it seems like an eternity and I am such a totally different person. Funny, since I have been following other bloggers, not many have hung on. Yes, I could have written more, and more often. Sometimes Rafa and I would just sample a place quickly, and I would think to myself “Next time, I will write about this.” So, here are a few places we hit that I have failed to mention and that are worthy of your colones:

Product C

Rafa and I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon and had a small nibble. There is a dramatic pause here because I am reliving the sheer awesomeness of their raw oysters. They were a special that day and I was leery of even thinking about getting them. Oysters are an all time love of mine and I have had some silky sweet succulent sliders. Raw (well, duh) with a drop or two of lemon, only. My good friend and sailing aficionado, Jess, and I would wander into places sunburned and surf soaked to suck down some cocktails and seafood and nothing would get us going more than harassing the staff on the quality and constancy of their oysters. Moving to Newfoundland and opening up our own oyster farm was something we seriously considered (after imbibing said cocktails). I had believed the only good oyster was a cold water oyster but Product C changed my mind. If you are jonesing for some hardcore fresh seafood, look no further. This place beats them all hands down. Oh yeah, we had some pretty amazing carpaccio too.


Now this place claims it’s a pub. It’s not. It’s just a tiny bar (with no stools) and a handful of tables. It caters towards the younger set, so if you wander in after dark, it’s usually booming. It has Costa Rica Craft Brew, but not on tap (hence, not a pub). They do play good music, but (God forgive me, I am getting old) it can get quite loud. The kicker is they do have a nice kitchen that offers up some good grub and some excellent fish and chips. And that’s my problem. I haven’t written about this place because I cannot stop ordering the fish and chips. My hometown has fish fry dinners that are out of this world and the Hoxton’s fish and chips remind me so much of home that I am willing to deal with all the pretentious 20 year olds and the fact that my ears will ring for days afterwards.


This place is only a few doors south of Olio. We wandered in, of all the nights, on belly dancing night and I must say, it was fun. Run by two Turkish gentlemen so full of energy (and probably ouzo) you cannot help but be impressed at how much they are able to accomplish. Service was good even amongst the gyrations of the belly dancers and the food was superb. Real honest to God Mediterranean and lamb balls to die for. Yeah, I belly danced too. I had nothing to drink that night, so I can say this with a clear head: I really think one of the dancers was a dude.

La Petite France

This is a tiny little place tucked into a corner of Curridabat on a very busy street. A street we happen to use often since EPA is on it, and well, yeah…the kitchen. Anyway, we stopped in out of curiosity and were not disappointed. It’s French and there is no two ways about it. Open only for a few hours a day, with a tasty but limited menu, it’s worth sitting and overlooking the crazy street for these lovely baguettes. As much as I try, I cannot help but also have one of their superb éclairs. I can pass over any of the local sweets, but when it come to these pastry perfections, I sweetly succumb.

My consumption of alcohol has dropped precipitously. I hardly drink beer anymore, but if I do its only CRCB and the most I can do is two pints. Same goes for wine too. Rafa and I can share a bottle (over dinner) and that’s enough. Mostly we just save up for Sunday mimosas, which are certainly drinks best enjoyed leisurely, with tasty snacks and a nice view. Besides:

Unfortunately, I have become MORE addicted to cheese this year. Being on a tight budget certainly reined in my consumption but I discovered Pricesmart here has been importing some seriously awesome European cheese. Even as I type this, I am nibbling on a slice of French Blue that I have hidden from Rafa in the back of the fridge.

I am the happy hedondist.

I know I seem to write all about blue skies and rainbows. It has nothing to do with convincing you that I am living in paradise and more with the fact that I have altered my out look on my life. I had a lot of anger stored in my tiny body. I had spent years grinding my teeth smooth, seeing doctors about my stomach issues, and getting headaches that would cripple me. They are no more. Alas, I did have a minor set back a few months ago. A traffic altercation escalated between Rafa and an illegal, non Tico, taxi driver. I had assumed that Rafa, with his silver tongue, would smooth things out but things unfortunately turned physical. With 20 years of self-defence training behind me, I shot out of the car like a hellcat and put a beat down on him like he has never had…at least by a woman. This guy was bigger than Rafa or I by at least 60 lbs but there was a ferocity in me I never knew existed. He retreated bloodied and bruised, leaving me behind jacked up on adrenalin and Rafa with a torn shirt. For weeks, the whole situation bothered me. Things truly could have gone horribly wrong. The thought of something happening to Rafa left me cold. As one friend told me, “Yer gonna have to meditate on that one.” And she was right. So mister illegal taxi driver, I am sorry for that level of violence… but I am not sorry for defending someone I love.

We have also been dealing with an illness in the family. Not wanting to air family issues or ruffle any feathers, I will only say that personally, it has been challenging to meet up to the expectations of all around me without being intrusive. This is something I have never had to deal with before, but as the year winds down, I feel very honored to be a part of this family and offer all that I can.

Rafa gave me an opportunity to let go of my old existence and build a new one this year. Sure there will be this gap in my resume for 2011, but I feel now that I can conquer any challenge that comes my way. If I had to sum up the year in one word, it would be blessed. I feel very, very, blessed. It’s been a long time since I could look back like this and feel this way. And and even longer time to look forward to so much, with someone.

“In a true partnership, the kind worth striving for, the kind worth insisting on, and even, frankly, worth divorcing over, both people try to give as much or even a little more than they get. “Deserves” is not the point. And “owes” is certainly not the point. The point is to make the other person as happy as we can, because their happiness adds to ours. Because in the right hands, everything that you give, you get.”

Happy New Year everyone!

Ooo La La

Some of the best days are the days that just evolve…and it all started with a dress.

It is always a risk to put a little polish on at this time of the year, where days can morph from sunny to soggy in a matter of minutes. My weekly wear consists of your basic jeans and a T-shirt but lets face it, I was sick of practicality. I wanted posh. So while we discussed the plan for the day, I picked a little number I hadn’t worn in ages and some nice sandals.

Rafa looks up from the couch, “You look lovely. Let me take you out for breakfast.”

We make our way to the other side of town and the whole way, I drooled over what I wanted. Our destination: Chez Christophe.  At one point we had a decent Tico breakfast place, but it has since be transformed into a crappy cowboy-esque sports bar, complete with its own mechanical bull. Bleech. But lets face it, nobody does breakfast better than the French. Chez Christophe has to be one of our greatest finds so far; a tiny little eatery, with a luscious menu and nice staff. The menu may not be extensive but it does hold a perfect balance of what you need. And what I NEEDED was this:

WAFFLES! You see, we had been here before for coffee and lunch but waffles can only be bought on weekends and they are divine. Fresh and light as air they soak up the maple syrup perfectly. I was so happy. Since I feel obligated to report full disclosure, I must write that Rafa says I make better omelets and he did find a hair in his meal. I wondered how the woman seated behind Rafa with the Prada messenger bag and Bulgari watch would have handled this discretion. On a whole, the place is cozy and reasonably priced and you just cannot keep me away from these waffles.

There were a few things we needed to do, so after breakfast we ran some errands with the idea of meeting up with friends in a couple of hours, but as that time neared they had to cancel. So without missing a beat, we picked up the chilled bottle of sparkling wine we had in the fridge, our plastic champagne flutes, and bought some prosciutto and cheese at Auto Mercado and headed to our favorite little park, Plaza de Francia. It is a tiny, diamond-shaped park nestled in a quiet neighborhood that Rafa and I like to dream about buying a house in. The park usually has a handful of people lounging and playing around. The enormous bay trees hold numerous critters including this little guy:

A few months ago, doing the same things as we usually do (drinking mimosas in the middle of the afternoon), I leaned back on the park bench to look up at the tree and there exactly above us was this little guy wondering WTF we were doing and why we were making so much racket (notice the one peeper stare, as if to say, “You people again?”) He has been there consistently through many bottles of sparkling wine.  Needless to say, he has heard us solve all the worlds problems.

As the afternoon darkened, we were still loath to head home. With one final errand to run, we ended up next to another favorite destination to wind down a perfect day: Tierra de Vinos. Located in Curribat just west of the EPA, tucked into of all places a plaza, is a small wine store. On one stressful day a few weeks ago, Rafa and I wandered in to decompress and discovered to our delight, they offered Beaujolais! As much as we sampled the wines of South America, we have found, to our dismay, that well…they have been giving us heartburn. It may have to do more with the fact that we usually buy the cheap stuff, but still…it has caused much consternation. But Beaujolais has a wonderful lightness yet it is still complex and lucky for us, inexpensive. A bottle, corked and served there, runs about $15 USD.

Sitting outside on the patio sipping our wine, we also ordered a gooey chocolate brownie because nothing says hedonism like wine and chocolate with someone you love.

For a day that really had no set plan, that could vomited down rain at any moment, we were French.  And it all began with a little dress.

Sunday Pupusas

Okay. It’s been awhile. For that I apologize. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about. On the contrary…maybe too much…I just haven’t been able to launch myself into one specific topic. I find it funny, the moment you step back, don’t make yourself available for whatever reason, people are asking, “Is everything alright?”, which translates into “tell me about your gory drama” tinged with a touch of I-knew-you-would circle-the-drain-eventually. So let me just say, sorry to disappoint: things are still pretty damn awesome.

So it’s October, the wettest month in the Central Valley. Prior to my move down here, I had invested heavily in rubber, specifically great knee-high solid rubber boots. I highly recommend them. That, and a good rain coat. I have several of each, and even though the Ticas will still plow through the rain on insane high heels or flip-flops, I have gotten some nice compliments and jealous looks. I am not a fan of the ubiquitous skinny jean trend but they do look good with the boots, furthering my Tica transformation.  And one of the best places to style it up and brave the rain, is the Sunday market. October brings piles of papayas, towers of tomatoes, oversized onions, only to name a few. I bought two basketball sized heads of broccoli for less than an US dollar. Fortune may have smiled on us recently, but I am still a frugal mofo.

Having an extra pocket full of colons has made it easy to slip into what has been quickly becoming a Sunday morning tradition for us: pupusas for breakfast.

Sheer Sunday morning awesomeness

The pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish that has been modified and adapted into many delicious varieties. Usually you will see it as a thick handmade fried corn tortilla stuffed with cheese, refried beans and ground pork topped with some shredded cabbage slaw (also called a curtido) and chopped tomatoes. Now I could regurgitate the whole Wikipedia definition of these delectable noshes because like most traditional foods, there is a rich history and many people are quite particular about how a real pupusa should be made. I have had my fair share, so I am going to tell you that, Comidas J en J, the little eatery along the bullring at the Zapote Sunday market is my go-to favorite.

Rafa tucking in to a perfect pupusa

These pupusas are not as thick as the traditional recipe and are cut open at one end and filled with chopped chicharrón and the curtido. Rafa laments that there isn’t enough beans in the mix but we both agree they add some very tasty chicharrón which puts it well past the more common ground pork pupusa for us. We are regulars now. Orders are not even taken. We just saddle up to the little counter to escape the rain and within minutes there are fresh papusas in front of us, with extra chicharrón too. I am not normally a breakfast person, but I find a pupusa is a perfect start to a Sunday adventure. Not to mention it soaks up the mimosas we have later, beautifully.

Cocoricó, Cahuita

Playa Blanca

Ahhh, Cahuita.

The whole Caribbean actually. It’s lovely. Sure it has elements of the wild, wild, west; dirt roads, drugs, roosters waking you up in the wee hours of the morning….but it also has blissful stretches of beach, animals that fall right of National Geographic, and that sultry, tropical sun that lulls all your cares away. There isn’t much to the place: a muddy road through the center of town with more empty places than full but in reality it has what you need and that’s all.

Rafa and I try to make the trek over the mountains to the beach whenever we can and like most things we do, we squeeze in as much adventure as possible. We’ve explored the gringo haven of Puerto Viejo, the soft sand beaches of Cocles, all the way down to the idyllic Mazanillo. Most evenings we just hang out at the cabinas, with some wine and a simple meal but there has been a couple of times where we had an exhausting day in the sun and a meal out sounded much more satisfactory. On these occasions, we normally find ourself at Cocoricó. There are a couple of reasons for this….there’s not that much to choose from and I am seriously addicted to their Pasta Carabina.

To say pasta is a staple in my diet is an understatement. I have been fed pasta since before I could hold a fork. Anyone who doesn’t eat pasta has something seriously wrong with them, and yes, the Atkins diet is the work of the devil. As the story goes, a traveling Italian girl found herself in this tiny little town and fell in love with a local Tico (Can you imagine that?!) and after bouncing around together for a bit, they came back and opened Cocoricó. Given the limitations of what can be imported to the far reaches of Costa Rica,  Cocoricó has a fine menu, balanced between local and Italian cuisine. Normally I do not order out what I could easily fix at home, but the cabinas are not as stocked as my kitchen and pasta is comfort food…and it soaks up the wine too. As extensive as the menu is, I have yet to waver from my favorite. Pasta Carabina is a light coconut sauce with shrimp over spaghetti. It’s not a curry nor is it Thai. For me, it is the perfect blend of Tico and Italian and a perfect meal to close out a full day in the tropics. Rafa hasn’t found his go-to dish but he has experimented more with the menu than me and hasn’t been disappointed. It seems they do a brisk pizza business judging by the take out orders I saw flying out of there, but it may have to do more with a gringo’s bad case of the munchies than anything else.

Cocoricó is located on the main drag and easy to find. It has an open air, quirky vibe to the place. The widescreen TV at one end of the business has a constant cycle of movies and music to enjoy your 2 for 1 happy hour cocktails (I stick with wine, thank you) , not to mention a few comfy couches to lounge on too. You better like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Bob Marley. Just say’in.

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