Costa Rica--Guanacaste Region Report
Despite reading in guide books about fried, heavy Tica comida, I actually found some delightful restaurants in the Guanacaste region. We stayed in Playa Flamingo, literally two doors uphill from Mar y Sol, a really tasty spot, owned by a Frenchman, who had a resto-bakery business in the Sarasota area for years and whose son, incredibly handsome guy, is the talented chef at this Costa Rican resto.
Mar Y Sol does have one flaw, a focus on overly heavy (cream, butter) sauces, which do nothing for a beautifully seared, sesame-crusted ahi steak, and obscure the terrific crunch of grilled mahi-mahi. The grilled jumbo shrimp had a hardcore garlic(but much appreciated by our crowd) marinade, but again, were sitting atop a creamy sauce. Jean-Luc, you do amazing things with the lush bounty of the Pacific, but you need to let go of the French saucing. On the lighter side, was the Ensalada Salvador Dali, a salad of greens topped with three generous slices of seared ahi and three of the aforementioned garlic marinated shrimp, artichokes, carrots, zucchini ribbons, and, the dressing on the side, thank goodness. This was a mere $8. You could not find a salad this large, fresh, and delicious in NYC for half the price! All the prices, in fact, were extremely reasonable. The ahi steak was actually two palm-of-hand sized pieces, for $18! We didn't have desserts there, as the portions were too large to leave room for dessert. Also, the service is excellent and gracious, Alain, the owner is a friendly man, and the house baked bread and grissini are wonderful and rustic. Oh, also the crostini, that come along with the bread basket, are topped with the most fantastic and garlicky tomatoes.
Marie's, down in the town, serves juicy and moist rotisserie chicken. We only ate there once, though took-out twice, and didn't try the seafood, which we heard was great. The sign out front, advertising the chicken was too alluring, so we just stuck with that, also, we ate there on a Sunday night and figured no fishing boats had gone out that day, so better not to eat fish(could be we're totally wrong, but why risk old fish when you can have fresh good stuff the next day?).
In Brasilito, we adored the Camaron Dorado. Sure, they've got some hokey stuff going on with the post-dinner flowers for women's hair, and the pre-and-post handwashing in elaborate bowls laden with flowers, but for amazing Parga Entero Frito, you can't do better anywhere! And for three people, the 2 Red Snappers were just $15! Unreal. We loved this place and the dear waiters who were so kind to us. We are all fluent in Spanish, and this seemed shocking to them, so, maybe they were nicer to us than the norm, but it was all good fun. The Happy Snapper, on the other hand, was more like the Grumpy Snapper. Our waiter was sullen to the point of rudeness and made us feel uncomfortable. The so-called Mahi-Mahi sandwich, a large square of the grilled fish atop a standard burger bun, seemed rather unlike any Mahi we'd ever had. It recalled a tough piece of swordfish; we're not calling a bait and switch(haha) but is sure seemed odd to us. A ceviche, lime, cilantro, and cucumber based was fine, nothing amazing, but serviceable and made much better by the addition of half a lime's juice squeezed atop. And you can bet that Mr. Surly was none to pleased to bring me some lime, though, in fairness, he did bring me an entire one, sliced into quarters. In conclusion, go to the Camaron Dorado.
Tamarindo, wow, not our choice of places to stay and luckily we didn't have to. Sure, it's got the whole surfer vibe going for it, which is awesome if that's your thing and I don't mean that in a mean way. The streets are unpaved, which is not unusual in CR, necessarily, but was unusual for a big town. This made walking to any of the restaurants off the main road a very unattractive proposition and the thought of eating outside, even in a little interior court, very unpleasant. We had driven there to have lunch, but after looking at one, whose name starts with an N and is famed to have great pies (and in reality, lousy looking iceberg lettuce based salads), and finding that those recommended were closed, we opted to troop up to the dusty market and buy salad fixings of our own.
Two discoveries that made us so happy that we did drive back to Tamarindo four days later to restock:
Coffee from Just Coffee, on the main drag, on your way to the circle at the dead end. Unlike the majority of for-sale coffee in CR, which according to our guidebook, and our palate, is not exported to the US and is overroasted or comprised of inferior beans, Just Coffee's beans made fabulous coffee. The espresso that the shopkeeper made for us, to try the brew, was superlative, reminiscent of the finest cup of Italian espresso. We were wowed.
The French Patisserie, also on the main street, but further from the circle, boasts a bread pudding, redolent with a sort of rum-raisin ice cream aroma. The first square we bought had more raisins, which was a plus, as the raisins were soaked in rum and therefore made the moist and toothsome treat all the tastier. The second piece, bought four days later, had a more caramelized top, but lacked for many raisins. Both this and the coffee were 'vaut le voyage' which, in CR, on the potholed and dusty roads, is saying something.
We really enjoyed our stay in CR. Playa Flamingo is a fun place and offers two beaches, one white and sparkling, with big waves, the other with almost black sand and calmer surf. The markets we saw were all just mini marts. In Playa Flamingo, the Super Surfside has the best produce selection in the entire area. The Super Massai had much more variety of cheese, yogurt, desserts, etc. The papaya were good, but not great, perhaps not the season? Mangos, however, once fully ripened, were astonishing. We also tried another fruit, whose skin was the color of mango, but inside was more like passion fruit. The clerk called it Grenad--- I can't remember the full, correct name, but it was delicious--mild, but perfumey (in a good way), a little tangy, basically, a lot like a passionfruit but about twice the size.
Some day, I'd like to get to San Jose and check out the big market there, as from the pics I've seen, it looks incredible. But that is for another trip!