There are a hundred reasons to visit Central America, but the food isn’t usually one of them. It’s long been a mystery to travelers with a discerning palate: how can a region that grows so many wonderful ingredients produce such unimaginative food, even in nice restaurants? Why does all the culinary creativity stop as soon as you cross the border heading south from Mexico?
A few chefs in Costa Rica are trying to change all that. I personally saw it first hand at the Four Seasons, but as is so often the case, they had to bring in a chef from another country in order to create refined dishes that would please luxury travelers. Times are changing, however, and the Ticos are taking what they’ve seen on food TV shows to heart. “Why not us?” they’ve started asking.
The idea of a culinary tour of Costa Rica would have been laughable a decade ago. It would have been over in a hurry. In our latest tour feature though, our writer spent a week touring the country, from the capital to the coast to a coffee farm. Geographically this is just one small section of Costa Rica that you could easily dash between in a rental car, but it’s where the biggest changes are taking place from a culinary standpoint.
The capital of San Jose is the epicenter, aided by a gourmet food magazine, a TV show hosted by a cookbook author, and now Centro Gastronómico Sabores cooking school that opened a couple of years ago in the upscale suburb of Escazú. With graduates trained in cooking something besides rice, beans, and fried plantains, the bar is steadily rising as they fan out to kitchens across the country.
As is often the case in budding culinary destinations, the best restaurants here are often in Costa Rica’s luxury hotels. This culinary tour visited the romantic restaurant at Grano de Oro, the fresh seafood one with a sea view at Arenas del Mar, and sampled from the coffee-focused menu at El Tigre restaurant at Finca Rosa Blanca. At the latter many ingredients are pulled from the local organic garden and you can even dine as a vegan here. This is not a description that could have been pulled from a Tico dining experience anywhere when I first started visiting the country:
I enjoyed hearts of palm spread on Parmesan crackers and a “catch of the day” ceviche. Next came tomato soup with a coffee reduction, the plate decorated with coffee leaves and coral nasturtiums. The tenderloin braised with a coffee reduction, eggplant and carrot is a standout. Don’t miss the espresso ice cream…
Thankfully times are changing and what comes out of the kitchen is now catching up with the lovely rooms and superlative adventure experiences.
See the full story here: Finding Sophisticated Cuisine in Costa Rica.