Sunday, February 9, 2014

Dining in Paradise

I am the luckiest woman on the planet.  Yes I am.

You see last week, courtesy of Dad, I had the most outstanding vacation at the beautiful Rancho Pacifico in Costa Rica.  (If you would like to know the details, click here, or if you just want to see the photos, go here. ) This post is simply about the food - the fabulous, fresh, well-prepared food (and equally if not more fabulous cocktails).  The only vacation whose food rivals this one in freshness and love was our trip to Italy in 2011.

Rancho Pacifico is in Uvita, sitting atop a mountain looking down on Marino Ballena, or "Whale Coast" whose distinguishing feature is a reef and sandbar that resembles a whale's tail.  It is quite remote, and requires a long drive up a steep and winding dirt road to reach, so we ate almost all of our meals there.  That wasn't an issue since their chef, Alex, is brilliant.  Equally brilliant is their bartender, Vianney.  Watching Vianney at work was like watching a chef in the kitchen.  He gave the same loving attention to the details of the drinks as a fine chef gives to his food.  Cocktails were quite innovative.

When we arrived at Quepos airport it was Alex who picked us up.  The discussion in the car turned to drinks (I suppose after the harrowing flight in the tiny plane from San Jose to Quepos made everyone want to drink) and how badly we all needed one.  Alex asked us our favorite drinks.  The next thing I know he was calling the bar so our favorite drinks would be waiting when we arrived.  I drank the best margarita I have ever tasted that afternoon.

After everything we had read about the food at RP, I was very excited for our first meal.  We started out at the bar where I tried a delicious Pear Basil Swizzle.  They brought around some bar snacks of crostini and homemade hummus.

Each night at dinner they serve two appetizers where everyone eats the same thing and then a choice of two entrees.  Then we all have the same dessert.  For our first night they started with a seafood bisque, which I declined.  Then we had a green bean and tomato salad.  It was supposed to come with tuna chunks and olives, but I asked for those two ingredients to be left off.  No one gave me a hard time about it.  The salad was delicious.

For the main course there was a fish or beef tenderloin dish.  The meat was not American beef.  It was a bit chewier, but it was cooked the way I like it.  The potato dish on the side was interesting.  The potatoes were flavored with lime.  There was a tasty onion compote as well.

We had a lovely chocolate parfait with strawberries, chocolate mousse, and brownies to finish it off with.

Dinners during the week often went on a theme, but our second night was just a variety of different foods starting with these little pancakes topped with I believe was some kind of cheese mousse.

 I don't remember what the cocktail was.  It might have been a ginger martini.

The shrimp were set on fire table side.  I gave my portion to Kevin.

A salad and a gazphaco shooter.

Grilled chicken with rice.  Not quite arroz con pollo, but not a conventional chicken and rice dish either.  The accompanying salads and vegetables were all very creative and tasty.

 Dessert was grilled banana with a side of fig-infused whipped cream.

The next night we had a pan-Latin buffet (Costa Rican, Peruvian, and others) that consisted of differnt salads, ceviche, rice and beans and various fish and meat dishes.  We had patacones (fried plantain cakes) topped with seafood salad tableside before the buffet as well.  Dessert was grilled pineapple and fig ice cream. I am losing my memory of what all of these cocktails were.

Then came Thai night.  It was more Pan-Asian though.  We started the evening at the bar with a coconut martini (amazing) and some crostini with a vegetable spreads.

Dinner began with little sushi-like rolls and the chef's vegetable "shooters" (he did a lot of these gazpacho and gazpacho-like vegetable and fruit purees during the week).

I didn't want the rolls, so they made me this beautiful salad instead.

Then came yakitori skewers.

It ended with rice noodles mixed with eggplant and a pork chop on the side.  (The other option was the same noodles with fish on the side.)

We started the next night with a beautiful sunset and a drink called Noche De Cartagena made with Colombian aguardiente and grand mariner.  I can't quite identify the other drink.  This might have been mine and it might have been Kevin's.  

We had sushi rolls as bar snacks.  That's not my thing, but I ate a few after a cocktail or two was under my belt.

The theme for this night was Peruvian night.  We started with a cold soup made from a local peach-like fruit, although less sweet than a peach.  It was topped with mole.  I dug in before I remembered to take a photo.  Oops!

The next course was fluffy potato cakes with some kind of seafood filling.  I ate just the cakes in this stack.  Not bad.

I had a traditional Peruvian Lomo Soltado for my main course. Steak, potatoes, and peppers.  What's not to like? (Even though I'm not really a potato person.)

Dessert was a cheesecake flan - which is neither flan nor cheesecake, but still delicious.

The next night was my favorite dinner of all.  At the bar I was putting away a few different cocktails. Our favorite waiter, Mel, was behind the bar that night, and when I couldn't decide what else I wanted to drink after having an chocolate orange martini (made with real cocoa), he created a drink for me called Lady in Red, which we enjoyed with lots of fried plantains.

We had a mixed grill for our dinner.  The meats consisted of chorizo, chicken, and ribs.  We had a dizzying array of grilled vegetables to accompany them plus all kinds of salads including a "ceviche" made from plantains.  Our starters was some kind of vegetable cake with more shooters.

Dessert was this version of raspberry shortcakes.

Breakfast was included at RP.  This meal was every bit as good as dinner with all kinds of fresh and creative dishes and a gorgeous morning view.

I did not photograph every breakfast, but I did take photos of some of the highlights.  Every morning we had a different juice.  There was no conventional OJ here.  Instead we had fresh juices made from combinations of pineapple, mango, papaya, and melon (I would say most mornings the juices were a combination of at least two of those ingredients).

We always started with little pastries or muffins.  

I loved the morning wrap that had cheese, egg, peppers, and chorizo.

Another favorite was the typical Costa Rican breakfast with gallo pinto (black beans and rice), eggs in tortillas, plantains, and avocado.

Also the best huevos rancheros I ever ate.

What amazed me was the coffee.  I'm not a coffee lover.  I have never wanted to be dependent upon caffeine as far too many people are.  Besides, the taste never thrilled me.  I love it as a flavor in desserts, but the drink itself is often unpleasant for me (I make the analogy of drinking a bottle of vanilla or eating the contents of a vanilla bean contrasted with simply adding some vanilla to a cake or custard).  I decided to have some coffee the first day because I had a bit of a headache that morning and thought some coffee might help.  After that I was hooked.  I LOVE Costa Rican coffee.  It's incredibly smooth with no acidic bite or dirt flavors.  I drank it every morning - not from caffeine addiction, but for the taste.

The lunch menu was my least favorite meal of the day.  It never changed and didn't offer much for people who don't like fish.  Often certain items like hamburgers and grilled chicken sandwiches would be unavailable because they were out of buns (all breads at RP are homemade).  I did manage to have the grilled chicken once.  They served it as two mini sandwiches.  More often I had the RP wrap, which was grilled chicken with peppers and chipotle mayo.  There was one item on the menu consisting of mango, figs, and shrimp that sounded delicious - except for the shrimp.  I asked if I could have it with chicken.  They did it for me with no fuss whatsoever.

I think I may have drunk a mimosa with lunch one day.

The only non-RP lunch I had was when I spent a day at Corcovado National Park.  The guides made us a lovely picnic with lots of fresh fruit and veggies.  They also served the most delicious arroz con pollo for which I neither obtained a photo or a recipe!

I am looking up recipes for Costa Rican arroz con pollo recipes so I can make it and have it again soon.

We spent our last night in Costa Rica in San Jose and flew home from there.  For our last night we were sure to sample the finest in Costa Rican cuisine.

It was a beautiful trip with beautiful food and I suspect my blog is going to be influenced by it for a while.

1 comment:

Sue said...

I just read your whole travelogue and, WOW, what an amazing trip! I'm not sure I would have gotten on that tiny plane, but after reading everything you was obviously worth it. That's a real shame about your family though. Too bad they couldn't find some last minute substitutes.

The food AND THOSE COCKTAILS all sound and LOOK incredible! Thanks for sharing all those great details and your adventures. I loved hearing about it.