San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Items Scarce on Coffee Afternoon Menu

CAFÉ-ATELIER El Torreón, previously known as El Rincón de La Calle Real, was a small restaurant famous for its delightful setting. The name and management has changed, but the old adobe farmhouse originally constructed in the 19th century and remodeled during the 20th century, still stands on the old San José/Escazú dirt road called Calle Real.

Less than 100 feet from the gridlocked Centro Commercial Paco/Guachipelín intersection on the old road to Santa Ana, El Torreón offers visitors a glimpse into another world.

The restaurant takes its name from the tower with its stained glass windows, which act as a backdrop to the aesthetically preserved old adobe home. The small lowceiling rooms offer cozy, romantic dining, and the modern high-rise monstrosity recently built overlooking the garden, has been totally obliterated by a large brick wall.

Diners in the delightful patio restaurant are unaware of the high rise’s existence, as they sit at wrought iron tables and chairs.

THE brick wall, adorned with an interesting collection of artwor, and the pretty gurgling fountain add to this attractive dining area which overlooks a lush green garden surrounded by tall bamboos.

At night, flickering candles light the stone pathway to the patio, where the ambience is enhanced by classical guitar music or familiar tunes from the 1960s and 1970s.

El Torréon’s “coffee afternoons” are an innovated idea that three friends and I decided to sample before a visit to the theater.

The separate menu had a choice of light fare and pastries, but unfortunately on the afternoon of our visit some of the items were not available or substitutes arrived unannounced by the friendly waiter who was obviously trying hard to please.

THERE was no quiche of the day, so a ham and cheese croissant was ordered instead, ¢1,441 ($3.40). Served on a fresh crescent shaped roll, it was a poor second cousin to the rich, buttery French delicacy.

Although good, it was a disappointment, as my friend had not been informed about the change.

At the above price, the same roll – no problem, it never claimed to be a croissant – was used for the tasty eggplant and mozzarella sandwich accompanied by a small lettuce salad drizzled with pesto vinaigrette.

I ordered the asparagus and ham crepe. Before I whine, I must say it was delicious. Served piping hot in a small chafing dish the crepe in a béchamel sauce was smothered with gooey cheese and a generous portion of ham, but alas! What appeared to be asparagus covering the top were thinly sliced miniature green beans. I never found a taste of asparagus and when I pointed this out to the waiter he replied, “It looks like asparagus!”

I felt insulted. Did the chef think I was stupid enough not to detect the difference between asparagus and green beans? The crepe was the most expensive item on the menu at ¢1,865 ($4.38), and I assume the price was linked to the missing asparagus.

THE dessert menu’s apple torte, ¢975 ($2.30), received no complaints, but the chocolate and nut Gateau St. Nizier, ¢975 ($2.30), was not the rich chocolate concoction I was expecting. I must admit I’m not familiar with this particular gateau so reserve my comment due to ignorance.

The fresh lemonade was delicious, but some of the fruit drinks were unavailable. From the variety of coffees, we passed on the one with essence of almonds because no almond flavoring was in stock. So the regular cappuccino was ordered. It was first rate and reasonably priced at ¢525 ($1.24).

I hope the problems we encountered are rectified, as I’ve had excellent reports about the lunches and dinner, in particular the steamed corvina served with fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes and black olives ¢3,560 ($8.38) and the antipasto of mixed roasted vegetables ¢3,926 ($9.23).

The menu also includes an interesting selection of steak, chicken and pizza, plus mixed-cheese and cold-cut plates. I saw one as we left; it looked appetizing and attractively presented and I certainly plan to return to El Torréon to sample their main course items.

THE café is open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. The restaurant is located in Escazú, 150 meters along the dirt road southwest of Plaza Los Laureles on the old road to Santa Ana. Call 289-5112 for more information.


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