San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Villa Bonita: Excellent Buffet Bargain

THE pagodastylefacade with itsbright green roof is,without a doubt,indicative of whatstyle of cuisine youwill find atRestaurante VillaBonita. Just a fewminutes’ walk fromthe U.S. Embassy inPavas, west of SanJosé, this populardining establishmentwith itsChinese décor and unobtrusive Chinesebackground music has been catering tolovers of Chinese food for many years.Chandeliers, dragons, large round and smallsquare tables, plus the traditional red tableclothscomplement the surroundings, inspite of the vastness of the room.China is an immense country comprisingmany different regions – each has adiversity of food with its own typical characteristics.In Costa Rica, Cantonese dishes dominateevery menu. Rice, noodles, vegetableswith additions of meat, chicken or seafoodare steamed or stir-fried. Deep-fried wontonsand spring rolls are served with a sweet-and-sour sauce, while chop suey and chowmein are extremely popular.They are dishes that have been adaptedto Westerners’ tastes – you’ll seldom see theChinese eating them. Some restaurants inthis country akin to Villa Bonita are nowincluding Szechuan cuisine characterized byits spicy, pungent flavors and you may occasionallyfind a hot peppery dish from Hunanprovince.FOUR of us visited Villa Bonita atSunday lunchtime. After contemplating theextensive menu, which runs the gamut oflong-standing favorites and the more exotic,such as Peking duck, plus internationalchoices, we eventually opted for the buffet¢3,500 ($7.85) served Friday evenings andat weekends. This “as much as you can eat”array of food is definitely a bargain.For starters, a Western-style salad barand fresh fruit was offered, but the rest,apart from the desserts, was typicallyChinese. Bean-curd soup, breaded crab legsand shrimp – one diner appeared to get apiece of chicken by mistake – and a varietyof beef, chicken and vegetable dishes, plussome Szechwan specials are offered. These,unfortunately, didn’t come up to expectationas they lacked the piquancy and hotness normallyexpected with this regional cuisine.Even the hot sauce provided for an additionalboost was a lame disappointment.I’m not a great fan of Chinese food in general, but always delighted in the sizzlingvarieties of Szechwan dishes found in someToronto restaurants. They made my tastebuds tingle and my eyes water. By now, Ishould realize and accept that hot food fromno matter what country, is always toneddown to suit the Tico palate. No doubt, ifordered from the menu the chef would bedelighted to oblige and leave one gaspingfor water.THERE certainly appeared to beamazing culinary talent, amounting toChinese haute cuisine being whisked outof the kitchen. As tantalizing aromas waftedtowards our table we eyed the crispybrown roast ducks, jumbo shrimp and anever-ending assortment of spectacularlypresented platters of food ordered by aChinese party.Our buffet items paled at the sight. Tobe fair, we agreed that we had no complaintsabout our meal, except it wasn’tquite hot enough. We particularly enjoyedthe freshly steamed vegetables, fish, beancurd and slices of wafer-thin meat cooked toorder.Despite a more than elegant sufficiency,we wandered over to the dessert table andhelped ourselves to ice cream and a selectionof pastries, cake, flan and almondcookies.The helpful, friendly service was athand from the moment we walked in andour questions were always answered with apleasant smile. The buffet was excellentvalue for money, but I’m sure ordering fromthe menu would be a more interesting diningexperience, which I would like to try inthe future.VILLA Bonita caters to large groups,has special event rooms and also offersdelivery service. The executive lunchmenu is available Monday- Friday, noon-2p.m. and priced from ¢1,650-3,500 ($3.70-7.85).Villa Bonita is located 100 meters south,75 meters west of the U.S. Embassy inPavas and is open weekdays 11 a.m.-3 p.m.,(Saturday until 4 p.m.). Evenings 5:30-10:30 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m.-10p.m. The buffet is served Friday andSaturday evenings 6-10 p.m., Saturday andSunday noon-4 p.m. For reservations, call232-9855 or 220-2477.

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