San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Great Steaks and Views in the Hills of Escazú

MANY residents and visitorsto Costa Rica will remember theTara Resort Hotel and Spa: asplendid mansion modeled afterthe plantation house in “GoneWith the Wind.” Perched on thehilltop above the small town ofSan Antonio de Escazú, it wasonly a 15-minute drive west ofdowntown San José.Now renamed White HouseHotel, Restaurant and Spa, the oldTara has been completely remodeledby new owner Regis Moreau.Gone are Scarlet and Rhett; theyprobably left in the carriage that used to stand in the frontdriveway. However, the spectacular views of the CentralValley by day and the spellbinding mosaic of twinklinglights at night still remain.White House is indeed an ideal choice for a specialoccasion or romantic dinner. The well heeled can even landtheir helicopter on the pad provided.A PARTY of seven of us drove up for lunch at TheCapital Grill. It didn’t take long to perceive that the hotel isan archetype pandering to American sensibilities. Lavishfurnishings and beautiful hardwood floors and décor alladd to the classy surroundings.We were seated at an elegantly laid table in the glassen-closeddining room with its panoramic view.Immediately, our polite, attentive waiter introduced himselfas “George,” though, when asked, he admitted his namewas Jorge. His anglicized name is no doubt an alias tomake English-speaking patrons feel more comfortable.The menu is in English – a Spanish one is available –but all prices are in dollars and don’t include the 13% salestax. If you’re on a budget, this is not the place to visit. It’sexpensive, but one should take into account one is payingfor the stunning vista and first-class ambience.The menu offers a variety of North American and continentalfare. We ordered a bottle of house wine, a pleasantChilean Trio Chardonnay $25.27 (¢11,679) served in an icebucket – always a nice touch – accompanied by a basket ofexcellent fresh garlic bread. One member of our partyopted for two appetizers instead of a main course, andchose the French onion soup and spinach salad, both $5.95(¢2,725). Other offerings at the same price included Caesaror lettuce-wedge salad and clam chowder, plus pricier mussels,calamari and shrimp cocktail. The French onion soupwas smothered in gooey cheese and met with approval byour tablemate.USDA-certified Angus steak is the house specialty;cuts offered range from prime rib, New York strip loin, ribeye and filet mignon, about which one diner was ecstatic.“Couldn’t be better and cooked to perfection,” was thecomment. Atop-quality steak is hard to find in this country,but The Capital Grill certainly came up trumps with thisone. Carnivores will pay between $29.95-32.95 (¢13,687-15,100), for these succulent treats.The rest of us chose the fish entrées $18.95-20.00(¢8,660-9,140). The Chilean salmon served with a two-mustardsauce was fine, but not quite as moist as it couldhave been.THE “Special of the Day” fresh tuna was a hit-and misssaga. One diner was quite satisfied with his, thoughdisappointed he got a lettuce-wedge salad instead of theFrench fries he ordered. Though it wasn’t on the menu,another diner asked if the chef could blacken her tuna. Hedid, and it received rave reviews: “Delicious, perfectlyspiced.”The other two diners requested their tuna just seared onboth sides. It arrived cooked, both inside and out. They sentit back. The error was accepted with great apologies and abottle of complimentary wine offered as a recompense bycharming General Manager Brian Frazee. He went out ofhis way to please us and also didn’t charge for one of theportions of tuna.After a regretfully long wait, the replacements arrived.This time they were cooked to order, but had not beendefrosted long enough; one was still partially frozen in themiddle. They were eaten without another word or muchgusto. All entrées are offered with a choice of lettuce wedgesalad with bacon and blue cheese dressing, Frenchfries or yummy onion rings.Frazee’s courtesy and generosity continued when heasked us to sample the truly mouthwatering desserts. We allhad our favorites: passion fruit sorbet, crème brûlée, chocolatetruffle with raspberry sauce and, the winner for chocoholics,the chocolate silk pie. A superb end to the meal thatleft our taste buds aglow.The prices quoted above are for the dinner menu, but asmaller filet mignon and portion of salmon are slightlycheaper at lunchtime, and an assortment of typicalAmerican sandwiches, such as a classic club, are available.Our lunch for seven, including two bottles of wine, twodomestic beers, coffee, tax and service, amounted to$207.01 (¢94,810).The presentation of the food and the wine list meetexpectations for a restaurant of this caliber. Frazee dideverything he could to remedy the tuna mistake, and thiswas certainly appreciated.IF, after an excellent dinner, you wish to adjourn to theCigar Bar, you’ll find an excellent selection of liquors andcigars to indulge in. Or, better still, treat yourself to a nightin one of the luxurious suites, all named after U.S. presidents.High-season room rates, single or double occupancy,range from $150 for a deluxe room to $400 for the penthousesuite. They include continental breakfast and use ofthe spa facilities, but not tax.White House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa is located 600meters south of San Antonio de Escazú Cemetery (followthe signs). The Capital Grill serves breakfast from 7 a.m.and remains open all day until 11 p.m. The Cigar Bar isopen until 2 a.m.For information, call 288-6362 or visit the hotel’s Website at

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