San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Gamboa Rain Forest Café a Favorite with Kids

WHEN you seethe sign for GamboaRain Forest Café,you may think:“Funny, there’s norain forest in thewestern suburb ofEscazú.” Right; youwon’t find a rainforest, but you willfind a delightfulsmall café thatopened four monthsago in Centro PlazaColonial.OWNER Tim Witucki spent 12 yearsas a banker in New York.“I’m very lucky to be alive today,” hecommented as he recalled how the tragicevents of 9/11 changed his life. “I took anearly flight out of New York that morning,but many of my friends and colleagues losttheir lives in the World Trade Center.”This resulted in a complete change oflifestyle, from banking to co-producingorganic coffee with cooperative farmers inCosta Rica, Panama, Colombia and theDominican Republic.“When I was a banker, I spent a lot oftime in Panama and often stayed withfriends, who owned a rain-forest lodge.That’s where the name originated,” saidthe founder and chairman of Costa Rica’sGamboa Rain Forest Café. “This is onlythe beginning; plans are brewing to open15 others in different parts of the world,including Hong Kong and Shanghai.”AT center stage in the patio of PlazaColonial, Witucki’s first venture resemblesa conservatory, with floor-to-ceiling windowson four sides and green cast-ironchairs and tables. Blue and white fabricpanels cover the ceiling and complementthe color scheme throughout the café. Abar prettily decorated with tiles surroundsthe small, square, open kitchen.Without a doubt, the most enchantingarea is the Kid’s Corner, which is colorfullydecorated with stuffed animals, toucans,parrots and other denizens of the rain forest.The small tables and chairs are hand-painted,and a rubber mat with an alphabetmotif covers the floor.The creative menu – includingBarney’s breakfast burritos, Scooby Dooomelet, Mickey Mouse Club lunch, EscazúWitches peanut butter and jam sandwichesand many more offerings – ranges from¢900-1,500 ($2-3.25). Thirst-quenchersinclude a selection of natural juices andsmoothies.“Mothers love this area,” commentedWitucki. “They can sit and chat, havelunch or a coffee and dessert, while thechildren play safely within view.For adults, the menu offers internationaland traditional Tico fare, homemadesoups, salads, pastas, sandwiches, fajitasand even steak – purchased from DonFernando’s, the neighboring quality butcher.Daily specials always include a casado(typical mixed platter) with refresco (freshfruit drink), a bargain at ¢1,200 ($2.60).WHEN a friend and I dropped by forlunch, our young, attentive waitressseemed keen for us to try the day’s special,olla de carne, a broth with chunks of meat,corn and assorted vegetables. Not beingmeaty types, we passed on this and on theother soups, which were not homemade.The ravioli stuffed with spinach and coveredwith melted cheese was tasty. Theorganic salad was not available, so Iordered the Caesar salad, which turned outto be a mixture of lettuce, tomato andcucumber, dressed with what tasted likecreamy Caesar bottled dressing and asprinkling of Parmesan cheese. It would beunfair to lambaste the café for this, as previousexperiences have made me awarethat many Caesar salads nowadays, oftenwith added chicken, bear little resemblanceto the real McCoy.So what is a Caesar salad? Nothing todo with an ancient Roman emperor, that’sfor certain. Culinary law is full of tales ofaccidental discoveries. The cupboard isbare and the undaunted cook whips upsomething wonderful and – eureka! – aclassic is born. Maybe this is what happenedat Caesar’s Palace in Tijuana,Mexico, when César Cardini concocted hisnow ubiquitous salad of romaine lettuceand croutons, flavored with Worcestershiresauce and Romano cheese and dressedwith olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, plusthe optional raw egg and anchovies.PRICES are reasonable: steak is¢2,500 ($5.40), soups are ¢900 ($1.95),main courses ¢1,200-1,700 ($2.60-3.70).Desserts, at ¢1,300 ($2.80), include a varietyof ice creams, banana split and fruitsalad. We sampled the cheesecake andchocolate cake – more like a rich brownie– covered in dark chocolate and freshwhipped cream. Both would satisfy thosewith a sweet tooth.The organic coffee from gourmet coffeecompany Café Gamboa was excellent.Bags of it are on sale at the café, and 10%of the proceeds from every sale is donatedto various children’s charities, includingthe Children’s Hospital in San José.Gamboa Rain Forest Café caters eventssuch as children’s parties and weddings.For large festivities, outside caterers andlive music are brought in, and the largepatio in Plaza Colonial, San Rafael deEscazú, becomes an attractive venue onsuch occasions.The restaurant is open Monday toSaturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., closed Sundays.For information, call 359-4148.

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