San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Los Arrecifes: Gastronomic Trip

LOS Arrecifes’(The Reefs) claim tofame is its Mediterraneancuisine. Thispopular culinary invasionhas infiltratedCosta Rica and you’llfind it alive and wellin Centro ComercialLos Laureles in thewestern suburb ofEscazú.The MediterraneanSea covers alarge expanse of water, with many nationsbordering its coasts.So what exactly is Mediterranean cuisine?It can be divided into three culinaryregions, which include many countries.Those most frequently found here are NorthAfrica – especially Morocco, the easternMediterranean, particularly Greece andTurkey, plus the southern European countriesof Italy, France and Spain.Olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, eggplants, avariety of legumes, plus yogurt, dried fruitand nuts, fine herbs and a plethora ofspices, are just a few ingredients thatreflect the multi-national origin of this culinarybounty.Los Arrecifes offers both indoor andalfresco dining. It embraces the colors of theregion: terra cotta and beige table linens,ceramic tableware, plus long-stemmed wineglasses that add a touch of sophistication.THE afternoon I arrived with my twocompanions at 2:30 p.m., this Spanish-stylehour proved to be no problem. We had thechoice between Los Arrecifes and Spargoznext door, both under the same ownership,but the latter with its red-and-white checkedtablecloths are undeniably Italian and thechoice of fare qualifies this.Los Arrecifes’ menu is a gastronomictrip encompassing predominantly Spain,France, Greece Turkey, Morocco, plusItalian for those who haven’t chosen to dineat the adjoining sibling restaurant.While we pondered on an eclectic arrayof choices we sipped a glass of Concha yToro house wine – the only Peruvian touchyou’ll find apart from the owner, JorgeVega, who is from Peru.The plate of complimentary hummusserved on pita bread was creamy andyummy. A stop in France for the chickenliver pâté maison ¢2,490 ($5.70), couldn’thave been better. Appreciative soundsapplauded the huge portion, ample as anappetizer for two.We passed on the large selection of othertempting starters, such as Greek salad, dolmades(stuffed grape leaves), carpaccio,Spanish omelet and seafood soup, all rangingbetween ¢2,000-3,000 ($4-7).MAIN courses come with a choice ofcouscous, (steamed fine-grained semolina),hummus, vegetables, aromatic Greek rice orpotatoes. I had a problem deciding betweenthe stuffed squid Catalan style ¢3,000 ($7)and the Cuscus Budavi ¢3,490 ($8) a NorthAfrican classic that varies according toregion.However, basic ingredients usuallyinclude lamb, couscous, vegetables, chickpeas,almonds, raisins, an assortment of aromaticand sometimes pungent spices, plussaffron that gives it a special flavor and coloring.The squid was an excellent choice.Rolled and stuffed with finely choppedvegetables, pine nuts and raisins, it wastender and delicately flavored, as was thelight fluffy yellow couscous that accompaniedit. Though plenty for me – I’m a smalleater – I’m not sure if the portion wouldsuffice a larger appetite, unless it followedone of the ample servings from the appetizerselection.The lamb shish kebab, a generous portionof lamb coated with a dark flavorfulwine sauce was disappointing in comparisonto the rest of the meal. Ordered mediumrare, it arrived well done. While somepieces were tender, others needed a lot ofmasticating.My friend did not hesitate to announce ittasted of freezer burn; being a yachting type,she appeared well versed in the intricacies ofthis problem. However, I will reserve myjudgment, as I’m not quite sure what freezerburns tastes like!COMMENDABLE finales to the mealwere the luscious desserts. Baklava comesin many different versions depending on theregion, but phyllo pastry, nuts and honey arethe base of one of my favorite confections,and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.Normally, one should not cross bordersfrom one to the other restaurant, but whenasked if it was possible to order the Tiramisufrom Spargoz next door, our obliging waiter,who’d given us pleasant service throughoutlunch, broke the rule and with a smilereturned with a moist, first-rate Tiramisu.This was a very happy ending to a pleasantdining experience.Los Arrecifes is located in Escazú’sCentro Comercial Los Laureles on the oldroad to Santa Ana. They are open every daynoon-11.30 p.m.Call 228-8322 for more info.

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