San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mangiamo: Noisy Spot, Great Lamb

AT the end ofApril, I attendedthe opening ofMangiamo, a newrestaurant in theVía Lindora commercialcenter onthe road betweenSanta Ana and SanAntonio de Belén,west of San José.It was an impressiveevent; they literallylaid out thered carpet for theauspicious occasion. Having been a recipientof their hospitality and their fingerfood, I was enthusiastic about returningfor dinner.It was a warm, muggy evening, andmy companion and I chose to sit at anoutside table behind a large fountain,which was making gurgling efforts toobstruct the noise and view of the steadystream of traffic on the nearby highway.The wait staff was smartly clad in blackand had obviously been through a rigoroustraining program. The attentive younglady who served us was well rehearsedand gave us excellent, though at timesslightly overbearing, service.If you have money jingling in yourpocket, you can certainly spend it at Mangiamo.Nevertheless, many of their pricesare competitive with restaurants throughoutthe country offering the same caliberof international cuisine and service.We perused the menu, and from aninteresting selection of appetizers orderedthe tuna carpaccio and vegetable springrolls with peanut dipping sauce. Carpacciois normally presented in wafer thin strips,but to our surprise, this time it had theappearance of an intricately formed ball.When dissected, it proved to be an explosionof delectable flavors: high-qualitytuna, arugula, slivers of red onion andfried ginger, dressed with a light balsamicvinaigrette. At ¢4,500 ($9.50), it was certainlyworth the price. However, thespring rolls, at ¢2,000 ($4.20), were blandand boring.MOST menu choices are a mix-and minglevariety of cuisines from the Mediterraneanand Pacific Rim. Pasta dishes,many accompanied by seafood or cheese,sushi, and an innovative selection of fish,duck, chicken and meat dishes are pricedfrom ¢4,200-10,000 ($9-21).I started to salivate when I spied rackof lamb encrusted with pistachios for¢14,500 ($30.40). Should I indulge insuch an extravagance? I did, and wasdelighted. It was a sumptuous feast ofsucculent, tender ribs cooked to perfection– rare, as ordered – and served with potatoesmashed with goat cheese, spinachand a red wine sauce. Pricey indeed, butchef Rodrigo Núñez deserves a round ofapplause. However, my companion’s redsnapper with shiitake mushrooms and fennel– both hard to detect – was on the dryside and uninspiring.We passed on the small selection ofdesserts that included the inevitablechocolate mousse, tiramisu and crèmebrûlée, and ordered coffee.Mangiamo’s wine list is extensive,and, without a doubt, a worldly connoisseurhad an influence on the selection,which covers wine-producing areas inEurope, North and South America, Australiaand South Africa. Prices range from$13-392 for a bottle of Opus One, a Californiancabernet sauvignon. We sampledtwo red house wines served by the glass,the Chilean Trio ¢1,600 ($3.35) and theWoodbridge Mondavi ¢2,500 ($5.25).Both were pleasant and palatable, but we particularly liked the latter. Diners should take note that prices forfood, wine and the large selection of liquors do not include 13%sales tax and 10% service.“WOULD you go back?” is a question I’m frequently asked.In this case, my answer is, “Not until they solve the troublesomenoise.” A good dinner does not make up for everything, andMangiamo’s big problem is its location.It was a Friday night when my companion and I were there,and we could hardly hear ourselves speak for the hullabaloooriginating from Tequila Joe’s and O’Connor’s Irish Pub nextdoor. Both places were jammed with barflies and the racket theywere making, and the thumping beat of the loud music was inno way conducive to refined dining. No doubt, at lunchtime thisproblem would not exist.The dining room inside, with its attractive modern decor,was totally empty and would have been a better choice, as thenoise was hardly audible. When one has a choice betweenalfresco or interior dining, the former is invariably more attractive;obviously the other customers felt this way too. I might addI find strip-mall restaurants less and less appealing these daysand tend to look elsewhere for vistas, tranquility or a cozyambience.The restaurant offers a lunch menu that includes quesadillas,pizza, burgers, sandwiches and wraps. Located in Centro ComercialVía Lindora, 500 meters west of Auto Mercado in Santa Ana,it’s open Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m-3 p.m. and 5 p.m-11 p.m.(until midnight Fridays and Saturdays), and Sunday, noon-6 p.m.For information, call 282-0221.

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