San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Chateau 1525 New in Historic Barrio Amón

CHATEAU 1525 is not a turreted castle like those you might find in France, but a stately home in the heart of Barrio Amón, a historic residential area in downtown San José. Open just a few months, this praiseworthy restaurant offers elegance to all who cross the threshold.When asked about the origins of the restaurant’s name, charming Costa Rican owner José Salom, 28, pointed to the plaque by the front door and explained, “The house was built in 1930, and 1525 was the original number. When renovations began, we tried to incorporate as many of the existing features as possible.”The imposing main entrance is graced with antique wrought-iron work from Spain, and in the manicured front garden a fountain decorated with Mexican tiles makes an attractive centerpiece. Inside, a fireplace is inlaid with blue and white delft ceramic tiles depicting windmills, a leftover from the days when the building housed the Dutch Embassy.SALOM’S mother Patricia Borge, an interior designer, put endless hours of work into the restoration and decor of the building. Contemporary works of art by Costa Rican painters such as Rafa Sáenz, Enar Cruz and Luis Chacón blend together in perfect unison with the antiques, and rotating exhibits by local artists are an ongoing attraction.The restaurant is divided into three distinct areas. The Rouge Kitchen and Lounge Bar offers a comfortable, casual ambience for a drink and nibble, while the patio is an airy, spacious setting for lunch around the lily pond. For a romantic or sophisticated dinner, the Chateau 1525 fine dining restaurant caters to the most discriminating patrons. Upstairs, three well-appointed salons are used for conferences, weddings and private functions. Everybody knows one cannot live on decor alone, and that the proof of a successful restaurant is in the food, service and management. A recent lunchtime visit confirmed that Salom was at the helm. He studied hotel management at the famous École Hotelière de Lausanne, in Switzerland, and gastronomy in Paris.“I’m not a cook,” he emphasized. “My French executive chef, Christophe Formeau, who trained at the Four Seasons Hotel in Paris, does all the cooking.”Formeau’s forte is nouvelle cuisine, and artistic presentations that tempt the palate before you take the first bite. He uses some organic produce and fresh herbs from the restaurant’s garden to enhance the delicate flavors of his creations.THE lunchtime special changes daily and includes a choice of soup or salad, main course, dessert, tea or coffee.Certainly not simple fare, the selections all sound delicious. Choices include Caesar salad, vichyssoise, a variety of meat dishes, chicken, rabbit and fish, and, among the desserts, crème brûlée and chocolate mousse. A bargain indeed for ¢3,900 ($8), including 13% sales tax and 10% service.A friend and I went for lunch on a Friday. She opted for the daily special and started with the goat cheese salad. The creamy cheese spread on rounds of French bread was accompanied by a romaine lettuce salad topped with alfalfa sprouts and toasted almonds, and drizzled with a dressing made from a reduction of balsamic vinegar and honey. Tagliatelle in a creamed seafood sauce decorated with mussels in their shells followed this delicious appetizer.I skipped the appetizers and tried the main course on the à la carte menu. I couldn’t have made a better choice. The salmon, served on a bed of baby green beans with a small dab of tapenade, toasted almond slivers and a buttery, lemon dill sauce, was superlative – some of the best I’ve ever tasted in this country. It reminded me of the wonderful pale-pink Scottish salmon, or the kind that inhabits the icy waters off the east coast ofCanada. I was so impressed that I askedSalom where it came from.“It’s Norwegian salmon,” he replied. I knew it; there was something very different about the flavor of this delicate fish.WE ordered desserts from the regular menu and obviously surprised the chef.My three-layer chocolate mousse and my companion’s “Carioca,” chocolate mousse with an addition of Bailey’s Irish Cream, surrounded by dark chocolate, both resembled very hard frozen ice cream. However, as mine thawed it became the delicious creamy mousse it should have been.The coffee was excellent and the house wine, a Chilean Undurraga, was quite acceptable. Salom plans to offer a selection of international wines by the glass in different price ranges, rather than just one house wine. (Chateau 1525 could be a good choice for the Wine Club in the future.)The dinner menu is similar, though a little more extensive, than the à la carte lunch menu, and includes items such as duck. Prices range from ¢3,200-7,500 ($6.60-15.40) for main courses and salads; soups and desserts are less.Good food, professional service and delightful surroundings rate a return visit to this new addition to San José’s restaurant scene.Hours are Monday to Friday, noon-11 p.m.; Saturday, 4-11 p.m.; and closed Sunday. The restaurant is directly behind the National Library, 125 meters east of Casa Amarilla. There’s guarded parking on the street in front of the restaurant and a large lot at the rear. For information, call 248-9337.

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