There may be a hundred or more Mar y Sol and Sol y Mar restaurants in Costa Rica, but none of them can match the culinary heights of this recent incarnation in Playa Flamingo, on the northern Pacific coast. From its lofty perch overlooking the beach, this Restaurante Mar y Sol lives up to its Spanish name, with picture-perfect views of the sea and the setting sun. The bar opens at 4 p.m. for sunset cocktails. But you don’t come here just for the view. You come to drink in an ambience that is more Côte d’Azur than Costa Rica, and to revel in sublime cooking that will instantly transport you to the south of France.
The alfresco terrace restaurant is dramatically torch-lit and furnished with elegant wicker furniture and potted palms. Even before the bread basket filled with hot, crusty bread accompanied by a pot of herbed garlic butter or savory olive tapenade arrives, you know this is going to be a class act.
The sophisticated menu combines classic French dishes with tropical accents, Iberian flavors and a soupçon of Asian fusion. Ingredients are top quality, and the Argentineborn chefs, under the supervision of French chef and owner Alain Taulere, don’t take any shortcuts. In the open kitchen area on the terrace, the chefs grill, sauté, flambé and put the final touches on dinner orders. But earlier in the day, the prep work for sauces and baking have all taken place in another, spacious, state-of-the-art kitchen.
To begin, you can opt for a hearty French onion soup ($5) or creamy lobster bisque ($6), both perfectly executed à la française.
Or start with a cool but spicy Gazpacho Andaluz ($4), made from a recipe that has been in Taulere’s family for three generations (see separate story).
For light appetites, there’s the Ensalada Salvador Dali ($8), grilled jumbo shrimp and yellowfin tuna artistically arranged over mixed greens dressed with a perfect French vinaigrette. For a fusion of French and Tico tastes, there’s Tartare de Atun ($8), fresh, ground local tuna seasoned with capers and white truffle oil, served with avocado. A mixed sushi starter served with a ginger sorbet ($8) and spring rolls with avocado and lettuce ($7) add an Asian element.
For the main course, you can go light with grilled mahi-mahi with mango salsa and buerre blanc sauce ($16), or go for broke with a rich, decadent Chateaubriand for two, a succulent, center cut of beef tenderloin, sliced tableside, and accompanied by a selection of exquisitely prepared vegetables ($40 for two). Lamb lovers will enjoy the rare chance to bite into a pistachio-crusted rack of imported lamb, served with an aromatic rosemary bordelaise sauce ($24).
At the other end of the price scale is the Pollo a la Parrilla ($13). But even chicken is raised to an art here, expertly marinated, grilled and served with fresh Buffalo mozzarella, basil and tomato.
If you can’t choose between surf or turf, order the popular house specialty, the Mar y Sol combination of marinated filet mignon and grilled jumbo shrimp brochettes ($21). The shrimp are almost as big as small lobster tails.
But, wait; it’s not over. You have to save room for dessert. There’s a classically French crème brûlée ($6) and delicious homemade ice creams – tropical banana and pistachio, coconut and a flavor of the day (all $5). But the pièce de résistance, especially for chocolate lovers, is the Volcano ($6), a molten chocolate cake with a lava flow of vanilla ice cream.
A huge selection of liqueurs and eaux de vies is on hand for anyone who has room left for them. The wines, housed in the air-conditioned formal dining room set between the kitchen and the terrace restaurant, are mostly good-value, New World vintages ($20-30), carefully selected by Taulere, including some exclusive Chilean wines.
Service here is smooth and polished, starting with the smiling hostess who greets you and continuing with the professional waiters clad in classic black pants and white shirts.
In fact, the only non-stereotypically French element here is how friendly the service is.
The menu wisely includes tax in the prices, so there are no unpleasant surprises at the end of the meal. Given the topnotch ingredients, expert execution, creativity and excellent service here, the prices are more than reasonable. If you factor in the price of a flight to the south of France to find a comparable meal, quelle bargain!
Mar y Sol Restaurant and Bar, 150 meters uphill (west) of the Banco de Costa Rica in Playa Flamingo, is open for sunset cocktails from 4 p.m.; dinner is served from 5-10 p.m.
The restaurant is closed Sundays and all of October. For information, call 654-5222 or visit www.marysolflamingo.com.
A Gala Night for Knights and Dames
Good wine and good conversation flowed at the gala dinner earlier this month, marking the second annual induction of new members into the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs gastronomic society (TT, Sept. 30, 2005), including 14 members to the newly formed San José chapter.
A group of 76 gastronomes sat down at elegantly draped tables in a chandeliered ballroom of the Real InterContinental hotel, in the western suburb of Escazú, to an extravagant dinner prepared by the hotel’s executive chef, John William Hauter, and his staff.
Starting with sautéed duck foie gras garnished with mangos, the diners worked their way through a delicate oyster stew, filet of Chilean beef over polenta, a Roquefort-cheese savory pastry, a baked apple topped with mousse and an array of petits fours, including homemade halvah, tiny chocolate baskets and almond cakes.
The guest of honor was His Excellency Gonzalo Facio, former Costa Rican ambassador to the United States. Jeannette Boucher, honorary national chambellan of the U.S. Chaîne, visiting from Naples, Florida, “knighted” the new officers, dames, chevaliers and professional chefs (maîtres) with a sword.
For information about the San José chapter, contact Jürgen or Sandra Mormels at 224-2455; for other areas of the country, contact Alain Taulere at 654-5222 or e-mail BailiDelegue@costarica.lachaine.org.
From France to Flamingo, Food Runs in the Family
Years of experience have obviously gone into making Restaurante Mar y Sol shine so brightly. It’s the creation of chef and owner Alain Taulere, whose family has a centuries-old restaurateur and innkeeping tradition in a small village in the Pyrenees, near the border between France and Spain.
Formally trained as a chef in Toulouse, then apprenticed in Carcassonne, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and London, Taulere traveled to Washington, D.C., in the 1970s to become chef of the then-new 1789 Restaurant in Georgetown. From there, he headed south to Sarasota, Florida, where for more than 20 years he created a series of French bakery-café-restaurants, culminating in the popular Café of the Arts.
The family tradition continues here in Flamingo, on the northern Pacific coast. Taulere’s oldest son, Jean-Luc, was the restaurant’s original chef and established the restaurant’s reputation while Taulere and his U.S.-born wife Bonnie were selling everything in Sarasota to start a new life in Flamingo.
In typical French style, the Tauleres live above the restaurant but have plans to expand their living quarters as soon as they can. Younger son Alex attends the CountryDay School in Flamingo.
Like many newcomers to the country, the Tauleres came to Costa Rica on vacation and were so captivated that they bought this hilltop property 48 hours after they saw it.With all the new villas popping up on the hillsides around Flamingo and Potrero bays, this area certainly is starting to look like the French Riviera. And all those villa owners like to dine out. But for Bonnie, it was the feeling of a “global melting pot” that was the main appeal, and she has thrown herself into local affairs, working to make Flamingo a conservation-minded community.
One of the strongest legacies of Taulere’s food-focused family is his connection to the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, an international gourmet club founded in Paris in 1952 (TT, Sept. 30, 2005). His father was one of the founding members in France, and Taulere continued the tradition by establishing a branch in Sarasota 20 years ago and founding the first branch in Costa Rica last year.
Now, two chapters are up and running in the country, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste and in San José.
So, Taulere has already made his mark, not only on the Flamingo food scene but countrywide. Not bad for someone who has been in the country for less than two years.