Sagacity certainly applies to Restaurante Saga’s recent move to a new location just north of Multicentro Paco in the western San José suburb of Escazú. Originally located in Plaza Itskatzú, this small European-style café was surrounded by concrete and looked out on the inevitable parking lot.However, the saga of Saga is now a very different story.
Its architecturally modern building is spacious, airy and overlooks a charming tropical garden at the rear. The eucalyptus trees that tower over the property have been left intact, and a new wooden structure houses a supervised activity center for children. On Sundays, between 1 and 4 p.m., the young fry can choose from the kiddies’ menu, dine with their parents and then paint and draw to their heart’s content, while the adults enjoy a leisurely lunch.
The restaurant’s decor is simple, modern and attractive: black leatherette chairs, black tablecloths, cream-colored overlays and scarlet napkins make a stunning color combination, while the adjoining bakery is a pleasant spot to enjoy a coffee and one of Saga’s decadent pastries.
A party of five of us arrived for Sunday lunch and chose to sit on the covered patio, as the interior was far too cold for our comfort. Tables were set for four, but the helpful staff immediately put two tables together. Seated near the door, we were still in direct line of the air conditioning wafting out onto our backs, so another move was requested and the accommodating staff willingly obliged.
The service we received throughout lunch continued in this manner and was most impressive. Owner Simone Meckler deserves congratulations for her choice of staff. Chef Hans Köster Salinas was not on hand that day, but his assistant Juan Angulo did a valiant job in both culinary expertise and presentation.
Saga’s prices are reasonable and include tax and service. The menu offers an interesting choice of carpaccios: salmon or corvine carpaccios in a variety of spiced marinades or drizzled with different sauces are all under $6.We sampled the Oriental, corvina served with a sesame-soy sauce and decorated with sesame seeds. Our second choice, Pimiento Morrón, again corvina, was dressed with a roasted red pepper sauce. Both were good, but the consensus was that the texture of corvina does not lend itself to carpaccios as well as salmon and tuna do.
From the similarly priced appetizer menu, the mussels steamed in white wine with a Dijon mustard sauce were perfect. The very lightly baked, sliced tomatoes covered with gooey melted mozzarella and seasoned with fresh basil was also a tasty choice.
Main courses included chicken, pastas and steak, which we didn’t sample, but a recent diner reported that her steak at Saga was one of the best she’d had in the country.
We opted for the excellent salmon coated in sesame seeds accompanied by mashed potatoes combined with tiny pieces of chopped spinach, and a selection of mixed vegetables.
The corvina, also very good, was perfectly cooked in a white wine sauce, dressed with a generous portion of capers and served with a baked potato cake, sliced mushrooms and asparagus.
From the interesting selection of salads, the Chicken Kobe received no complaints, nor did the Miti Miti, a half-portion of mushroom soup and roast beef sandwich accompanied by French fries. The Miti Miti selections allow you to mix and match a half-portion of soup, sandwich or salad from the large selection offered, and make a good luncheon choice. Our meal was accompanied by a glass of Trapiche Chardonnay ($3.95) and, as part of a promotion campaign, we were offered with our coffee a complimentary glass of Ron Zacapa rum in an impressive brandy snifter.
No meal is complete without one of Saga’s calorie-laden, scrumptious desserts. We shared the Death by Chocolate; chocoholics will delight in this extravaganza of dark and white chocolate, cake, mousse, a brownie and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate ice cream.
Fantasy, a sampler platter, consists of some delightful goodies including sorbet, rice pudding in a filigree brandy snap basket and crème brûlée – but alas, it was crema catalana, its Spanish cousin. Why is it that so many chefs don’t seem to know the difference?
Saga caters to all tastes and won’t ruin your pocketbook, whether you are thinking of a main meal or a teatime bite from the special afternoon menu. This includes quiche, a variety of goody-laden bagels and mouthwatering cakes and pastries.
The restaurant is in Escazú, 400 meters north of Multicentro Paco, next door to the Dutch Embassy residence. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. Ample parking is available. For information, call 289-6615.