San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The Sweet Life in Playas del Coco

The days when dining out in Playas del Coco meant fish, rice and beans are well in the past. Today’s visitor to this northern Guanacaste beach town, a family favorite for Ticos, can top off a lazy day of snorkeling or swimming in Coco’s calm waters with options such as al fresco Peruvian fare, Louisiana jambalaya or Mexican food, among others.

Thanks to La Dolce Vita, a relatively recent addition a short walk from the beach, Italian cuisine is also on the menu. And while the food won’t knock your socks off, based on my dining experience, it’s a nice place to enjoy some delights not normally associated with Costa Rican beachfront eateries: Italian meats, cheeses and wines, homemade bread and pasta, tasty pizzas and desserts, including tiramisu and Italian ice.

The restaurant’s decor and layout allows for a variety of dining experiences: romantic and cool in the courtyard outside, elegant tablecloth-clad tables or casual booths with paper placemats for gatherings of family and friends.

It was hopping on a Saturday night, with both tourists and locals filling the seats. The placemats, like the walls, are covered with images from films by Italian greats such as Federico Fellini, including the poster for his 1960 classic for which the restaurant is named.

La Dolce Vita is a 10-minute walk west of the town center, just far enough from the bustle, noise and persistent thump-thump of discos to make you feel that you’ve entered another world.

Our evening began with some slow service, though that improved once an attentive waiter took us under his wing.We started the meal with the antipasto platter ($8.50), which was a decided success: sweet, spicy olives, sun-dried tomatoes, prosciutto, pepperoni and cheeses pair well with the restaurant’s whole-wheat bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The bread didn’t come with the dish, but was provided on request, and I recommend that other diners follow suit. It was homemade, freshly baked and fragrant. Other appetizers include tuna carpaccio ($4) and Caprese salad ($6).

Front and center on the menu are fresh pastas, which caught my eye, from tortellini with prosciutto and cream to a pasta trio for two. The waiter recommended the tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms ($10), but when I followed his advice, I was disappointed. The heavy brown sauce was very salty, drowning out the flavor of the fragments of mushroom – a waste, since to my mind homemade tagliatelle and good mushrooms need very little enhancement to blow most diners away.

However, I probably erred by not sampling the seafood dishes on offer, especially with the ocean only meters away. Other pasta dishes include spaghetti al pesto and fettuccini with shrimp and zucchini, while meat entrées include fish, chicken and Tbone steak (the most expensive item on the menu at $18.50).

The restaurant’s pizzas are very tasty. The tomato sauce is fresh and delicious, without an overdose of spices or salt, and the crusts are chewy and crisp. The pizzas are also a great deal, most running $5-7 and big enough to feed two hungry people. Topping options include seafood and prosciutto crudo.

I barely had room for dessert, so I opted for the “Italian ice cream” ($3.50), refreshing sorbets available in strawberry and lemon, amaretto or chocolate. Classic Italian desserts such as tiramisu and zuppa inglese are also available. Unless I was there on an off night, however, coffee lovers should resist the temptation to accompany their desserts with a nice hot cuppa. The one my dining companion ordered was surprisingly sub-par.

The restaurant is also open for breakfast: pancakes, gallo pinto and American-style breakfasts with eggs and bacon are available.

My experience was hit-and-miss, but the hits were very tasty, and the pizzas in particular stand out as a good value. For reservations or directions to La Dolce Vita, open for breakfast (7 to 10 a.m.), lunch and dinner (noon to 10:30 p.m.), call 670-1384.


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