San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A French Café in … San Isidro de El General?

Sitting in a cozy French café, lingering over an aromatic cup of steampressed coffee, you overhear snatches of conversations in French, German, Spanish and English while you struggle to choose between a still-warm brioche glinting with sugar or one of the buttery, flaky croissants you can smell being lifted from the oven. You must remember to bring home a baguette for family dinner and a small mocha torte, or perhaps some fresh strawberry pastries for dessert. You look out the shop window and, for a moment, watch the people stroll past on the streets of San Isidro de El General… Huh? You’re where?

Gems have value because they are rare. When they offer a particular appeal to the senses and are of the highest quality, their worth is enhanced. So when you find a real French patisserie tucked away on a side street in the shadow of the Southern Zone’s MountChirripó, you are entitled to do a double take, count your blessings and enjoy a real treat.

Thierry and Isabelle Sakael opened Saveur de France in May. Thierry was born with flour in his hair, the son of a baker in Charente-Maritime, France. Hoping to live life at a saner pace, he and Isabelle found the area around San Isidro de El General struck a comfortable and reminiscent balance between pristine nature and pastoral agriculture, and settled in the surrounding hillsides in Convento last year.

What are the challenges of creating an authentic French café, half a world away from Paris? Much of their equipment had to be imported from Europe. Recipes had to be adjusted to account for high humidity, differences in available ingredients and to take full advantage of fresh local fruits and produce.

Consistent, dependable sources for superiorquality items in large quantities, such as butter, had to be found. (Just try buying 60 kilos of real butter in Costa Rica.)

So far, the only great disappointment has been that the humidity prevents Thierry from creating his realistic sculptures of colored spun and melted sugar – an art he mastered before moving here. On the counter in the shop is a photo album of his work that is great fun to peruse while nibbling a congolais, a big macaroon with attitude (¢800/$1.40).

The Sakaels also wanted to offer their customers the intimate ambience that goes hand in hand with great bread and pastries.

Nestled in front of the glass refrigerated cases holding goodies ranging from luxurious frosted Cointreau tortes (¢850/$1.50) to hefty ham and goat cheese sandwiches on half-baguettes (¢1,500/$2.70) are the shop’s four marble-topped tables, with four chairs each. If the weather is good, half the seating moves outdoors, which will become a great spot to relax when the construction next door is complete.

While nearly all of the community is sound asleep, Thierry is in the shop by 3 a.m., six days a week. He chuckles at some of the changes he and Isabelle have made to adapt their offerings to the local palate, resulting, for example, in a little less goat cheese on the sandwiches and an increase in output to meet a surprising demand for baked meringue. But that attention to detail must be working, as Isabelle says she now sometimes sees the same customers two and even three times a day.

All generous sandwich, salad and quiche servings are priced at ¢1,500 ($2.70). Individual torte slices average ¢800 ($1.40), while full tortes serving 16 people can range as high as ¢10,000 ($18).

And what is the transplanted patisserie’s best-seller? It is the one thing they almost decided not to make – the bread. It is exquisite.

Whether you like traditional baguettes, cereal breads or hearty artisan loaves, you will be enchanted when you tear off your first piece (¢650-850/$1.20-1.50).

Perhaps you cannot afford that vacation flight to Europe this year, but if you are in San Isidro, you can have a great cup of coffee and a sinful pastry, grab a baguette for home and relax a bit in a little French café before continuing your journey.

Located in Los Betos commercial center, next to GE Money in San Isidro de El General, Saveur de France is open Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Sakaels welcome the challenge of special orders, including specialty cakes and pastry sculptures for any kind of celebration. For information, call 8994-9909.


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