San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bistango Restaurant Worth an Encore in Escazú

Bis! is Spanish for “Encore!” but Bistango is a totally new scene in the western San José suburb of Escazú. The restaurant is in the La Paco commercial center, on the old road to Santa Ana, where the former Argentine steakhouse used to be. Completely renovated and under new ownership, Bistango is worth an encore, and drew me in for a second and third visit.

Act I: My first visit was for drinks and a tasty sampling of finger food, served at the long, spacious bar, a friendly spot for a drink, snack or main course. The comfortable cane bar stools have backs and foot rails, an added bonus for short-legged customers.

Act II: I returned for dinner with a friend, and we sat at a table in the large, airy dining room surrounded by open windows. On the veranda, the wooden furniture offers a cool, informal atmosphere, while Marisol Alvarado’s colored glass artwork adds a touch of elegance to the similarly furnished interior.

We enjoyed a glass of Trapiche house wine and, after passing on appetizers and desserts, we were delighted with our main courses: steamed salmon wrapped in Swiss chard leaves and served with mashed potatoes; and grilled tenderloin served with Gorgonzola and blackberry dipping sauces and shoestring potatoes. Both were cooked to perfection, attractively presented and accompanied by al dente carrot strips and broccoli florets.

Act III: This time I summoned a team of six, and unfortunately some glitches resulted in a couple of unhappy actors.

The appetizers, sautéed mushrooms and Indonesian wraps stuffed with pork were delicious, and the beef carpaccio exceptional.

The large house salad couldn’t have been fresher, but the grilled Mediterranean vegetables were tough and disappointing. Most of the main courses were good; the salmon was excellent, and the grilled rib-eye steak was fine. The Mediterranean chicken stuffed with capers, anchovies and black olives was very tasty, through the chicken was slightly on the dry side. The pappardelle with shrimp was deemed average by our pasta connoisseur, who thought the wide, flat pasta was not the best choice for the shrimp.

The vegetarian in our midst had a bad evening, consisting of a disappointing appetizer followed by the Pill Pill, sautéed octopus with shrimp in a garlic sauce: boring, oily, overcooked and flavorless was her verdict.

But the biggest error of the evening occurred when the order of tenderloin with shiitake mushrooms, asparagus tempura and mixed vegetables arrived minus the asparagus, bearing scant resemblance to what the diner had chosen from the menu. She complained and was informed that no asparagus was available, though she had not been told this when her order was taken.

We shared a selection of desserts. The crème brûlée was not the real McCoy, as seems to be the case almost everywhere here, and the chocolate cake was on the dry side. We questioned whether the chocolate mousse was worth the calories, but the pecan pie and apple pie were fine.

On all three of my visits, Armenian owner Mike Badalian was always on hand.

To his credit, his staff couldn’t have been more attentive and polite, except for the asparagus episode. Had we asked to speak to him as soon as the asparagus-less dish arrived, I feel sure he would have done his best to rectify the situation.

Asked if he would be including Armenian dishes on the menu, Badalian said there was little demand for it. He plans to vary the menu but keep to the popular Mediterranean cuisine.

The prices at Bistango are geared to fit all pockets. Bar snacks, soups, salads, sandwiches, hamburgers and pizzas range from ¢2,500 to ¢5,000, ($4.50 to $9), while pastas and main courses run ¢5,000 to ¢13,000, ($9 to $24). The menu states that prices do not include the 10 percent service charge, but no mention is made of the 13 percent tax, which is also not included.


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