San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Italian Chef Steps It Up At 3 Scalini in Santa Ana

Thirteen years ago, I wrote a restaurant review for The Tico Times of the then Ponte Vecchio restaurant in San Pedro, east of San José (TT, June 13, 1997). Owned by chef Antonio D’Alaimo, who goes by Tony, Ponte Vecchio offered delicious home-cooked Italian food in a cozy old house. A few years later, chef Tony moved to the United States and then returned to Costa Rica to open Il Ritorno in Casa Italia, in the eastern San José neighborhood of Los Yoses, which he has since sold. Now, he’s opened his latest venture, 3 Scalini in Santa Ana, southwest of the capital.

3 Scalini means “three steps” in Italian, and Tony says his three steps are Italy, the United States and Costa Rica, as well as his three restaurants in Costa Rica.

Located on the road to Belén, next to the Momentum shopping center, 3 Scalini offers the same delicious, home-cooked, authentic Italian cuisine for which Tony is known, but in a modern atmosphere. Decorated in red, green and white, the colors of the Italian flag, 3 Scalini has tables perfect for quiet dinners for two, plus a long table for larger groups. It isn’t an old house, but Tony has made it cozy.

Originally from the southern Italian town of Spinoso, Tony has created a menu that includes popular dishes from that region as well as other Italian favorites such as spaghetti carbonara and frutti di mare and homemade lasagna. He still offers his homemade ravioloni as a special. These large ravioli filled with ricotta in a cream, pink or tomato sauce are always good. The waiters will ask if you want bread with or without garlic; the garlic bread costs extra.

For starters, Tony offers a selection of antipasti, including beef and fish carpaccio, caprese and a big stuffed mushroom. We sampled La Romanaccia salad with arugula, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and loved its freshness and simplicity. Ask about the soup of the day or try the zuppa di spinaci, a traditional spinach soup with egg and cheese. Antipasti prices range from ¢3,500 to ¢4,700 ($6.50 to $8.70), while soups and salads are all under ¢3,000 ($5.60), including tax and service.

You can make a meal of one of the pastas or have it as a primi piatti and then move on to the meats. Tony offers chicken, fish, beef and veal dishes. My favorites are the pollo campagnolo, a stuffed chicken breast filled with mushrooms, spinach and mozzarella cheese, smothered in a delicious tomato sauce and served with vegetables on the side, and the vitello al limone, veal prepared in a light lemon and caper sauce. Both dishes are about ¢6,000 ($12).

Dessert is a must for me, and Tony doesn’t disappoint. His tiramisu is light, chocolaty, creamy and mouthwatering, and a bargain at ¢1,800 ($3.50). He also offers an array of frozen desserts, such as the traditional cassata, as well as panna cotta and crepes filled with Nutella.

The wine list is fairly priced and includes Italian and South American favorites. Tony is always on hand to greet you and offer recommendations. And his waitstaff, several of whom have been with him for years, do a great job.

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