A charming, renovated adobe farmhouse dating back to 1830 is home to the restaurant Ecléctico. The outward appearance of the eatery in San Antonio de Belén, northwest of San José, gives the impression that comida típica (traditional food) would be the order of the day. Wrong. Ecléctico lives up to its name: the international menu is certainly eclectic, with an emphasis on Peruvian cuisine and a Colombian specialty and dessert buffet offered Sundays.
The front veranda offers al fresco dining, and the interior, with its impenetrable, whitewashed adobe walls, consists of three different dining areas. The rooms of the original dwelling have been preserved, and in one you can view behind a glass case how adobe is constructed.
One of four associates, Colombian Roberto Muñoz acts as host and is always on hand to supervise. Muñoz takes great pleasure entertaining guests with tales of how the house was built. In those days, young couples could not marry without a house, so the local community pitched in to help the betrothed. The colorful tile floors, wooden shutters, wall fixtures and articles such as wrought-iron railings used in the renovation were collected from demolition sites. They all contribute to the restaurant’s pleasant, comfortable ambience, which maintains the historical aura of bygone days.
Having recently paid two visits to Ecléctico, one for dinner and one for Sunday lunch with a party of seven, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to sample a variety of items on the menu. On both occasions, I found that the attentive service and excellent food and presentation made for a very pleasant dining experience.
The menu offers a small but interesting variety of appetizers and on Sundays includes some extra Peruvian specialties. The aptly named Ecléctica salad – arugula, pear, caramelized walnuts and Gorgonzola with red wine and pineapple dressing – proved to be a wonderful combination of flavors. The breaded eggplant accompanied by fresh tomato purée is attractively served and resembles a small circular pudding, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. The garlic shrimp was served with a crispy plantain basket, and the traditional Peruvian chicken causa, a tasty combination of mashed potato and chicken, was decorated with a jumbo shrimp and tasted as good as it looked. The fish tiraditos, thinly sliced raw corvina marinated in a tasty yam and lemon dressing, were absolutely delicious. Appetizers range from ₡1,620 to ₡3,800 ($3.20 to $7.60). As stated on the menu, none of the prices include 13 percent tax and 10 percent service.
The main course meaty offerings (₡8,048-10,490/$16-$21) consist of five different traditional cuts of steak and grilled pork loin. On both my visits, the steaks were tender and cooked to perfection, and the pork loin was excellent.
Fish lovers may choose from a variety of dishes, such as seafood casserole, grilled tuna, rice with seafood and, on Sunday, corvina a lo macho, smothered in a seafood sauce containing shrimp, octopus and mussels – a big hit. Pasta and chicken dishes complete the menu. Prices range from ₡4,310 ($8.60) for pasta to ₡11,550 ($23) for the seafood casserole.
The day we visited, the Colombian Sunday special was not the famous Bogotá comfort food ajiaco, a wonderful chicken soup, but rather sancocho trifásico, a specialty from the Cali region. Also a hearty soup, this substantial meal is accompanied by side dishes of rice, avocado and fresh salsas. It’s made with different cuts of beef, pork, chicken and a variety of root veggies, including potato, squash and cassava, plus plantain and corn on the cob. This was declared delicious and the real McCoy by the two Colombian members of the party, though they both found the broth on the salty side.
We skipped on the regular desserts, which include crepes, tiramisu and a classic, excellent crème brûlée that we enjoyed on our previous visit. On Sunday, you can indulge in a buffet of dulces de la abuela, a selection of Grandmother’s traditional desserts, consisting of fruits in syrup served with squares of fresh cheese. Specialty fruits include papayuelas, which look like small papayas but taste and smell very different; curubas, tart Andean fruits that resemble passion fruit; and uchuvas (golden berries), delicious and grown in Costa Rica, as are the dessert buffet’s figs and blackberries. Ecléctico also uses these fruits to make some really exotic tropical fruit drinks that are well worth trying, including one really yummy one made with tree tomatoes.
Ecléctico’s talented young Costa Rican chef, Alan Solís, is a graduate of the National Training Institute (INA) and did his internship at international hotels in the country. He certainly deserves praise for his presentation and blending of unusual flavors. The result is an innovative, interesting cuisine emerging from his kitchen, where he’s assisted by two Peruvian cooks, Jeanina Castro and Edinson Morano.
Ecléctico offers excellent food in attractive surroundings, pleasant, efficient service and a friendly ambience. It’s recommended for lunch, dinner and Sunday specials, and also caters to groups. The restaurant is wheelchair-accessible and offers ample guarded parking.
Location: San Antonio de Belén, 100 m south and 25 m west of La Ribera mall
Hours: Monday to Friday, noon to 2:30 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Contact: 2589-7575, www.eclectico.cr