San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Unikornio: A new way To dine in Santa Ana

When 30-year hotel veteran Jorge Salgado designed his Unikornio restaurant in Santa Ana, southwest of San José, he wanted to create a “must-do” place while reinventing the dining experience.

So he did away with menus and dinner tables and opted for a cocktail affair.

Built on the all-inclusive concept, the Unikornio experience involves a constant stream of fine hors d’oeuvres combined with a running tap of choice liquors and signature drinks. Among the ever-changing 155 appetizers are zucchini antipasto, spicy marmalade with pistachios and onion, cheese rolls with almonds and Jamaica sauce, meat wrapped in grape leaves, shrimp tempura, garlic-mashed yuca (cassava) with pork in a sweet glaze, chicken skewers in tamarind sauce – and the list goes on. The tasting is enough to satisfy the appetite, but doesn’t send guests home bloated or overstuffed, as is the case with many all-you-can-eats.

In creating Unikornio, Salgado also broke down barriers in encouraging movement throughout the space, from the pool area to the outdoor gardens, alongside the bird refuge and from garden chairs to plush couches.

“It’s unlike the conventional dining experience in which people are fixed to one spot,” he says. “It’s a lounge with personality. … There is nothing else like it.”

Softly lit with candles and lanterns, the space has an eclectic charm. Hanging plants, mosaic tables and small knickknacks dress every corner. The multitude of “stuff” is carefully assembled to complement, not to clash.

Salgado describes the decor as “a paradise for the eye.”

“Everyone has something they don’t like in their home,” he says. “They gave it to me and I put it together. It has a style, and it somehow mixes.”

Unikornio is part of the Corteza Amarilla Art Lodge and Spa, a 13-room hotel on the road from Santa Ana to Ciudad Colón. The hotel, Salgado’s former home, has long catered to those looking for a nearby escape from the city.

“Few people can believe that this is in San José,” Salgado says, raising his hands and looking up. “In a 20-minute drive, they are (transported) to a resort-like destination.”

Many also came for the hotel’s former restaurant, Essentia, which made a big splash in Costa Rican fine dining but closed in 2007.

The food in the new restaurant, a long list of mouthwatering appetizers, is no less impressive. Offering prices affordable for the nontourist crowd, Salgado says he has attracted a mix of patrons since opening three months ago. One night of open bar and all-you-can-eat hors d’oeuvres costs $45 per person. But guests most often opt for the $100 three-night membership, which includes a 50 percent discount on lodging and a 10 percent discount on future purchases.

Unikornio is five kilometers west of the Forum office complex in Santa Ana, on the road to Ciudad Colón. For information, call 2203-7503 or visit www.cortezaamarilla

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