Hostel restaurants don’t, as a general rule, evoke the laid-back cool of a hip tapas lounge. La Damajuana, then, the house bar and restaurant at Casa Yoses hostel in eastern San José’s Los Yoses neighborhood, is a refreshing, and tasty, change.
Since opening the doors of La Damajuana in 2010, Argentine Lucas Whithington, who previously had an Argentine-themed restaurant of the same name in Sámara on the Nicoya Peninsula, and his partners have built up a funky, relaxing space where both backpacking hostel guests and San José bar-goers can kick back, have a drink and enjoy a few rounds of internationally eclectic tapas.
“We wanted to offer a place where people, Ticos and foreigners, can get together and share art and each other’s culture, where everybody can be friends and where it is all based around our tapas,” Whithington said of himself and his two Tico partners. Together, the three own both Casa Yoses hostel and La Damajuana, which sits between the hostel’s two buildings.
My eating partner and I arrived at La Damajuana around 7 p.m. on a Saturday. We ordered a Segua and a Libertas, Costa Rica’s only lines of craft beers (TT, July 29, 2011), and settled back in tall chairs to look over the menu. Outside, Casa Yoses employees set up to await the arrival of the Saturday-night crowd who, after 8 p.m., would pay a ₡2,500 ($5) cover including one Stella Artois beer.
The drinks arrived quickly and, per Whithington’s recommendation, we opted for a selection of tapas preceded by the Damajuana salad (₡4,400/$9). The salad featured homemade croutons, red pepper strips, a slab of fresh mozzarella and a wisp of basil, all over a bed of spicy mixed greens in a light but tangy vinaigrette.
While we waited for the rest of our tapas, Whithington stopped by our table to chat.
“A lot of local artists have supported us,” he told us, pointing out prints by local photographers hanging on the walls and a series of metal sculptures in the breezeway between the restaurant and one of the hostel buildings. “So we’re supporting them as well.”
Almost on cue, Tica rocker Marta Fonseca passed by, asking Whithington where best to set up for the acoustic set she would perform for patrons later that night.
Our tapas arrived in a reasonable amount of time for food that, as Whithington said, is all prepared from scratch daily. The vegetarian pizza (₡7,200/$14), smothered in red onions, fresh red peppers and mushrooms on a thin, hand-tossed crust, started off the feast nicely. The centerpiece, though, was the sirloin a la parilla (₡6,000/$12); as befits a place with a heavy Argentine influence, the meat was cooked a perfect, juicy medium, served with grilled veggies and a tasty balsamic dipping sauce. The choripán (₡3,000/$6), a savory pork chorizo patty served on a crusty homemade bun, was a little dry on first bite, but, per executive chef Federico Barrantes’ direction, I drizzled a little of the balsamic dipping sauce over the patty. It added just the right moisture to the dish and brought out the spicy bite of fresh chives in the chorizo.
For my more vegetable-inclined companion, we ordered calabacitas cooked with garlic, salt, pineapple and mushrooms, a dish that navigated the sweet-savory threshold with aplomb and even had this antifungalist chomping champiñones. Two baked empanadas (₡2,500/$5 for two empanadas and a small salad) rounded out our meal. Stuffed full of mozzarella cheese and fresh green onions and seasoned with black sugar and spices, the empanadas fell apart in our mouths.
La Damajuana doesn’t disappoint in terms of post-meal entertainment, either. Fonseca started her mostly-in-English set of bluesy classic rock anthems about the time we finished eating. A steady trickle of patrons had the place abuzz with conversation and the clinking of glasses. La Damajuana has a full bar with 10 different beers, but Whithington said he hopes to have at least 100 varieties in the future. Bands play live music every weekend, with up-and-coming acts generally taking a Friday slot and more established performers like Fonseca playing Saturdays.
Whithington said La Damajuana will be expanding its menu soon with at least 10 new dishes, many vegetarian-friendly, including avocados stuffed with fruit confit and a cream of pejibaye (peach palm fruit) soup.
Location: Los Yoses, Av. 8, Ca. 41, 250 m west of Spoon
Hours: Monday-Saturday, noon-midnight; Sunday, 5 p.m.-midnight