Gourmet grub at Escazú’s Le Marché Bistro

June 22, 2012

From the print edition

Le Marché Bistro in San Rafael de Escazú, southwest of San José, opened just over a month ago and generated considerable buzz for its lunches, light suppers and weekend breakfasts. Housed in a former stone and clay-tile roofed residence, the restaurant combines traditional Tico charm and clean, bright, simple decor.

White walls and pale stone floor tiles offset bold, red metal tables and spindly bistro chairs. With a nod to an informal Parisian street café, the inside-outside layout of Le Marché encourages customers to linger over the excellent Tarrazú coffee while reading the news or catching up on emails.

Given the leisurely pace of service, you certainly don’t want to schedule anything urgent afterwards. Most guests seem to be in no rush, carefully pondering their choices of imaginative salads and paninis and the short but balanced selection of main courses. Desserts beckon from display counters in a back room, making it impossible not to sample.

Le Marché was thought up by Andrea Artiñano, a young interior designer who wanted to offer healthy, appetizing meals in a chic but casual setting. She is joined by her sister, who manages the fresh meat and fish counters, because Le Marché is just what its name suggests: a market of fresh, quality produce and delicatessen products. In addition to the kitchen fare, gourmet cheeses, goat yogurt, fresh breads and deli canned goods are also for sale. La Marché also has its own brand of homemade jam, BBQ sauce and pickles.

With friends, I have visited for both breakfast and lunch. After delicious mugs of rich coffee, we sampled the rather strange-looking but vitamin-packed “green juices” (₡2,800/$5), with the combination of celery, lime, watercress, kale, green apple and ginger earning top marks.

The eggs Benedict (₡5,700/$10.50) was an authentic rendition of this brunch classic, with perfectly poached eggs toppled over thick Canadian bacon on an English muffin, the whole bathed in a delicate hollandaise sauce. The garnish of cherry tomatoes and sweated spinach with some chunky home fries made this a hearty, satisfying dish.

The french toast (₡3,600/$7) composed of thick, rustic bread slices came with strawberries, craisins and pineapple with a (very) sweet pineapple sauce. My companion’s cheese and ham omelette (₡4,800/$9) was given an ‘okay but a bit dry,’ and the linguistic curiosity of ordering pancakes only to be presented with crispy waffles (₡3,600/$7) was later taken up with Artiñano’s father, who promised to look into a revision of terminology. The waffles, by the way, were already drenched in syrup, which might annoy those who prefer to retain pouring control.

The salads are shining stars on the lunch menu. I ordered Nantes salad (₡5,500/$11), which arrived as a generous bowl of arugula, fresh papaya, pickled red onion and macadamia-crusted goat cheese. That day, the soup was a tasty, thick cream of broccoli but it could have been hotter. The special was eggplant moussaka (₡4,500/$9) in a basil-tomato sauce and fresh goat cheese, which received accolades.

Other success stories included the smoked salmon Panini (₡4,800/$9.50) mixing the salmon with herby Boursin cheese and caper aioli, and the burger (₡6,000/$12), a thick beef patty with morel mushrooms, red onion marmalade and blue cheese spread. Entrées vary from ₡7,500-11,000 ($15-22) with tempting arrangements for fish, shrimp, chicken, beef tenderloin and short ribs.

Le Marché doesn’t bother with a dessert menu, but you can’t miss the dessert counter. Favorites included light, baked cheesecake and sinfully rich chocolate cake – if you can’t fit one after lunch, takeaway is available. Either way, there’s no escape.

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