More than a taste of Spain at Estación Atocha

July 20, 2012

From the print edition

The cuts of meat are seasoned carefully and cooked to excellence. The sangría is sweet but complicated by seven ingredients, all of which the maker will not reveal. And the imported Manchego cheese and Serrano ham are simply, deliciously and purely Spanish. Estación Atocha has very good Spanish food, but it’s the Spanish ambiance that puts this restaurant on itineraries of figures like San José’s mayor and the Black Eyed Peas.

At the Spanish tapas restaurant located in La Sabana, the wine, the piano and most of the art have arrived directly from Spain. The cook trained in Barcelona and the owners lived and studied there for years. “It’s a family love,” said owner María José Guzmán. 

Her father’s work took the family to Spain, and Guzmán later returned to study there. Her school was near the Atocha train station, and she disembarked there daily. Guzmán was not far from the busy station on March 11, 2004, when terrorists bombed it, killing 191 people. On the inside of the restaurant’s menu, Guzmán shares the details and how she was shaken by the event.

“No one should forget that day,” she wrote, “so that it can never happen again.”

Estación Atocha 1

Estación Atocha specialties include this seven-ingredient sangría.

Her fascination with Spanish cuisine is  apparent in the select menu. Rather than a plethora of lesser-quality items, she offers only a few dozen tapas, entrees and desserts. Guzmán arranges the selection to showcase her most traditional and well-crafted dishes.

“We work hard to get the best ingredients, and tailor the menu to follow Spanish tradition as well as Costa Rican preferences,” she said.

 Three types of paella – seafood, mixed meats and black rice – are available for large groups, as is the restaurant’s masterpiece, roast suckling pig. For a less-filling experience, there are the slow-cooked pig cheeks, which also happen to be one of Guzmán’s favorite tapas. 

My meal began with the sangría – a refreshing concoction of diced apple, sweet wine and brandy – along with the tapa staple of toasted bread dipped in a cream of olive oil and garlic. My medium-rare sirloin came on a bed of sautéed spinach, toasted almonds and raisins. Both meat and veggies were dressed simply in olive oil and light spices, allowing the richness of the produce to reign. 

Rogelio Benavides, Guzmán’s father who helped found the restaurant, joined me to share his vast knowledge of Spanish culinary history. The traditions of Europe have been cultivated over thousands of years, he said, while here in the new world people are still getting started.

“Spain is our roots,” Benavides said. “Our last names, customs, faces, religion and defects are all of Spanish origin; she is like our mother. I want Costa Ricans to come here and taste their roots.”

In addition to the taste and feel of Spain, Estación Atocha offers three private meeting rooms. Each is equipped with fine Spanish and Costa Rican art, air-conditioning, video presentation equipment and complete privacy.

Every other Saturday evening, the restaurant holds a special event with Spanish music, tapas and sangría for ₡12,000 ($24). A typical tapa costs around ₡4,000 ($8), and an average entree about ₡13,000 ($26).

Estación Atocha

Location: 100 meters west and 100 meters north from ICE in La Sabana.

Hours: Mon.-Thurs., noon-3 p.m. and 6-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat., noon-11 p.m., closed Sunday.

Contact: 2220-0207, info@estacionatocha.com.

For more information, visit http://estacionatocha.com.

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