San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sabor y Arte: Attractive setting, culinary kinks

From the print edition

A party of seven gastronomy connoisseurs who take great pleasure in eating, but also in the surroundings and service that come with it, recently took lunch at Sabor y Arte in Central Escazú. Housed in what looks like a restored home – the cream-colored restaurant is actually brand new, equipped with wood paneling, plenty of windows and a welcoming front porch.

Entering the downstairs chamber, we were greeted with an elegant indoor dining room and dark wood furnishings, enhanced by cream and dark green linens. In contrast, the glassed-in patio with light green fabrics overlooked a manicured garden – a cool spot for either lunch or dinner. 

Upstairs, the lounge and bar serve finger food plus a full menu and offer a combination of comfort and luxury. The bar is decorated in warm shades of brown with bar stools, comfy armchairs, sofas and heavy velvet curtains, plus replicas of French Provincial furniture. The VIP lounge, with its own kitchen, accommodates 25 guests for private events. 

Throughout the restaurant, an eclectic collection of mostly unidentified art covers the walls. At the rear of the garden, there’s an unfinished art gallery with a collection of David Cedeño’s work.

Lunch was a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, and one of our group suggested that Sabor y Arte should be given more time to iron out the teething problems before being reviewed. I disagreed, as I had spoken to the charming Venezuelan owner, Andreina Ramos, and she said the place had been open 11 months. Therefore, I felt the problems indicated a need for improvement in some areas.

For example, it took 20 minutes for three beers, three fruit drinks and a glass of house wine to arrive. The Chilean Bouchon Chardonnay was pleasant enough, but gone in a few sips, as it only half-filled an extremely small glass. The waiters poured beer with three quarters foam, and then left the can on the table among elegant place settings. Our young waiters were charming and trying very hard, but they need more training.

The menu offered a choice of starters, including fusion dishes as well as Italian, Spanish, French and Pacific Rim, all served with an array of local fruits and veggies.

We ordered the melted Brie on a bed of lettuce dressed with grapes, walnuts and fruity vinaigrette, but unfortunately the cheese was rather bland. The Portobello mushrooms stuffed with mozzarella and crowned with caramelized onions were mouth-watering. The prosciutto served with green apple, macadamia praliné and gorgonzola vinaigrette was very good, as was the tuna tataki, but the liver paté was totally tasteless. The salad greens served with the dishes above are all organic. 

The main courses had their ups and downs. The big complaint was we weren’t told that the Flambé menu was only available in the evening. We saw the station where specialist Flambé Chef Sergio Maritano creates his works of culinary art. Two of our party ordered the steak Woronoff flambé with cognac, white wine and Dijon mustard.

The fish flambé with vodka was smothered with fresh tomato, olives and capers. We were surprised when they appeared already cooked from the kitchen. The steaks were very tender and cooked to order, and the fish was delicious, but we were let down that we hadn’t been told the truth about the Flambé situation. The corvina (sea bass) was cooked to perfection, moist and flaky, but the ravioli stuffed with cas pesto was very strange and didn’t have the fruit’s typically tangy flavor.

The paella was disappointing and bland, requiring hot pepper sauce to cheer it up. The Corderito Borracho (drunken lamb) must have been too inebriated to make it to the kitchen. A shredded dollop of mystery meat that didn’t taste the slightest bit like lamb was enjoyed by the diners’ dog, although he couldn’t face the heap of mashed green plantains that the drunken whatever-it-was sat on. The rosemary potatoes were the only tasty item in this pricy disaster.

The coffee, chocolate mousse and cheesecake were very good, but trying to pay the bill at the cash register was interminable. Maybe  we should have asked for separate checks?

Prices including tax: range from ₡3,900-7,800 ($8-16) for starters and ₡10,000-14,800 ($20-30) for main courses.

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