For travelers accustomed to discovering new, exotic food wherever they go, Costa Rica can come as somewhat of a disappointment. There is only so much that can be done with rice, beans and a piece of meat. Occasionally, though, a new place pops up with loftier culinary aspirations than a glorified soda. This month, that restaurant is Soi.
With the same owners as the popular hipster coffee house/bar Café de los Deseos, Soi easily could have adopted the same funky, cluttered, artsy feel. But the similarities between the two restaurants end at the delicious food.
Rather than a café, Soi is a dimly lit, elegant cocktail bar with open-air windows looking out to the old Atlantic train station near Parque Nacional. The couches and oversized chairs along with the minimalistic design give it a lounge-y vibe uncommon in San José, or even all of Costa Rica.
In step with its atmosphere, half of Soi’s menu is cocktails and beers. More than just the typical Pilsens and Imperials, Soi has beers from the Costa Rican Craft Brewing Company along with a number of imports. The cocktail and liquor lists are also extensive, but our cocktails missed the mark in terms of taste. My mojito was sour and strong at the surface, and diluted sugar water at the finish. My companion’s Tom Collins was inexplicably pink, with a sharp, chemical aftertaste.
The food, on the other hand, was delightful.
The short menu offers only two categories of food: appetizers and platters for sharing. In an effort to try as many things as possible, we chose the meat skewers, guacamole and patacone sandwich from the appetizer menu. The plates came served on a flat wooden pallet, and, considering their prices and “appetizer” labels, they were much larger than expected.
The bad news is the guacamole wasn’t great. It was heavy on the lime and onions, which was about all I could taste. The toasted slices of tortilla that came with it, though, were warm and delicious, and the other two dishes also pulled their weight.
Extremely tender and flavorful, the meat skewers were very different from the typical Costa Rican slab of lomito. Rather than the flat, low-quality beef found in a typical casado, this was real, well-cooked steak. The chunks of meat were punctuated with flavorful onions and peppers grilled to perfection. The biggest surprise on the plate, however, was the baked potato. Yes, that’s right, no puree de papas here. Baked. Perfectly baked, I might add, and with an adorable little jar of piping hot butter on the side.
The skewers were good, but the real star of the night was the patacón sandwich. For those who don’t know, patacones are flat, fried plantains common throughout the country. Though I had never seen them sandwich anything before, they made for an ideal crunchy substitute for a hamburger bun. Smooshed between the plantains was a sort of Latin American version of a Philly cheesesteak sandwich with cheese, peppers and shredded beef. Again, the beef did not fail to impress.
Soi is located 30 meters east of Parque Nacional in front of the old Atlantic Train Station. While it is already open for dinner and drinks, its official opening party will take place April 30 at 8 p.m.