When a friend told me there was a swanky restaurant opening on the top floor of the new Sheraton Hotel and Casino just off the highway in the southwestern San José suburb of Escazú, I was intrigued. “What is it called?” I asked. “Unpronounceable,” he said. I checked Facebook and found the name: 8ctavo.
I didn’t particularly care that 8ctavo might be as pretentious as its name, because with Timeout Tavern closed, and only so many nights I could spend at Casona de Laly or El Estribo, a new Escazú dinner/nightlife option seemed opportune.
A friend and I headed over on a rainy weeknight just a few days after the restaurant opened for business, and in many ways, the place was already impressive. The towering, eight-story hotel glistened with newness and the bright casino smelled like hope. A ride in the roomy elevator ended at the eighth and topmost floor, and I stepped out into what my friend described as “a space pod.” It was an anteroom covered in metallic surfaces and housing a host station for 8ctavo, but oddly enough, the name was spelled differently on the wall behind the counter: 8vo. A nickname perhaps? At least you could pronounce it.
There was no host, so we saw ourselves in through a glass door and took a little tour, set to loud trance music. On the west side of the establishment, a couple of cabanas flanked a small rooftop pool, and all of it had a view out the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the twinkling head and tail lights of Highway 27 and many nearby buildings. On the opposite side of the pool, a long and shiny bar sat beneath a collection of stylish paneling formed a large wave up the wall and into the sky. That half of the establishment is open air, and looks like it belongs in L.A.
Wind and rain were finding their way in, though, and the restaurant had no customers but us. We sought refuge in the covered dining area, and passed up a few glistening bar tables and some turquoise velvet booths in favor of the back bar, which was adorned with sea green wallpaper featuring designs of fish with utensils for bodies.
Just when we thought the place couldn’t get more ostentatious, the menu arrived. Perusing its selections, we couldn’t help but laugh. Beet tartare? Roasted heirloom tomato soup? A separate section for sides revealed that menu items are ordered a-la-carte. There was also a cocktail menu offering things like “guanábana jalapeño martini” and a “new fashioned.” This should be good, I thought. And it was.
The new fashioned (₡5,000, $10) was as refreshing as it was stiff; it with came with a generous serving of Centenario Rum, orange peel and sweet coconut juice. The guanábana jalapeno martini (₡5,000, $10) was a vodka concoction, chilled and very fruity, with a kick of jalapeño. It reminded me of a drink I once had at a trendy restaurant in San Francisco’s trendiest neighborhood, the Mission. It was delicious.
To ensure we could safely drive home, we ordered some appetizers from the raw bar: tuna tataki (₡3,000, $6), beef tataki (₡3,000, $6), coconut ceviche (₡3,000) and the tiradito jalapeño (₡2,500, $5). The presentation was a little over the top, for instance, the tuna tataki came buried beneath peppers fried almonds and something we’d never heard of called ajo blanco. But each item was distinct and flavorful. The beef tataki and accompanying asparagus, ginger, soy and cream sauce were particularly tasty.
When my friend and I returned a few weeks later on a Saturday night, hoping to try some of the main courses, we were asked if we had a reservation. The answer was no. Actually, there were no tables open for the rest of the night, a very attractive hostess in a very small dress said. It hadn’t even been a month, and 8ctavo or 8vo or whatever it was had blown up.
“Would it be possible to eat at the bar?” I asked. That too was full. We opted to have a drink at the end of the bar, and perhaps impressed with the six attractive male bartenders deftly preparing the cocktails, we ended up trying nearly all of them: mojitos de cilantro, margaritas de tamarindo, hot & cold lemon meringue with gin, sabila cocktail with vodka, aloe vera, strawberries and blackberries. At first we had to awkwardly sip the cocktails scrunched up next to an oversized lamp, but eventually one of the restaurant staff members came and moved it over for us. My friend and I agreed that the service was faster and more intuitive than we had experienced even at Costa Rica’s top hotels. Was it the cocktails talking? Maybe.
But then the restaurant began to fill with the after-dinner set, and even the outdoor area – which was again plagued by wind – got crowded. The scene was a mix of wealthy Ticos and business travelers and fashionistas in 3-inch heels and mini-dresses. All wanted drinks, and servers zipped around the different areas of the restaurant, trying to keep everybody plied and happy.
Still, our grilled octopus (₡4,500, $9), which we were permitted to eat at the end of the bar, arrived promptly and complimented with sweet grapes and spicy arugula. Its thick tentacles were savory and tender – not at all chewy – just the way octopus should be.
For our main dishes, we went with the coconut lobster stew (₡12,000, $24), a version of the Caribbean-style rondon soup that wasn’t outstanding but didn’t suck either. The coconut milk wasn’t as thick or creamy as you’d find on the Caribbean, and the portion was much smaller than expected. But the lobster and root vegetables were buttery and delightful.
The third time I visited 8ctavo – yes, I’ve found a way to justify three visits for just one restaurant review – I sampled the chicken mole on fried plantains (₡4,500, $9), the cured yellow fin tuna (₡4,500, $9) and the chorizo sea bass (₡8,000, $9). All were fresh and innovative, prepared with interesting flavor combinations and evident care. My favorite was the chorizo sea bass, mainly because it paired really luscious sea bass with something strange and unexpected – sausage broth – and it was fantastic. How did someone even think of that?
I haven’t gotten around to trying any of the desserts yet, but with items like guava lava and and a basil sponge cake entitled “caprese,” I think it’s safe to say that they’ll be pretentiously delicious.