Graffiti’s name and ambience calls to mind two competing expectations. The food will either represent the grungy aesthetic of Jacó or some defiant and delicious artistry. Once the appetizers arrived – or maybe it was after a few sips of the sangria – the latter expectation (thankfully) proved to be the right one.
The restaurant served up masterpieces, and we devoured them, enjoying one of the best meals to be had in Costa Rica.
Colorful lights illuminate the restaurant, located in the corner of an unremarkable plaza along Jaco’s main highway, across from Citi Cinemas. Tags, splatter art and other street graphics adorn the inside walls. A funky vibe runs throughout the establishment, and to add to the funk, the restaurant occasionally hosts DJs and plays live music. Even the menu items sound vibrant and eccentric.
Main courses include the “Infamous” 10 oz. coffee and cacao encrusted beef tenderloin (the most expensive meal on the menu at $21.95), slow roasted pork riblets with garlic chimichurri, a yellowfin tuna steak and a Ghetto Fab veggie platter.
The specials, written out in jazzy colors on a chalkboard, showed items like chipotle passion fruit glazed grilled chicken wings, Mexican steak nachos and blackened mahi mahi pineapple mango chutney.
Alcoholic specialties, starting at $7, offered creative mash-ups like an aloe tini (hand-muddled cucumber and fresh lime sweetened aloe vera and vodka), a cucumber and basil martini, a voodoo rum punch and a pineapple and cinnamon mojito.
It all sounded impressive. But visuals only go so far, and Graffiti costs more than your average Jacó joint.
Graffiti promotes itself as one of the purveyors of slow food. A riff on and a counterpoint to fast food, these restaurants boast gourmet meals using fresh, local ingredients. A sign in the restaurant warns that orders might take a while to arrive, and guests should bide time with a drink from the wine bar.
A couple of glasses of homemade sangria probably did help pass the time, as the wait never felt exorbitant for our party of four. We ordered two superb appetizers: the glazed wings special and Cali Style Flat bread, topped with caramelized pear, bacon and gorgonzola. Then we shared two incredible salads. The first came with a “petit filet” of steak, caramelized walnuts, bleu cheese and an addictive sweet dressing. A seared tuna salad came stacked with fish, greens, honey basil and soy caramel.
For an entree, one member of our group selected the coffee encrusted steak, and the unique item arrived plump, juicy and flavorful, easily living up to its reputation. The rest of us went with fish. Our seafood selections included a sublime yellowfin tuna steak, flavored with soy caramel and other seasonings; a spectacular macadamia-crusted mahi mahi with a passion fruit sauce and some standard fish tacos. The fish tacos left something to be desired when compared to the rest of the smorgasbord laid before us. With such a flashy menu, the chanciest items probably have the best shot to astound your palette. (For one example on the drink menu, the pineapple and cinnamon mojito did not disappoint.)
For dessert we decided on an old classic, Key Lime Pie. The South Florida treat is not easy to replicate, but once again, Graffiti surprised and impressed with a pie that was perfectly tart and neither gloopy nor thick with the filling. Our party, already feeling stuffed and bloated, finished off the pie in a few short minutes.
For the slow food movement to succeed in Costa Rica, the meals must be stellar. Restaurants espousing local, gourmet fare continue to pop up around the country’s most touristy spots. In Jacó, Graffiti sets a high bar not only for the central Pacific, but also for the rest of the country.
Graffiti Restro Café and Wine Bar
Hours: M-Sa: 5-10 p.m.
Location: Located across from the Citi Cinemas in a nondescript strip mall along Jacó’s main road, Av Pastor Díaz.
Type of Food: Fusion
What’s available and prices: Bocas and Tapas, Greens, Ghetto Gourmet, a Gourmet Burger (made with 80 percent beef and 20 percent pork), flat breads, fish tacos, a kids’ menu and desserts. Specials also are available. Price range: $7-$22. Drinks: Graffiti Signature Martinis, Graffiti Signature Cocktails and plenty of fine wine selections. There also are non-alcoholic specials like a Strawberry Mint Soda.