San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Goodbye fish, hello pasta

There’s nothing quite like homemade pasta.

Gian “Pit” Arcieri had that in mind when he closed his sushi restaurant and opened That’s Amore in the same space – Tamarindo’s Aqua Discotheque – in August. In converting the business, Arcieri drew on his experience running an Italian eatery on the beach in northern Rome. “I wanted to bring a part of my culture to Costa Rica,” he said.

He knew he had to stock his kitchen with all the right ingredients, but more importantly, the right people. To that end, he hired chef Sara Lavanna, who cut her teeth in the restaurant business of Ravenna, Italy, near Bologna. Her mother taught her how to cook, and she honed her style in Costa Rica, first with comida típicaat Don Jose’s, located in the nearby town of Villareal, then at Portofino Pizzeria in town. Finally, she studied under Tish Tomlinson, owner of the popular Tamarindo restaurant Dragonfly.

When Arcieri brought Lavanna on at Koi, the intent was to let her integrate her favorite Italian dishes into the menu. “Here she can express herself fully,” he said.

Eventually, it made sense to go all-in with Italian food, keeping only a seared ahi tuna salad from the old menu. Additions included gnocchi Bolognese, a recipe from Lavanna’s mother, along with antipasti options, salads, and mouthwatering main dishes.

lobster pasta

Mmm. Lobster pasta. Courtesy of That’s Amore

The bruschetta comes with a trio of toasted homemade breads topped with olives, capers and fresh cut tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and garlic. The octopus Carpaccio features thinly sliced octopus with olives, red onion, capers and olive oil. Mains include coconut shrimp, deep-fried in beer batter and topped with coconut and sweet chili sauce, and fritto mixto – an assortment of calamari, shrimp, tuna and vegetables fried in that same batter.

“The beer batter is the way we do it in Italy,” Arcieri said. “It’s not so heavy.”

Aside from a top-notch chef, Pit credits quality olive oil for the distinctly delicious flavor of the meals at That’s Amore. The slick, aromatic ingredient is the base at most of the main dishes. “An Italian kitchen isn’t complicated,” Arcieri explained. “Our olive oil is extra virgin and imported, and with that you don’t need many flavors because the oil is so good.”

Another reason to head to That’s Amore is the pasta: All of the linguine, macaroni, ravioli and gnocchi is prepared fresh in the kitchen by the hands of Lavanna’s husband Angelo Ghirelli. Homemade pasta, made with the right proportions of the ingredients, gives any dish texture, Arcieri explained. “Then all you need are fresh tomatoes and garlic, and the pasta is done,” he said.

One classic Italian pasta served at That’s Amore is the Linguine Amatriciana, which comes topped with a mild tomato sauce with thick bacon, sautéed onion and delightful pecorino cheese. Another choice is the reasonably priced lobster pasta, which boasts a tomato and garlic sauce with 250 grams of broiled, locally caught lobster – for $20. Diners can also enjoy any of the eight pasta dishes for $12 to $20.

You may be wondering at this point how an Italian came to own a sushi place in Costa Rica in the first place. For the answer, you’d have to look back to how Arcieri spent his youth.

Arcieri’s story

He was born in a small town 60 kilometers from Rome, and for the last 10 years of his time in Italy, he lived in Cerenova in north Rome, where he surfed and ran a restaurant near the sea called Six.

Six boasted a full Italian menu, but the owners didn’t have much money. Arcieri found himself helping out a lot in the kitchen and also in bringing in seafood, which he caught on spearfishing expeditions. He also gathered mussels from the rocks and clams from sandbars.

Around the same time, Arcieri met fellow Italian surfer Federico Pilurzu, who grew up in Costa Rica, and Pilurzu’s family owned the hotel Cala Luna in Langosta, near Tamarindo. So when one of the other proprietors of Six bought some property in Costa Rica, Arcieri jumped at the chance to see his friend and visit the country. Arcieri fell in love with Costa Rica, particularly the waves on Playas Avellanas and Marbella.

In 2005, he made the move to Costa Rica, and within a month he was working for Pilurzu, who had opened the Sushi Lounge at Cala Luna and was looking for a partner.

Eventually, Arcieri moved the sushi restaurant to the top floor of Aqua and named it Koi. People flocked in for the fresh, raw fish.

When the economy picked up, Arcieri moved the restaurant out to the terrace and built new stairs leading up to it. “This gave us more of a tropical feel,” he said.

And with this move, Lavanna came over from Dragonfly and the duo began to introduce the Italian dishes. With the departure of the sushi chef, Arcieri decided to go all-Italian, which meant choosing a new name. A sampling of scrumptious dishes, a few red checkered table clothes, a soon-to-be-completed overhang to protect from the rain, and a full wine menu later, and That’s Amore was born.

Everyday but Wednesday, when the restaurant is closed, Arcieri offers up a bit of Italy to Tamarindo. When he’s not running the restaurant, he can be found surfing or fishing. And needless to say, when Gian Arcieri catches mahi mahi, wahoo or tuna, it becomes the fish special right alongside the amazing pasta dishes at That’s Amore. 

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