JACÓ, Puntarenas — The first thing you notice in Caliche’s Wishbone, located smack-dab in the middle of Jacó’s main street, is all the signed surfboards decorating the restaurant’s walls. Each one of them offers patrons a recommendation on what to eat or shows kind words for owner Caliche Alfaro from notable surfers like the late, great Andy Irons.
One bright pink surfboard in particular gives new customers a great clue as to what to order, as the bubble letters inscribed call down to the weary beachgoer: “Love the pokeee.” It’s these words, coming after a long day in the sun and sand of Playa Jacó, that are cast down onto the hungry and possibly confused customers like a sign from God. And they should be treated with the same seriousness.
On a personal level, there are few things I love as much as seafood. If I lived by the coast I would eat it three times a day every day without hesitation. So anytime I go to the beach in Costa Rica, my itinerary must include a sampling of fresh fish.
So in this, my third visit to Caliche’s, I had now had enough experience to know that just not any plate of fish would fill my empty stomach. It had to be the poke, the common name for a raw fish salad.
Caliche’s twist on the dish includes a bowl full of sticky rice, avocado, sesame seeds, spinach and a beautiful smattering of raw tuna.
Every time I have gone to Caliche’s I’ve ordered the poke and every time I have come away more and more certain that it’s one of the very best dishes offered at any restaurant in Costa Rica. It’s a perfect dish in every way, from the texture of the tuna with the rice to the appropriate blend of vegetables that don’t try to mask the fish.
My girlfriend, who refuses to eat raw fish, did not share my zeal for this meal. In fact, she looked at me like I was a maniac while I scarfed down the huge bowl of poke.
She, instead, opted for the pargo rojo – red snapper – which is always a good choice in Costa Rica.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that the red snapper at Caliche’s is especially good. I’ve had snapper countless times now and I’m hard-pressed to remember a piece of snapper I’ve tasted that was as perfectly cooked as this one.
The famous Argentinean chef Francis Mallmann once wisely said, “There is nothing more sad than an overcooked fish.” That spongy taste that makes the fish chewy when it should almost melt into your tongue is when you know a fish has been wrongly cooked. And if we’re still on the subject of signs from God, it truly should be considered a sin.
But Caliche’s avoids that by letting the snapper’s flavor shine and making the skin nice and crispy. Even if I’ve maybe had better overall pieces of snapper, this was the best experience I’ve had with the skin. My girlfriend and I both agreed it made the dish stand out in a country where you can find red snapper on every menu.
Caliche’s self-titled “eclectic menu” is part Asian, part Cali-Mex and a dash of vegetarian, with some coastal Costa Rican influence.
Besides the seafood, Caliche’s is also purported to make a mean pizza and offers common Mexican fare like tacos, nachos and burritos. The wide-ranging menu also boasts pita options, salads and pastas.
So even if you’re not quite ready to heed the almighty wisdom of the pink surfboard and dive right into a bowl of raw fish, there are still plenty of delicious options to choose from.
Contact Michael Krumholtz at email@example.com