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Escazú is a center for fine dining, with dozens of great options. The scene is ever-changing.
A splendid breakfast or lunch option is Bagelmen’s (tel. 506/2228-4460, www.bagelmenscr.com, 7 a.m.–9 p.m. daily), 100 meters north of El Cruce, resembling Starbucks but also serving bagels (onion, pumpernickel, etc.), muffins, brownies, and cinnamon rolls, plus breakfast specials from gallo pinto to scrambled eggs. You can sit in the air-conditioned café or outside on a shady patio. It also has an outlet 200 meters north of Centro Comercial Guachipelín.
Overseen by attentive owners Nicola and Mariarosa Papengelo, Cerutti (tel. 506/2228-4511, www.ceruttirestaurante.com, noon–2:30 p.m. and 6:30–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $35), at El Cruce, is acclaimed as one of the most elegant Italian restaurants in the country. Society figures frequent this atmospheric eatery in a centenary abode home with an aged terra-cotta floor. The decor combines a chic aesthetic with classical themes, including antique prints adorning the whitewashed walls. Sublime dishes run from New Zealand lamb to fresh pasta dishes. The cost is well worth it; I reveled in a delicious porcini mushroom soup served in a whole-wheat bread bowl and to-die-for gnocchi at last visit.
At La Luz (tel. 506/2282-4160, www.thealtahotel.com, 6:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 6–10 p.m. daily, $7–25), in the Hotel Alta, Chef Carlos Zuñiga’s quality fusion cuisine melds Costa Rican ingredients with spicy creole influences. The setting—a contemporary remake on a Tudor theme—is classy, the views splendid, and the service exemplary. Try the macadamia nut–crusted chicken in guaro-chipotle cream, or fiery garlic prawns in tequila-lime-butter sauce, followed by a chocolate macadamia tart. Sunday brunch (9 a.m.–4 p.m.) is a special treat. And there’s live jazz on Saturday night. A dress code applies.
The Capitol Grill Restaurant (tel. 506/2288-6362, www.whitehousecostarica.com, noon–5 p.m. and 6–11 p.m. daily, $5–25), at the White House Hotel, offers grand elegance and spectacular views. It specializes in steaks, plus such dishes as grilled beef with shrimp and béarnaise sauce and lobster bisque.
Le Monastère (tel. 506/2228-8515, www.monastere-restaurant.com, 6:30–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) has been called a “religious dining experience,” not for the cuisine but for the venue—a restored chapel amid gardens in the hills west of town (it’s signed on the Santa Ana road). The waiters dress like monks, and Gregorian chants provide background music. The French menu includes grilled lamb chops and vol au vent of asparagus. Expect to pay $30 per person. The restaurant’s more casual La Cava Grill, in an intimate cellar below Le Monastère, offers the same views and a better bargain.
For a far less pretentious hillside option, head up the mountain to Restaurante City Lights Tiquicia (tel. 506/2289-5839, tiquiciacr [at] costarricense [dot] cr, 5 p.m.–midnight Tues.–Fri., noon–midnight Sat., noon–6 p.m. Sun.), which entertains diners with folkloric dances (noon Tues.–Sun.) and live music (Fri.–Sat.). The food is simple, tasty, and traditional Costa Rican; it wins no prizes, but you’re here for the view.
Saga (Avenida Escazú, tel. 506/2289-6615, www.sagarestaurant.com, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun., $35), 100 meters east of CIMA hospital on the autopista, is a hip fusion restaurant for a monied clientele. I like its minimalist, contemporary decor, leather banquet chairs, and glass walls. The dishes are works of art. Try the oriental sea bass carpaccio or portobello mushroom cream soup ($9), followed by New Zealand lamb chops ($32) or duck breast.
Centro Comercial Paco hosts Il Panino (tel. 506/2228-8606, http://ilpanino.net, 8 a.m.–midnight Mon.–Thurs., 8 a.m.–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat., 9 a.m.–midnight Sun.). The stylish restaurant, with glass walls opening onto an airy patio, serves more than 60 paninis ($4–10), plus bocas and salads ($10–16). It’s a hot spot for the young and beautiful.
Next door, MiSala (tel. 506/2289-4389, www.mi-sala.com, noon–2 a.m. daily) boasts an eye-popping Liberace-style decor (yes, it has heaps of crystal chandeliers) in dramatic black and rust-red and serves shared plates of fusion dishes, such as a cheese plate ($13), seared tuna with Pad Thai noodles ($21), and pan-roasted salmon ($19). A patio has white leather banquet chairs.
Plaza de la Paco is also home to Chez Christophe (tel. 506/2224-1773, 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Tues.–Sat., 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun.), a French bakery that makes delicious croissants, waffles, omelettes, quiches, and pastries, plus french toast that is out of this world. Go on Sunday for the social scene.
Meanwhile, French chef Jean Pierre Peiny reigns at The Muse (Avenida Central, Calles 4/6, tel. 506/2228-3110, www.mybeaconescazu.com, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), in The Beacon Escazú Hotel. You can watch him concoct divine fusion dishes in the glass-walled kitchen. A perfect dinner might include New York steak with chimichurri and mashed potatoes ($27) or risotto porcini ($22.50). Dress smartly to be one with the elegant ambience.
For French I prefer the chic ambience of L’Ile de France (Avenida Escazú, tel. 506/2289-7533, www.liledefrance.net, noon–11:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m. Sun., closed Dec. 25–Feb.), which moved in 2010 from its longtime venue at the Hôtel Le Bergerac. Chef Jean Claude works inspired magic, with such dishes as terrine de shrimp ($15), seafood bisque with cognac ($13.50), and coq au vin ($22).
Plaza Itzkazú, on the autopista, also has several great restaurants: Samurai (tel. 506/2289-3456, noon–3 p.m. and 6–11 p.m. Mon.–Fri., noon–10 p.m. Sat.–Sun.), a sushi and Pacific fusion restaurant with classy decor; and Chancay (tel. 506/2588-2318), with great Peruvian dishes.
There are two chocolate specialty shops: La Chocolatería (tel. 506/2289-9637, 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Sat.), above El Cruce; and Giacomini (tel. 506/2288-3381, www.giacominescazu.com, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), on Calle de Llano. The latter is a coffee shop with a garden patio and waterfalls. It serves panini ($5), croissants, salads, pastries, cappuccino, and espresso, in addition to chocolate delights. Pops (9 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), at El Cruce, sells ice cream.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition