Story and photos by Babbie De Derian
The Four Seasons Resort, Costa Rica . . .
A Culinary Destination Beyond Expectations
The flight from San Jose to Liberia on Sansa Air is breathtaking… we fly low over waterfalls, rivers and lush vegetation. When we land, a driver from The Four Seasons Golf and Spa Resort is awaiting my arrival. The hotel has recently renovated two of their restaurants … and I am here for a taste of “pura vida”.
The Four Seasons sprawls over acres of rolling hills, forests and challenging golf links on the Peninsula Papagayo. It is surrounded by two beaches, one on the bay… the other on the ocean
The soothing colorful lobby has an interesting history: flowered fabric in shades of the sea, was selected for couch pillows, and then sent to Italy to translate into wall tiles, 63,00 tiles were produced in the same pattern, boxed, shipped and then installed; the results, possibly the only tile wall with matching pillows.
My spacious room is tastefully furnished; its large screened in terrace is decorated with a couch and two wicker chairs. Evening breezes from the sea, and the sounds of the surf, inspire me to keep the sliding doors open, no need for AC or the ceiling fan.
The hotel recently expanded their culinary and wine offerings: focusing on the abundance of locally sourced: ingredients, arterial cheeses, rainforest honey, organic papaya and pineapple, Macadamia nuts, coffee, fish and seafood… and the dedication of creative chefs.
Cena Sociale Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar has a modern ambiance, Inspired by the Mediterranean and the Amalfi Coast. Chef Dario Montelvere proudly showcases an innovative menu of homemade pastas, gourmet pizzettes, local produce and fresh seafood from Puntarenas, Costa Rica’s southern west coast on the Pacific Ocean.
The night of my arrival, I begin the evening at Cena Sociale’s marble island Wine Bar, elegantly appointed with bar stools on both sides. The wine list is extensive and impressive, and a unique wine dispensing machine offers excellent wines by the glass in 2, and 5 ounce pours. The bartender suggests the sample tasting of three wines from Piedmont, the damp and foggy forest region known for its truffles. He lines up three glasses, and then pours: Roero Moscone Arneis 2012, Dolcera D’Alba Moscone 2011 and Barolo Montefore D’Alba Moscone 2009 The bar appetizers sound delicious, and I order the baby Bocconcini, a local cheese marinated in basil pesto, garlic, olive oil, shallots, parmesan cheese and crushed pine nuts It is served in a glass mason jar, and its layered savory flavors compliments the truffle notes of the wine. I order a second glass of Dolcera. At my leisure, the maitre d’ leads me to a candlelit table on Cena’s terrace.
The Insalata Organica, a mix of greens, fennel, and shaved garden vegetables is served with sugarcane white wine vinaigrette. The yin and yang of tart and sweet tossed into crunchy is masterful. The restaurant Specialties: “Grandma’s Lasagna Bolognese” (Chef Dario’s family recipe) and “Chioppino”, made with local seafood in a shellfish broth, are tempting, but the linguine alla moda, enhanced with a lobster tail wins me over. It is a flavorful and decadent mix of dried cherry tomatoes, a raw egg yolk and smoked bacon (butter smoked with chips from a local tree) in a rich cream sauce. My culinary experience reaches a crescendo with a sampling of gelato flavors developed exclusively by the Resort’s culinary team. Mario Alcocer, Executive Chef of the resort, Chef Dario and Randall, the manager, stop by the table to welcome me. They take great pride in the dishes that come out of the kitchen.
Sous Chef Jose Pablo Brenes reigns over Sol y Sombra, a festive Latin inspired Rotisserie and Fish House that captures South America’s authentic traditions and savory cuisines. The al fresco ambiance is inviting with lively nightly music. There’s a made-to-order ceviche bar, and meats, chicken, fish and seafood are cooked on a rotisserie in traditional South American style.
Pablo is a sensitive, focused and brilliant chef who began his culinary journey at 17 in a San Jose kitchen. “When I realized how happy people were with food, I decided to make that my life, and everything else would revolve around it”. Now at 31, he has honed his skills, earned the respect of his peers, and is creating intriguing and ambitious dishes that are as artistically plated as prepared. A perfectionist, Chef Brenes engaged a local artesian to make special ceramic plates to enhance his presentations.
His take on ceviches is unique, and eager to please my palate, Pablo sends out a plate designed to showcase four different and colorful ceviches. There is a mix of :thinly sliced raw fish: queen sea bass with sweet corn, red onion, tomato, cilantro and bell pepper … Chile style mahi mahi … yellow tail snapper …and the “monkey head” seafood combo of octopus, and shrimp marinated with rocoto chili pepper “leche de tigre” peanuts, ginger, cilantro and red onion.
His sushi rolls prove to be just as imaginative, such as the tuna masago with asparagus, mango, and lettuce in a tamarind teriyaki sauce.
Pablo makes his own marinades and glaze for the chicken using honey, thyme, rosemary, chili flakes, tamarind black sauce, lemon, salt, fennel and coriander.
After boiling the mixture, he submerges the whole chicken and refrigerates for 24 hours. Before grilling, he adds garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper and parsley; it then cooks on the outside rotisserie for 45 minutes to seal in the complexity of flavors
His oversized plates are artistically designed to accommodate a sampling of rotisserie specialties: achiote marinated chicken, Mahi mahi wrapped in apple wood smoked bacon, red snapper chipotle, glazed pork ribs and rib eye steak. Not to be overlooked: the wide assortment of divine sauces and sides that compliment and enhance the rich and exotic flavors. My favorites: the tamarind BBQ, tomato oregano, chimichuri, and green plantain sauces …and the fried yucca sticks, served mojo style. Chef Pablo Brenes pushes creativity to an exalted height that hovers on genius.
The Caracol Restaurant, overlooking the Arnold Palmer designed golf course, is the Resort’s premier American Steakhouse. In addition to their signature jumbo prawn cocktail and 14-ounce grilled rib-eye steak with six sauces, they offer an amazing celestial star gazing dining experience (binoculars upon request) with their “Taste of the Stars” Menu. It was developed by Sous Chef Gerardo Astorga in collaboration with Costa Rican astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz: “so people on Earth can see what it is like to dine outside our planet”. The creative dishes, presented with special space stimulated effects, launched my taste buds into orbit… an out of this world ending to a great gourmet visit.
A man from Texas tells me:” When you come to a Four Seasons, you know what you will get and then some. Here in Costa Rica, thanks to the camaraderie of the staff, gourmet culinary surprises and nurturing spa experiences, I lived the essence of “pura vida” and was pampered and pleased “beyond expectations”.
Jet Blue’s non stop from Liberia back to JFK takes less than 5 hours. As always, the airline’s high level of comfort in soft leather seats, and the genuine friendliness of flight attendants, made the trip a relaxing pleasure. I paid for an extra leg room seat and lucked out with three to myself … well worth the premium.
For more info and reservations: http://www.fourseasons.com/costarica
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