Hotel El Faro’s Executive Chef Ali Garita Fonesta makes the finest seafood bisque that I as a chef journalist has ever tasted in all my international travels. Besides the talent necessary to create such a delectable dish, location to the freshest fish and seafood is essential. Quepos on Costa Rica’s central Pacific Coast is that ideal location.
The Pacific Ocean coastline of Costa Rica is a veritable super market for some of the freshest sustainable seafood available. Costa Rica has strict laws governing commercial fishing – catch and release only for sports fishing.
Only forty some miles south of Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose, the Central Pacific Coast has been popular with locals and expats for decades. Besides the warm water of Manuel Antonio National Park and the shrikes of the holler monkey, Quepos is a quintessential beach town. Lush vegetation surrounds a jumble of beach houses, B & Bs, hotels, restaurants and bars.
From the waterfront the landscape rises dramatically up tropical forested hills. Sitting high up the hills is Costa Rica’s unique shipping container Hotel El Faro. From every balcony is a view of the dramatic swimming pool and its namesake the El Faro (lighthouse) clearly visible on its small rock island in the harbor.
The use of shipping containers as unique modular housing, given the tiny house movement, is in line with Costa Rica’s drive for ecologically sensitive living. The repurposed containers provide all the amenities any guest would desire. Sizes range from compact to suites with efficiency kitchens.
Although the location is positioned on a dramatically steep location the hotel provides transport from its reception area and parking lot to the hotel rooms. The reception area is at the base of an impressive tropical plant and rock landscaped stream that flows from the hotel high on the hill. It’s a favorite habitat for Costa Rica’s impressive garrobo lizards which are virtual pets of the El Faro.
Yet it’s the restaurant that’s the El Faro’s most impressive feature. Under the talented hands of Chef Ali Garita Fonseca this open air venue at the edge of the hotel’s infinity pool is ideal. The location is perfect and the cuisine equals the view. All the selections I sampled were superb, but the Pacific Seafood Bisque was outstanding.
Chef Ali Garita Fonseca’s El Faro Seafood Bisque – 2 to 4 servings depending if it’s a first course or the entrée.
Notes: This is not inexpensive for the average North American but well worth the cost, time and effort. Although a cook can substitute packaged seafood stock, the dish’s unique flavor begins with a home made fish stock. Since it’s best to purchase a whole small red snapper simply ask the fish monger to give you the head and tail after filleting the fish.
For the fish stock:
- Head and tail of a filleted red snapper or other firm white fish
- medium onion peeled and chopped
- 2 to 3 stalks of fresh celery
- small bunch of rinsed cilantro
- 1 to 2 chopped tomatoes
- 1 peeled carrot
- 6 cups cold water
- salt and pepper to taste
- Add all the ingredients to a pot and cover with the cold water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 to 60 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock. Discard the solids.
- 4 tablespoons sweet butter
- 1 large sweet bell green pepper chopped
- 1 large chopped onion
- 4 chopped celery stalks
- 4 garlic cloves chopped
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 4 cups fish stock
- 2 ounces chives chopped
- 1 ounce of fresh chopped cilantro
- 4 ounces shrimp in the shell
- 8 to 12 ounces of red snapper fillets or other firm white fish
- 4 ounces of cleaned clams in the shell
- 4 ounces of cleaned mussels.
- 8 ounces of lump crab meat or 16 ounces of crab legs in the shell
- 6 ounces of sliced octopus – tubes &/or tenticles
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the peppers, onion, celery and gently cook for 5 to 8 minutes until soft but not browned.
- Add the white wine, fish stock and herbs. Bring to a gentle simmer.
- Add all the fish and seafood. Cover and gently simmer for 5 to 8 minutes or until the clams and mussels open.
You may want to garnish the bisque with additions of steamed rice, common in Hispanic cuisine, and spritzes of fresh lime.
When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Hotel Villa Caletas on the Central Pacific Coast region of Puntarenas is an hour and fifteen-minute drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport.
Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel El Faro, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.
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