Category Archives: Central America Travel

A hundred days of silence

Medieval grotesques, Basilica Saint Nazarius & Celsus, Carcassonne, France. They no longer frighten me into silence.

Nothing significant about the number 100 just a human penchant for symmetry.  Although I continued to write for publications for which I had deadlines, since February I took time away from my own website to reorganize a significant facet of life – to be settled or wander. Necessity for the change was partly dictated by the end of a long relationship – isn’t that the truth in literature.

But as a life-long traveler – I was barely 20 years old when I went off on a solo year in Europe – the decision I made did not cause much loss of sleep. Okay, a little. Perhaps it was loosing the relationship that caused more sleepless nights, but that’s more for a romance novel than a travel web site, and besides, it ended amicably.

Old & new in the Principality of Andorra

Being a full-time culinary and cultural travel writer since 2009 after a long and varied career as a chef, educator and historian, relocating – having a permanent address – in any number of suitable American locations appeared an oxymoron.  (I’m doing my best not to bring politics into this.)

on Paros Island, Greece

Except for frequent transportation connections – aka waiting – I freely admit being turned-on by the road. Why have an apartment when I don’t have to clean a hotel room? Why cook for myself when as a culinary writer it’s the cuisine of others that I seek? Why agonize over choosing among Earth’s beautiful locations when passport in hand I can be on a beach, hiking in a mountain or rambling through a vibrant urban space.

French House Party, Carcassonne – a loyal sponsor for 3 trips.

That doesn’t mean I seek the life of a wandering gypsy. I do have commitments to publications, fine public relations firms and tourism boards that work with me and my own interests that have already helped shape life for the foreseeable future.

One month ago, after considerable research and several invitations, I embarked on an ambitious seven month schedule that has already taken me to Mexico, France, the Pyrenees Mountain Principality of Andorra and, after several days in Barcelona, currently a long train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside for a return visit to the ancient Roman/Visigoth/Moorish/Spanish city of Cordoba – a personal favorite.

Walls of the 9th century Mezquita mosque, Cordoba

By mid-June I’ll make a long-anticipated visit to Morocco. Having extensive life experiences with Spanish and Latino cultures and cuisine, Morocco – the wellspring of Moorish civilization – is essential in understanding the interplay of cultures that has so influenced the Western Mediterranean, Central and South America.

From Morocco I’ll fly east to the Balkans and a third return to beloved Greece. My smart sponsors for two months in Greece – September and October – not only admire my writing on Greek culture and cuisine, but also recognize my keen interest in history. I’ve always taken a holistic view that the life experiences of people in any region help determine its fascination as a travel destination.

Basilica Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

1917 was the turning point for the Balkans and Greece during the First World War. Thessaloniki in particular is honoring this pivotal year that saw Macedonia and Thrace reunited with southern Greece after centuries of separation during Ottoman rule. Besides continuing culinary and cultural explorations in the north and Halkidiki ­­­– including Mount Athos – the Corinthian coast in the south will be a new region that’ll only add to my Greek experience.

Mt. Athos as seen from Sithonia, Halkidiki, Greece

Prior to my Greek return in September there are the months of July and August which will be filled with culinary and 1917 experiences in the heart of the Balkans including first time visits to Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the city that sparked the world changing conflagration, the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo.

raw oysters, quail egg, sea urchin & golden caviar in Puerto Vallarta

By the 1st of December I’ll have made a full circle from where this adventure started returning to Mexico where I already signed a year-long lease on a beautiful apartment in Puerto Vallarta with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean – and weekly maid service (I still don’t have to clean!) It’s fortuitous that just as life was changing, invitations for two culinary press trips to Puerto Vallarta occupied a month of my life last Autumn. Not only did the city’s excellent cuisine and vibrant culture win me over but solidified my acceptance that being on the road is the life meant for me.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

So a year in one city is not like being on the road? Not necessarily since exploring Central and South America has been part of my writing life since 2009 and Puerto Vallarta will become a hub.

After 2018…I don’t yet need to know. That’s the freedom of being on the road. The hundred days of silence are over, and a hundred articles are sure to follow.

sunset over the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

 

 

 

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So you think you know Mexican food?

“Thankfully, we’re starting to pull away from the idea that all Mexican food means burritos as big as your head.” Chef Rick Bayless 1

Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli
Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli

American Chef Rick Bayless has built his celebrity status on both introducing Mexican regional cuisine to the United States as well as creatively reinterpreting its concepts to a 21st century palate. Naturally the word fusion comes to many people’s mind. Yet fused from where and with what – other ingredients from the Americas?

If you accept that concept – other ingredients from the Americas – than it’s not a fusion (a joining of unknowns) it’s creativity with native sources that form a cuisine of the Americas. It’s estimated that over 50% of commonly eaten foods by North American descendants of European immigrants were unknown to their ancestors prior to 1492 including vanilla, tomatoes, bell peppers, catfish and ducks.

tuna steak from Mexico's northwest coast
tuna steak from Mexico’s northwest coast

So if we can get beyond the self-imposed value judgment of authentic cuisine – aka a real Italian pizza is only made with (American) tomatoes…? – than perhaps we can revel in our human culinary diversity and sit down to an enjoyable meal full of terrific flavors.

When covering the recent 22nd Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, more than one first time visitor to both Puerto Vallarta and the festival commented how they had “no idea” cuisine in Mexico was so varied? The names of several popular American corporate chains of Tex-Mex food were often cited. The festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever-evolving New World cuisine.

Chefs Luis Noriega & Heinz Reize owner of Coco Tropical
Chefs Luis Noriega & Heinz Reize owner of Coco Tropical

Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco to European capitals and Chef/Professor at leading Mexican culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Gula in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. At the November festival Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical on the beautiful beachfront Malecon.

Restaurant Coco Tropical, Puerto Vallarta Malecon
Restaurant Coco Tropical, Puerto Vallarta Malecon

Grilled sesame crusted tuna steak on a bed of mint scented vermicelli may not sound Mexican, but more than half the ingredients are indigenous to the Western Hemisphere and the remainder were introduced through European domination more than 500 years ago. So the recipe is as “American as apple pie” – apples are indigenous of central Asia.

Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli

Ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 500 gr. (16 oz)  fresh tuna steaks
  • to taste                fresh ground sea salt & black pepper
  • 100 gr. (3 oz)     sesame seeds
  • 50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) olive oil
  • 100 gr. (3 oz)     rice vermicelli
  • 50 gr. (1½ tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 10 each              finely chopped leaves of fresh mint
  • 2 each                small ripe avocados
  • 2 each                green chili piquin – very small HOT chilis – finely                                minced – or substitute ½ to 1 teaspoon (hot) hot                                 sauce
  • 50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) sour cream

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 Preparation:

  1. Cook the rice vermicelli according to package directions
  2. Mash the avocados and blend in the chili and sour cream to make either a chunky or a creamy guacamole.
  3. Place the sesame seeds in a bowl, season tuna with salt & pepper and coat the tuna steaks.
  4. Heat  (preferably) a cast iron pan, add the olive oil and sear the tuna steaks for a minute or 2 per side until browned but pink in the middle. Transfer to a cutting board.
  5. Drain the rice vermicelli and toss with butter and the mint.
  6. Divide the vermicelli among 4 plates, top with slices of tuna steak and decoratively add a generous garnish of guacamole.

Serve with a fine Rivero Gonzalez Scielo Blanco (Chardonnay) from Mexico’s Valle de Parras, Coahuila and enjoy New World cuisine.

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.

The 23rd Festival Gourmet International will be held November 10 – 19, 2017.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Restaurant Coco Tropical, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel and Hotel Cathedral.

Footnote:

1 “Let’s Talk to Rick Bayless About Mexican Food.” The National Culinary Review, Vol. 41, Num. 2, American Culinary Federation, February 2017, St. Augustine, FL

Additional Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Oysters two ways in Puerto Vallarta

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Wagu Tatki and Japanese Mexican Fusion

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You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Wagyu Tataki and Japanese Mexican fusion

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki
Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito of Restaurant Zoku in Mexico City epitomizes the international trend that’s creating Mexican New World Cuisine. Born in Japan, grew up in Los Angeles, Chef Kawahito returned to his home country after university studies in architecture. Drawn to Japanese cooking he honed his skills over a decade and a half before returning to Los Angeles.

Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta
Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta

Despite a successful Los Angeles restaurant experience, Mexico attracted Hiroshi, and Zoku offered a venue for his imaginative Japanese inspired cuisine. During the incomparable 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he was guest chef at Casa Magna Marriott’s Japanese/pan-Pacific Rim restaurant Mikado.

The up-scale design of the restaurant with seating surrounding expansive cooking stations allowed participants at Mikado’s festival cooking demonstration an up front experience of Chef Kawahito’s imaginative preparations. Crispy panko crusted giant shrimp from Mexico’s northwest coast rested on a tartar sauce seasoned with Japanese 7 spice. A personal favorite was fresh-shucked local oysters topped with raw quail egg, caviar and sea urchin.

Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX
Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX

The key to Mexico’s New World Cuisine is pairing local ingredients with international preparations. Wagyu beef is now raised in Durango. Sea urchin is available in the Gulf of California.

Wagyu Tataki is quick to prepare. The tender barely seared beef blends well with the subtle brininess of sea urchin. It’s a beautiful dish for a special meal.

For the home cook, wagyu beef is available at good meat markets. Fresh sea urchin is available at Japanese or other specialty seafood markets. Salmon caviar can serve as a substitute.

ingredients for Wagyu Tataki
ingredients for Wagyu Tataki

Wagyu Tataki – 2 servings or 4 as a first course

Ingredients:

  • 2                               3-ounce Wagyu rib eye steak
  • 2 teaspoons       truffle oil
  • 2 slices                  fresh lime
  • 1/3rd teaspoon    Hawaiian black salt or sea salt
  • 2                                sea urchin tongues or 3 tablespoons salmon caviar
  • 2 tablespoons     Japanese ponzu sauce
  • 1                                  radish thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons         finely diced fresh chives
seared wagyu steaks
seared wagyu steaks

Preparation:

  1. Thinly slice the sea urchin tongue and set aside.
  2. Heat a cast iron pan until very hot – a couple drops of water should dance in the pan and quickly evaporate.
  3. Sear the two steaks for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes per side. The steak will be rare but not bleeding. Transfer to a cutting board. Thinly slice each steak and arrange on 2 to 4 plates.
  4. Sprinkle half the black salt on each steak and then 1 tablespoon ponzu sauce and juice from 1 lime slice.
  5. Arrange half the sliced sea urchin or caviar over each steak and drizzle each with 1 teaspoon truffle oil.
  6. Garnish with radish slices and fresh chives.

Although this dish is easy to prepare, why not enjoy a vacation in Puerto Vallarta and feast in the full range of New World Cuisine in Mexico’s culinary powerhouse.   A historic seaport, dining on the beach, the warm water of Bahia de Banderas, beautiful hotels and guest houses make Puerto Vallarta a safe and easy choice for the whole family.

Wagyu Tataki
Wagyu Tataki

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) is served by many international airlines from major cities worldwide.

For the 23rd Festival Gourmet International in November 2017 check the web site: http://www.festivalgourmet.com/en/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the 22nd Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, and the Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa.

More Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Peace, waterfalls and trout in Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest

Looking down on the Central Valley with San Jose in the distance
Looking down on the Central Valley with San Jose in the distance

Leaving the sprawling modern city of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, Maurice Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels and my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica, deftly maneuvered the Toyota Rav4 on the winding roads as we ascended into the Cloud Forest. I was pleased I didn’t have to drive or else my field of vision would have been narrowed concentrating on the well paved but narrow mountain roads on our way to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Instead I could marvel at the panorama of the receding Central Valley as we entered the lush landscape for which this bio-diverse Central American nation is justifiably famous.

a Cloud Forest flower
a Cloud Forest flower

Costa Rica is a landmass equal to 0.03% of the Earth, about 20,000 square miles – the size of Vermont – but accounts for over 6% of the globe’s biodiversity. Just one hour from San Jose the emerald green mountain slopes are thick with coffee plants. Costa Rica leads world coffee production per acre because two trees are planted together.

strawberries & white cheese
strawberries & white cheese

Herds of cows and goats graze wrapped in swirls of misty clouds. Vendors selling large plump strawberries and the country’s ubiquitous balls of fresh mozzarella-like white cheese line village roads.

plants at Parc National Volcan Poas
plants at Parc National Volcan Poas
Volcan Poas
Volcan Poas

We stopped first at one of Costa Rica’s 27 national parks, which along with private wildlife and biological reserves encompasses nearly a third of the country – the largest percentage of protected national land on Earth. Central America is a seismically potent part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and Parc National Volcan Poas encompasses one of Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes. Exacerbated by the temperature differential of the venting volcano, the crater is often shrouded in mist that wafts up the steep walls of the caldera. Yet when the mist parts mineral rich turquoise lakes are visible.

Crafts at the Visitor Center Parc National Volcan Poas
Crafts at the Visitor Center Parc National Volcan Poas

The spacious modern visitor center at Parc National Volcan Poas has fine educational exhibits of the surrounding ecology. The gift shop displays top quality pottery and woodwork from some of Costa Rica’s most famous artists. I was particularly taken with the ingenious creations made from recycled materials such as a life-size toucan crafted from a single automobile tire.

toucan crafted from a single recycled automobile tire with carved wood beak
toucan crafted from a single recycled automobile tire with carved wood beak

Our objective for the day was a visit to the privately owned La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge – one of the Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica. Florida entrepreneur Lee Banks purchased this property with its five spectacular waterfalls with the intention of preserving its pristine biosphere. Visitors take self-guided tours along several miles of well-designed wooden walkways through the hills, along the La Paz River providing numerous vistas of the spectacular falls.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Within the gardens is a large butterfly house with a colorful collection of over 4,000 butterflies from 40 species native to this mile-high environment – only a small portion of Costa Rica’s over 1,200 species. The butterfly conservatory is part of an educational heritage village of pre-industrial rural life.

In the butterfly conservatory, La Paz Waterfall Gardens
In the butterfly conservatory, La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The visitor center complex is the gateway to the gardens and Peace Lodge. The architectural integration of the structures with their native wood and stone mirrors the surrounding environment. Like all Small Distinctive Hotels, the quality of the cuisine matched the beauty of the surroundings.

(left)Vanessa Gonzalez & (right)Executive Chef Diego Seitour
(left)Vanessa Gonzalez & (right)Executive Chef Diego Seitour

Lunch with Vanessa Gonzalez, restaurant manager, and Executive Chef Diego Seitour highlighted the quality of local ingredients and the creativity of Costa Rican talent. Diego’s French grandfather and Argentine born father were chefs. His Spanish mother added an additional culinary insight to his environment. Diego was born in Costa Rica and studied culinary arts in France and Costa Rica but worked in restaurants since he was a boy. I found this mix of talents and culinary backgrounds common in Costa Rica.

sea bass ceviche
sea bass ceviche

Lunch started with a sea bass ceviche. The paper-thin slices of sea bass were garnished with pajibaye – the iconic steamed bright orange Costa Rican fruit of the Peach Palm tree – and napped with a lime, orange juice and olive oil dressing that was bright and intense. Diego adds meat bones to the broth when simmering the pajibaye to provide a depth of flavor uncommon when the fruit is simply cooked in water.

trout Napoleon
trout Napoleon

Surrounding the base of a waterfall adjacent to the swimming pool at Peace Lodge is a large free form trout pond fed by the La Paz River. Chef Seitour uses the organically farmed trout in his menus. His impressive trout Napoleon is a pair of fillets sandwiched between grilled onions and eggplant resting on risotto cakes that have been pan seared. The accompanying vegetables and rice have a smoky flavor, which gives depth to the trout. The fish is glazed with a red and yellow pepper jam.

Papaya Curry soup
Papaya Curry soup

Papaya and Curry Soup blends the natural sweetness of papaya with the spice of curry creating a warm flavored soup.

Diego has assembled an impressive collection of craft beers for Peace Lodge. A local Escalante brew was dark and strong with a distinct hint of chocolate followed by coffee notes that worked well with the warm tones of the soup. Famed Spanish chef Ferran Adrià created Estrella Damm Inedit for Barcelona based Damm S.A. that had strong citrus overtones with a light and effervescent mouth feel. It paired well with both fish dishes.

Peace Lodge
Peace Lodge

Hugging the hillside, the village-like complex of 18 rooms and suites of Peace Lodge are unique. Each is individually designed to integrate the Cloud Forest into the room while providing maximum privacy. Large log beds, stone gas fireplaces – Peace Lodge is 5,300 feet elevation – plant infused bathrooms with their own waterfalls and hot tubs on private patios and balconies are only a few of the serine elements that make Peace Lodge a sought after refuge and honeymoon haven.

Peace Lodge
Peace Lodge

I found it unique that Peace Lodge suggests no more than a three day stay. The expressed purpose is to encourage guests to explore the rest of Costa Rica. After over a week at five Small Distinctive Hotels I was no longer surprised at this sentiment, which seems to run counter to maximizing profits. What makes the Costa Rican experience memorable is the obvious pride both the owners of these beautiful hotels and ordinary citizens from scientist to street vendors have for their peaceful nation and their eagerness to share it with visitors.

trout pond & the swimming pool at Peace Lodge
trout pond & the swimming pool at Peace Lodge

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive to downtown San Jose and an hour to La Paz Waterfall Gardens/Peace Lodge

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Small Distinctive Hotels, 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.

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica
Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

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Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
View of Bay of Banderas from room at Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway

As a chef I usually shy away from all-inclusive resorts. Being a captive audience for a resort’s desire to maximize profits too often results in forced acceptance of less than stellar quality. Yet Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel proves that excellence is by design.

Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
hand painted inspirational quotes on the interior walls throughout the hotel
hand painted inspirational quotes on the interior walls throughout the hotel

Hoteles Buenaventura group was founded over 30 years ago in Puerto Vallarta by a family of engineers and architects with three generations now actively involved. A flair for design is evident in the liberal use of original art that decorates public spaces and rooms as well as the ergonomic comfort that dominates the furnishings. Villa Premiere is one of three resorts under the group’s umbrella along the vibrant shore of the Bay of Banderas.

Infinity pool & bar
Infinity pool & bar
private hot tub/pool on balcony of a corner suite
private hot tub/pool on balcony of a corner suite

Villa Premiere, built in 1999, completed a multi-million dollar renovation in September 2016 under the direction of the second generation family CEO and architect José Abel Villa Fernandez. Not only were all 60 rooms and suites refurbished but the public areas including pools and the three restaurants received major improvements. The adult only Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway exudes comfort, serenity and extraordinary customer service even before you arrive. Upon making a reservation an email is sent with a list of pillow, room scent and mini-bar preferences.

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Guests receive a complimentary neck massage upon registration
sweets
sweets

Guests are presented with glasses of champagne before sitting at the reception desk. After the necessary formalities of registration they’re whisked to one of two masseuses who provide a complimentary neck massage. By the time they’re thoroughly relaxed a staff member escorts the guest to their room where the baggage has already been delivered. A platter may await in the antechamber of the room next to the espresso machine with an attractive arrangement of welcoming sweets. That’s all within the first hour.

pool
pool

 

the hotel gym
the hotel gym

If a guest has opted for the all-inclusive package – highly recommended – the discrete pampering will continue during their stay. An extensive room service menu and a well-stocked mini-bar may entice one to remain in their room gazing out on the pounding surf of the Bay of Banderas from the balcony. Yet the glass walled and open air restaurants, beachfront pool bar, luxurious Mind & Soul Spa, the spacious well equipped gym and the soft sand beach are equally enticing.

exquisite dishes & presentations
exquisite dishes & presentations

cocktailFrom breakfast to late night cocktails, the Villa Premiere’s chefs and mixologists never cease to amaze. Each dish whether it’s traditional mechaca – northern Mexican dried beef scrambled with eggs – a tropical fruit plate, extraordinary seafood soup or a fanciful dessert of faux sweet fried egg with tulle cookie bacon, the skill, quality and imaginative presentations are outstanding. Cocktails are made with the freshest ingredients from superb fresh fruit margaritas (no mixes here!) to the finest scotch.

Trio of breakfast quesadillas: Huitlachoche (mushrooms that grow on local corn) Squash blossom & Mexican sausage
Trio of breakfast quesadillas: Huitlachoche (mushrooms that grow on local corn) Squash blossom & Mexican sausage

Yet the Villa Premiere/Hoteles Buenaventura’s commitment to service goes beyond the paying guest. I met staff members that have been in the family’s employ for years. The young executive chef has been in charge of the kitchen for five years – since he was 24. In an age when longevity in the hospitality industry is often measured in months, that’s a lifetime.

La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta with Villa Premiere GM Allesandro Stifani
La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta with Villa Premiere GM Allesandro Stifani

One evening we were serenaded at Villa Premiere by the La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta, a youth orchestra consisting of at risk Puerto Vallarta teens. Under the direction of an equally youthful Daniel Oliveros and the patronage of Hoteles Buenaventura, these children are learning life skills equal to their newfound musical talents. The success of La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta bodes well for both the city and Mexico.

Luxury linens & appoinments
Luxury linens & appoinments

Puerto Vallarta, unlike many resort cities that I’ve visited worldwide still maintains the charm of its humble beginnings as just another village on the Mexican coast. When discovered in the 1960s it attracted artists, writers and sport fishermen looking for tranquility. Although luxury resorts, condos and beachfront nightlife along the Malecon now entertain thousands, it’s still the gentle rhythmic sound of the surf while drifting off to sleep at Villa Premiere that’ll remind you life is good.

contented cats & craft sellers on La Islita del Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta
contented cats & craft sellers on La Islita del Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway, Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board and Latitude International

Parasailing on the beach in front of Villa Premiere
Parasailing on the beach in front of Villa Premiere

 

You can read more by Marc d’Entremont on Puerto Vallarta:

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica

El Faro Seafood Bisque
El Faro Seafood Bisque

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.

fish tacos El FaroThe 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.

Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park
Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park
El Faro, lighthouse, off Quepos, Costa Rica
El Faro, lighthouse, off Quepos, Costa Rica

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.

Hotel El Faro
Hotel El Faro

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.

stream at El Faro
stream at El Faro

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.

garrobo lizards at El Faro
garrobo lizards at El Faro

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.

Ingredients:

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

Preparation:

  1. 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.

Soup ingredients:

  • 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

Preparation

  1. 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.
  2. Add the white wine, fish stock and herbs. Bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. 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.

El Faro restaurant & pool
El Faro restaurant & pool

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.

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.

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica

Sunset from Villa Caletas ampitheater
Sunset from Villa Caletas amphitheater

Denis Roy emigrated from France with a dream somewhere in his head that materialized into creating a fantasy in Costa Rica. On over 700 acres of improbable, undeveloped coastal and mountain wilderness, using building methods that hearkened back to the days of the pyramids, the hotel, restaurants and spa complex of Villa Caletas and the Zephyr Palace emerged over time. A fusion of river stone castle and tropical Victorian architecture, the 50 rooms range from stunning to awe inspiring.

Villa Caletas ampitheater
Villa Caletas amphitheater

Sunsets from the amphitheater are legendary and views encompass forested hills and ocean from many angles. Yet those beautiful hills required total reforestation due to cattle overgrazing. The lush peaks of today were barren, rocky and eroding into the clear Pacific below. Fifteen hundred trees were planted from the beach up the mountain, and Villa Caletas continues to spearhead major reforestation projects in the region.

Ten percent of electricity is solar powered and all hot water is provided through a system of air conditioner heat transfer. Each room’s air conditioning system uses smart technology reducing the temperature automatically when no one is present and increasing it to a guest’s pre-set comfort zone when they enter their room.

Villas Caletas ocean front
Villas Caletas ocean front

Twenty-five years ago this lush location had no roads, no water and no electricity. Denis had an initial concept to construct a 25 room hotel on this spectacular site with its panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean’s Herradura Bay on Costa Rica’s Central Coast. But cost and engineering reality limited his first venture to eight rooms. Yet Denis was not deterred.

view from suite 88
view from suite 88

Denis Roy is a dreamer who understands that demanding clients will pay for luxury if unique. Waking in the king size bed of my suite, room 88, a panoramic view unfolded through the expansive glass wall overlooking Herradura Bay. After a quick call to the front desk I was picked up in an electric golf cart to meet General Manager Frederick Nepveu and whisked off in a four-wheel drive car down the mountain to the beach for breakfast.

Villa Caletas room 88
Villa Caletas room 88

The slow drive down the steep hill passed Villa Caletes’ hydroponic farm growing herbs and produce. No contact with soil controls pest infestation of the produce. The lush forest teemed with animals and birds in the cool of the early morning.

El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas

The beach complex offers privacy, the well designed El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach and an array of comfortable beach chaise lounges. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Breakfast included fresh extracted organic kale juice, an artful fruit salad and a typical Costa Rican breakfast plate – gallo pinto (black beans and rice) eggs, sautéed sweet plantains, fresh avocado and a wedge of fried white cheese. The gentle lapping of Pacific Ocean waves was the only music necessary.

breakfast at El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
breakfast at El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
Mirador Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Mirador Restaurant, Villa Caletas

Villa Caletas is a complex of buildings set among the lush restored mountain landscape. Small Distinctive Hotels are not for the budget traveler, but if seeking bang for the buck, Villa Caletas delivers in spades. While river stone buildings dominate most of the complex, a graceful Victorian glass and wood filigree building with the Mirador Restaurant tops a jungle of exotic plants and expansive window walls that bring the outside indoors.

Palapa & Serenity Spa, Villa Caletas
Palapa & Serenity Spa, Villa Caletas

A massive traditional open air palapa with hand carved wood pillars set on the edge of a cliff is dedicated to Denis’ passion for yoga, yet has become popular for events up to 300 guests. The Serenity Spa, tucked behind the palapa, is a haven of calm. Providing all the services one expects from a luxury spa, I nearly drifted off to sleep under relaxing hands, scented oils and the soft sounds of water fountains.

The Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas
The Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas

The Zephyr Palace is the crown jewel of this luxe property. Seven massive individually designed and decorated suites provide luxury befitting a palace. Private dining rooms, hand painted ceilings, in room exercise equipment, hand crafted furniture, exotic woods, marble tiles, original art, private infinity pools and televisions that slide into the foot of king size beds at the touch of a button are among just a few of the luxuries in the Zephyr Palace. On the day of my visit the suites were fully booked by a wedding party, not an uncommon occurrence.

Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas
Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas

Providing an atmosphere of effortless comfort requires attention to detail from the eyes and hands of dedicated employees. Many of the managers live on site, including Denis Roy and general manager Frederick Nepveu. Over 150 employees, including 20 gardeners, maintain the 50 room Villa Caletes/Zephyr Palace complex.

wine & civiche, Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
wine & civiche, Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas

For a culinary travel journalist Denis Roy, Frederick Nepveu, Chef Fernando Adaniz and food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo oversee a cuisine that matches the style of Villa Caletas. Lunch started with a trio of ceviche: mango, sea snails and fish paired with a light and lemony chardonnay. Grilled rare yellow fin tuna was accompanied by a timbal of yucca and napped with pipian sauce – roasted pumpkin seeds. A salad included flor de Itavo (yucca) leaves that taste like artichoke hearts. Dessert was a light and cooling sorbet of nancy mirabelle plum.

Lunch at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Lunch at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Sunset cocktail at Villa Caletas
Sunset cocktail at Villa Caletas

Pre dinner drinks at sunset commenced with an orange martini cocktail created especially for me. A long peel of orange rind twisted around the stem of the glass and dipped into the fragrant drink. Its color mimicked the setting sun’s display. The steep Greek inspired Villa Caletas amphitheater adjacent to the open-air Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant is a local destination for observing beautiful sunsets for which Costa Rica has a well deserved reputation. Soft ambient music added to the charm.

Segueing to a cliff side table Chef Fernando Adaniz opened dinner with an amuse bouche of avocado and salmon with crème fraîche on toast. Seafood terrine of lobster, shrimp and mussels with chipotle mayonnaise was followed by an entrée of red snapper rolled around lobster. It was napped with a light egg and mustard seed sauce. A smooth pinot grigio with citrus hints tied together this dinner of fresh seafood.

Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas
Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas

Befitting a luxe hotel dinner, dessert was preceded by a mouth cleansing sorbet of passion fruit. Dessert was an appropriately dense chocolate cake garnished with strawberry and kiwi sauce and cubes of fresh pineapple, papaya and watermelon. Did you know that Costa Rica is the world’s largest grower of pineapples? Villa Caletas, naturally, makes all its breads, pastries and desserts in house. Food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo’s Mexican roots shined when he presented an after dinner tasting of smooth premium tequilas.

Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas
Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas

I had to remind myself that with the gentle evening breeze and lush vegetation surrounding all that it was not long ago that this site was a barren wasteland. That’s why the many infinity pools dotting Villa Caletas become a metaphor for the group of Small Distinctive Hotel owners, managers and chefs this travel journalist interviewed during an eight-day tour – the visions they conjure gazing into infinity. Villa Caletas and Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica provide luxury with a conscience transforming what we destroy into what we desire.

Frederick Nepveu, GM, Chef Fernando Adaniz & Denis Roy, owner/founder Villa Caletas & Zephyr Palace
Frederick Nepveu, GM, Chef Fernando Adaniz &
Denis Roy, owner/founder Villa Caletas & Zephyr Palace

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 Villas Caletas, Small Distinctive Hotels, 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.

An infinity pool view, Villa Caletas
An infinity pool view, Villa Caletas
Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica

(left) Marco Montoya, GM, (right) Executive Chef Francis Canal Bardot
(left) Marco Montoya, GM, (right) Executive Chef Francis Canal Bardot

Executive Chef Francis Canal Bardot is also a farmer. He not only grows many of the organic produce used in the dining room of the Hotel Grano de Oro but also raises the geese for his exquisite foie gras. Yes I’m well aware that will immediately raise controversy, yet that’s due to a common misconception.

Force-feeding geese to grow plump livers is never necessary. Allowing the geese to roam free-range eating healthy food produces the tender succulent livers Chef Bardot uses in creating such imaginative taste bites as his amuse bouche of foie gras topping a scallop. This sensitivity is at the core of Hotel Grano de Oro and tourism in Costa Rica.

Hotel Grano de Oro
Hotel Grano de Oro

The Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica of which Hotel Grano de Oro is a member commit themselves to leaving the smallest possible negative environmental impact on the planet – nothing we humans do is devoid of all negative impacts. From the point of view of creating a luxurious boutique hotel, Canadians Eldon and Lori Cooke used methods well established in that sector of economic development. They became enamored with the beauty and life style of Costa Rica in the 1980s, but disappointed in hotel offerings in its capital San Jose.

Private fountain courtyard for room #6
Private fountain courtyard for room #6

Eldon and Lori Cooke transformed an early 20th century Victorian mansion into a 21 room boutique hotel. Several years later they added the adjacent house owned by the same family expanding to today’s 34 rooms. Each room has a unique interior including number 6 with its own private courtyard garden complete with a fountain.

Connecting the two structures by a modern lobby, original interior courtyard gardens and maintaining many original features such as a second floor hallway of windows overlooking the dining courtyard melds the two structures while adding 21st century conveniences. A rooftop garden in the newer house overlooking downtown San Jose is complete with hot tubs. Discrete signage remind guests to keep noise at a minimum to maintain the Grano de Oro’s atmosphere of being a house guest in a grand home.

Grano de Oro interior gardens
Grano de Oro interior gardens

That’s the luxury side of Hotel Grano de Oro, but this is a Small Distinctive Hotel and, besides the culinary excellence of Chef Bardot, there’s another dimension. Eldon and Lori Cooke became concerned with a social problem that plagues many areas of the world, not just Costa Rica, the sexual abuse of young women. Beyond the abuse were the issues of abandonment, especially of the children that often resulted from abuse, and life long psychological scars.

Eldon and Lori Cooke were instrumental in creating the Asociacion Reaccion en Cadena por Nuestra Ninez and opened Casa Luz (“House of Light”) in San Jose. Casa Luz provides multi-year residential programs for abused teenage mothers and their children and a safe home. The program includes all necessary monetary, emotional and psychological support victims need. Just ask and the front desk will be pleased to discuss this significant humanitarian project while you enjoy the elegance of Grano de Oro, knowing a portion of the hotel’s profits help support this house of light.

(far left) Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels, (top left) Michelle Cooke , (top right) Ciro DeAngles, (far right) Marc d'Entremont
(far left) Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels, (top left) Michelle Cooke , (top right) Ciro DeAngles, (far right) Marc d’Entremont

I had the great pleasure over several breakfasts, lunches and dinners in conversations with Marco Montoya, Michelle Cooke and Ciro DeAngles to learn about Eldon and Lori Cooke’s vision for Grano de Oro. In an age when employee loyalty in the hospitality industry is measured in months, the hotel’s staff are lifers. Marco Montoya, general manager, started his career 25 years ago when the hotel opened.  Chef Francis Canal Bardot has been in charge of the restaurant for 23 years and many of the chambermaids will eventually retire after life long careers.

Eldon and Lori now concentrate on Casa Luz while their daughter Michelle and her Italian husband Ciro DeAngles, a certified sommelier, continue to improve Grano de Oro maintaining the hotel as San Jose premier accommodation. That takes work in Costa Rica, which is blessed with a vibrant tourist industry. Success is in the details and remembering that nothing should be taken for granted. For myself as a chef and culinary travel writer the details are discovered in the dining room.

Grano de Oro restaurant & dining courtyard
Grano de Oro restaurant & dining courtyard

A relaxed yet elegant atmosphere with a staff well trained in the best of European service is the setting for extraordinary cuisine. Chef Bardot misses nothing in creating an international menu that utilizes Costa Rica’s abundance of superb products prepared with classic precision and presented for perfect photo opps. Menu items satisfy all from omnivores such as myself to the most committed vegan.

Not only does Chef Bardot maintain his own small farm, but also most items undergo their fabrication from the foie gras to the smoked salmon in house. The pastry chef – she’s also a lifer at the hotel – makes all the breads and desserts in a dedicated air conditioned pastry kitchen.

Grano de Oro wine celler & grappa in a dedicated glass
Grano de Oro wine celler & grappa in a dedicated glass

Ciro DeAngles personally oversees the Grano de Oro’s select wine cellar. Selections range from Le Garde Malbeck 2014, an Argentine full bodied wine with distinctive cherry notes, Spain’s La Atalaya del Camino, a garnacha tintorera and Monastrell old vine red blend to smooth and fiery grappas that pair well with desserts such as an excellent cheese selection or artistically arranged frozen orange soufflé.

Dinners begin with an amuse bouche, daily special mini dishes created from the chef’s fertile imagination served on spoons. Papaya with salmon and herbs and salmon tartar encasing hard boiled egg at another dinner are meant to make a diner smile.

from top left: papaya with salmon and herbs, foie gras topping a scallop, country pate, timbal of smoked salmon salmon
from top left: papaya with salmon and herbs, foie gras topping a scallop, country pate, timbal of smoked salmon

As a chef I love appetizers. The imagination and artistry in creating a small plate that satisfies both the eyes and the taste buds is the true test of a skilled chef. Chef Bardot exceeds with the selections I enjoyed: mini empanadas with buffalo mozzarella and balsamic reduction, suckling pig rillettes wrapped in homemade brioche with Nubosa Costa Rican craft beer sauce, in house smoked salmon, fennel salad and a creamy tarragon vinaigrette and house made country pate with pistachios accompanied by pickled red cabbage, mushrooms, gherkins and red grain mustard.

from top left: stuffed saddle of rabbit, quinoa cake w/octopus, Duck breasts w/caramelized fig, prosciutto & porcini mushroom mousse chicken breast
from top left: stuffed saddle of rabbit, quinoa cake w/octopus, Duck breasts w/caramelized fig, prosciutto & porcini mushroom mousse chicken breast

Locally raised braised saddle of rabbit stuffed with a mousseline, red wine reduction and potatoes dauphinoise was but one choice in a select entrée menu. A prosciutto and porcini mushroom mousse was encased by a chicken breast. Perfectly grilled rare duck breasts were accompanied by caramelized fig, grilled butternut squash and a pate crostini.

Cream of Pejibaye
Cream of Pejibaye

There are an abundance of fish dishes and some vegetarian options on both the lunch and dinner menus. The lunch menu tantalized with that most iconic of Costa Rican soups, cream of pejibaye. Nearly impossible to have outside of Costa Rica this smooth, tasty palm fruit is a must have when visiting the country. Fortunately, good latino markets in the United States carry preserved palm fruit, and you can follow my recipe for this classic.

A quinoa cake on the lunch entrée menu shined with imagination and taste. Tender chunks of grilled octopus, peas, scallions and herbs blended with the ancient South American grain of quinoa accompanied by a tomato relish was light yet filling but most of all perfectly executed.

from top left: Eggs Benedict, omelet w/spinach & mushrooms, poached eggs in truffle cream, fresh local fruit
from top left: Eggs Benedict, omelet w/spinach & mushrooms, poached eggs in truffle cream, fresh local fruit

Breakfast receives the same attention to detail. Freshly squeezed organic juices, plates of glistening fruit and homemade sweet breads certainly provide energy for a day of exploring. Yet poached eggs in truffle cream with oyster mushrooms and asparagus or eggs benedict with a white hollandaise may make you question whether you should just remain at Grano de Oro and eat all day.

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 and Hotel Grano de Oro

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of  Hotel Grano de Oro, Small Distinctive Hotels, 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.

Cheese tray
Cheese tray
Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica

Tom Nagel, founder & owner, Hotel Cuna del Angel
Tom Nagel, founder & owner, Hotel Cuna del Angel

The fresh butter spread easily onto whole grain bread. Rich in chia seeds, the tender yet appropriately dense bread was yet another tasty creation of Tina, Hotel Cuna del Angel’s pastry chef. If gluten intolerant, everything served at Cuna del Angel is safe to eat and to all other guests it’s simply delicious.

A quick read of the classic European inspired menu at the La Palapa restaurant gives guests not a clue their dining health is being guarded. An array of breads vies with such classics as spinach tagliatelle with artichokes, beef tenderloin accented by porcini mushrooms, and a presentation of greens in the Jungle Salad that’s an evocation of the surrounding forest. Deeper reading reveals the pastas are made from cassava, lentil and garbanzo bean flours and many of the salad’s greens are sustainably harvested.

Gluten free spinach tagliatelle with artichokes
Gluten free spinach tagliatelle with artichokes

German by birth, Tom Nagel’s passion for natural healthy eating developed over time and was accelerated by organic farm ventures in Spain. Drawn over a decade ago to the climate, business potential and progressive farming methods practiced in Costa Rica, Tom’s vision for Cuna del Angel’s La Palapa dining room was to be a discrete haven of healthy eating. Second hand experience with celiac disease made the 100% gluten-free decision easy.

Hotel Cuna del Angel, Costa Rica
Hotel Cuna del Angel, Costa Rica

The Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica, of which Cuna del Angel’s a member, take pride in living sustainable tourism. Hotel Cuna del Ángel has the highest recognition – five leaves – by the Costa Rica Tourism Board through its Certificate for Sustainable Tourism program. To Tom, caring for the cradle (cuna) of the angels is a reciprocal arrangement with the guardians of human life.

Demonstrating this commitment to local, organic and sustainable foods and sources is as close as Tom Nagel’s own farm. Many of Cuna del Angel’s vegetables, greens, herbs, legumes – and eggs – are grown using hydroponics or permaculture agricultural methods. The farm produces its own natural fertilizer utilizing a bio digester with its methane gas byproduct channeled to other uses. A natural wood vinegar herbicide is made through a distillation process that condenses a smoldering fire of wood and banana leaves.

Tom's organic chocolate, Cuna del Angel
Tom’s organic chocolate, Cuna del Angel

Honey for Cuna del Angel’s kitchen is harvested from the farm’s hives but only from the upper layers so as to minimize disturbance to the colony. Four hundred cocoa trees discovered on the farm produce the dense, smooth dark Tom’s Chocolate Bar, but they’re not for sale. Tom donates the bars for charity fundraisers and uses them as a delicious business card.

La Palapa dining room
La Palapa dining room

All of these techniques take time, but to Tom the alternatives are not debatable. Even the hotel’s design is an expression of a vision that it is possible to find balance in life and space. La Palapa dining room is homage to the traditional indigenous culture’s sense of orienting life according to energy points – the web site has a complete explanation. The soft ambient lighting in the open walled dining room that overlooks the jungle and Pacific Ocean is certainly conducive to calmly enjoying fine cuisine.

Gluten free bread at Hotel Cuna del Angel
Gluten free bread at Hotel Cuna del Angel

Meals usually start with bread and a gluten-free menu easily complies. Cultures worldwide have been making bread products from non-gluten flours for millenniums. Chef Tina at Cuna del Angel uses corn, rice and yucca flour blends. All baked items, ice creams and other desserts are made in house. Gluten-free hors d’oeuvre bread with a chewy cracker texture was served with a seasoned butter of capers and olives. Whole grain bread speckled with chia seeds was indistinguishable from its wheat flour compatriots. It was simply an excellent slice of bread.

Jungle Salad, Cuna del Angel
Jungle Salad, Cuna del Angel

The aforementioned Jungle Salad featured kutuk leaf, Jamaica leaf, organic spinach and watercress with oil and balsamic. The variations in texture and color are as interesting as their source. All grow as bushes so harvesting is by trimming as the plant continues to produce.

Fillet of snook in basil sauce
Fillet of snook in basil sauce

Soups included an earthy cream of porcini and truffle that tasted like the forest after a summer rain. Bright reddish orange cream of pajibaye is a true Central American treat. The fruit of the Peach Palm, cooked pajibaye has a dense butternut squash texture and color. Its flavor has notes of pumpkin with a touch of lemon juice. Classic entrees of baked fillet of local snook was bathed in a bright green basil sauce, while the flavor of pork tenderloin – only prepared well done – was sparked by tangy tamarind sauce.

flambé mangoes Cuna del Angel
flambé mangoes Cuna del Angel

The imaginative dessert creations are impressive especially given that they are prepared as a component to a balanced meal and not just an extravagant indulgence – but don’t remind your endorphins. Nothing is more iconic of formal dining than French table service and Roberto Bonilla Campos did appropriate justice with flourishes to table side flambé mangoes in brown sugar butter sauce with Grand Marnier and Courvoisier. Gluten-free crepes are available, but the rich mango was terrific with house made vanilla bean ice cream.

Sorbets at Cuna del Angel
Sorbets at Cuna del Angel

Fortunately it was possible to taste the desserts over several meals, so the chocolate, pistachio, passion fruit and honey ice creams are as luscious as the vanilla. Tart Tartin had as flakey and buttery a crust as any Parisian patisserie, and passion fruit pie had a firm but creamy chiffon-like texture with a zing of citrus to compliment its natural perfume.

Hotel Cuna del Angel has sixteen spacious rooms with balconies facing the ocean in the main building and seven in the Jungle Villa. The Jungle Villa has a tree house vibe as the balconied rooms are built into the forest. Wellness at the hotel extends beyond gluten-free foods to the attractive spa and the extensive list of outdoor activities in the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

Guest room, Cuna del Angel
Guest room, Cuna del Angel

Located in the hills above a quiet and secluded stretch south of Playa Dominical, the hotel is ideally situated for half and full day excursions for a plethora of activities including Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, forest hiking and canopy tours, sport fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding, whale and dolphin watching as well as ten nearby beaches. The front desk will help with any arrangements. Or relaxing at the hotel’s infinity pool surrounded by the jungle with the chirping of birds might be the best prescription for wellness. Active or passive, a guest will be cradled at Hotel Cuna del Angel.

View of the Pacific from Hotel Cuna del Angel
View of the Pacific from Hotel Cuna del Angel


When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (
SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Getting around: Costa Rica has an extensive inter city bus system and many tourist van options. The easiest transportation is renting a car. Costa Rica’s road system is generally in good condition.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel Cuna del Angel, Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads safe and comfortable.

DSC_5783

 

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

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Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish

Cream of Pejibaye
Cream of Pejibaye

Pejibaye (pronounced pay-hee-by-yay) is the fruit of the Peach Palm tree. It’s indigenous to Central and tropical South America and for centuries has been a staple before and after European invasions in the 16th century. About the size of a plum, the bright reddish orange fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates and remains wildly popular, especially in Costa Rica.

pejibaye on the vine
pejibaye on the vine

The Peach Palm tree (bactris gasipaes) not only produces large clusters of fruit for 50 to 75 years but also is a major source for heart of palm that’s favored worldwide. From street vendors to top chefs Costa Ricans adore pejibaye. The thick-skinned raw fruit must be simmered in salted water from one to three hours before eating – it’s difficult to over cook the dense butternut squash like textured fruit.

Costa Ricans enjoy cooked pejibaye as a snack sliced and dipped in mayonnaise and sometimes coated in corn meal and fried. Chef Diego Seitour at Peace Lodge adds thin slices to his incomparable Ceviche Tucurrique of sea bass. Chef Francis Canal Bardot of San Jose’s premiere hotel and restaurant Grano de Oro, features the fruit in its most popular incarnation as cream of pejibaye soup.

Chef Diego Seitour at Peace Lodge Ceviche Tucurrique of sea bass with garnish of thin slices of pejibaye
Chef Diego Seitour at Peace Lodge Ceviche Tucurrique of sea bass with garnish of thin slices of pejibaye

 

pejibaye with mayonnaise
pejibaye with mayonnaise
Cooked pejibaye
Cooked pejibaye

The dense texture of pejibaye ideally lends itself to soup. Yet as is common with a national dish, there is no one authentic recipe. The simplest are purees of cooked fruit with onions, water, a little milk and perhaps some garlic and cilantro. Other recipes include chicken or vegetable stock, cream and any number of additions such as celery, bell peppers, butter, carrots, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves.

What I’ve created is in keeping with my culinary belief that a recipe should enhance and not mask the natural flavor of the prime ingredient. I also like the silky mouth feel of adding heavy cream and the depth of flavor from a good chicken stock.

pejibaye
pejibaye

In North America it’s nearly impossible to find fresh pejibaye, even in Latino markets – the raw fruit is little known and perishable. In Florida, where I live, it is available in Latino markets preserved in jars ready to eat – after peeling the skin, splitting the fruit and removing the seed.

Cream of Pejibaye Soup – 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 12 pejibayes
  • 4 cups of well flavored chicken stock
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 roasted red pepper plus a couple tablespoons cream
  • ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro

Preparation:

  1. If you happen to have raw pejibayes, cover with cold water and add ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for at least one hour. Cool enough to handle and peel off the skin with a small sharp knife. Cut the fruit off the seed – the fruit will be dry and easy to separate from its seed. If you’re using ready to eat pejibayes in a jar, drain, rinse in cold water, peel and slice.
  1. Preheat the oven to 400° and place the whole red pepper in a small baking dish. Roast the pepper for 30 to 40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, until soft and the skin is slightly brown. Remove the pepper to a small bowl, cover and let cool. When cool enough to handle slip off the skin, remove the seeds, slice in strips and set the roasted pepper aside.
  1. Melt the butter in a heavy four quart saucepan.
  1. Add the diced onion and celery and cook over medium low heat until the onion is soft, transparent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for two additional minutes.
  1. Add the sliced pejibayes and chicken stock. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  1. While the soup is simmering, heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat just until small bubbles appear in a ring around the pan. Add the cream and white pepper to the soup and turn off the heat.
  1. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or transfer in batches to a blender and liquefy – I prefer using an immersion blender directly in the pot.
  1. Puree the roasted red pepper in a blender or with an immersion blender adding just enough cream to make a smooth sauce.
  1. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with a flourish of red pepper puree and a sprinkle of cilantro.
Roasted sweet red pepper, skin & seeds removed to be pureed with cream
Roasted sweet red pepper, skin & seeds removed to be pureed with cream

There are conflicting Internet statistics on the caloric content of pejibaye. The calorie counts on sites range from an outrageous 1,100 calories per fruit to a low of 56. On the jar of prepared fruit I’m using the nutritional label indicates 190 calories for three pejibaye – 65 per fruit. Considering the fruit is not sweet, I find it difficult to believe any higher figure. Regardless, it’s an easy, nutritious and flavorful national icon of beautiful Costa Rica – ps: and farm animals love pejibaye.

Chef Francis Canal Bardot cream of pejibaye soup, hotel and restaurant Grano de Oro, San Jose
Chef Francis Canal Bardot cream of pejibaye soup, hotel and restaurant Grano de Oro, San Jose

 

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Peace Lodge – La Paz Waterfall Gardens,  Hotel Grano de Oro, Small Distinctive Hotels, 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.

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar

 

You can read additional articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

 

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