With a full month ahead of us in Costa Rica, and most of our time to be spent in small towns and country, we decided to splurge on something different during our one-day stay in San José. The road ahead has plenty of local fare and my curiosity was piqued when La Terrasse popped out at the top of the list. Trip Advisor has been terrific for good tips and I join the chorus of praise for this place.
I wrote to Chef Patricia Richer ahead of time to make reservations. She got right back to me. In this, I encourage you to do the same when it comes to making a reservation. She and her husband, Gérald (who comprises the wait staff of one) have created an intimate, boutique experience in dining: more along the lines of the traditional French table d'hôte. The evening when we went, there was one other couple and a table of five. That was it for the evening!
Patricia and Gérald moved to San José from Toulon in France a number of years ago and opened La Terrasse. As an aside, I love France and the French and enjoyed the opportunity to chat with them over the course of the evening. Their idea for the restaurant is to provide a unique experience based on fine food, a pleasing and relaxed environment and great service--all on a small scale. They are not interested in getting bigger and truly delight in crafting an evening where food, ambience, and the intangibles of an evening on the town come together. The clientele, according to Gérald, is a mix of folks from North America, some Europeans, Costa Ricans who have traveled to France, as well as well as the diplomatic/political/international community, including the French Embassy, the Alliance Française (French cultural centre), and the Costa Rican Foreign Office, which is around the corner.
So, about the food… The evening started with a modest amuse-bouche: small muffins with a shot glass of pesto. My wife and I decided that our palates were, indeed, well-amused that we would have been happy doing shots of pesto for the rest of the evening. But no…. there was more!
For appetizers, we ordered escargots in a mushroom cream sauce (it is a French restaurant, after all). The snails were tender and soaked in a light, wild mushroom sauce and topped with fresh sprigs of herbs. We also opted for goat cheese profiteroles. The pastries were light, delicate with an airy goat cheese and accompanying greens--including a type of spinach which neither of us had encountered before. They, along with every course, were beautifully composed on the plate.
It took a while for us to decide on a main course. It is not that the menu is vast; more that everything has been thoughtfully considered and beckons with its own tastes. My wife ordered the seafood cassoulet which was especially noteworthy for the freshness of ingredients and delicate balance of flavours. With this came a side of risotto--a nice complement. I equivocated between the beef bourguignon, veal and duck--and finally decided on the latter. The duck breast was cooked to perfection--rosé, or slightly pink in the middle. The sauce was, again, delicate and fruity and matched the duck perfectly. Here, too, the presentation was beautiful.
We were also treated to a vegetable flan which seemed like a like a cross between a quiche filling and a soufflé. Again, a nice surprise from Chef Patricia.
The wine list is limited and/but carefully curated to the menu. We ordered a tasty bottle of cabernet sauvignon from the Carcassonne region. While this was more appropriate to the duck, my wife was delighted with the choice.
To round out the evening, Gérald came round with a taste of his "artisinal" after dinner drink--a combination of pear, apple, cinnamon and other spices aged in a rum base for 6-8 months. This served as dessert for us as, after 3 hours of delicious fun, we ran out of time and room!
For all of the French artistry, this is not a pretentious place (or couple for that matter). They came to Costa Rica, in part, to reinvent and rethink the best of what French cuisine represents--which is still, at its heart, about both food and social grace its best.
By most world currency standards, this is not an expensive place. By local standards, it is pricey. The above came to just over US$100 or about €73. Not bad for for a truly delightful evening for two--but not a backpackers' special ;)
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