Maxi’s Caribbean Restaurant In Santa Ana

Maxi's MenuYes, Maxi’s is now in Santa Ana, in an old converted home that had previously housed the Italian restaurant Casa 97. This is the real deal, folks. Ricky Barthley and his wife, who opened the original Maxi’s some 20 years ago, have moved to the city and brought their famous Caribbean cuisine with them.

On a recent weeknight visit, the place was pretty crowded and festive, with heavy wood furniture, painted in the bright colors of the Jamaican flag, filling several rooms and covered outdoor patio spaces. The menu was Maxi’s traditional menu, with classic Rice ‘n Beans coming served with your choice of chicken, fish, shrimp, steak, pork or lobster, alongside a whole host of other options.

Plantain AppetizerThere’s always Ron Don on the menu, as well as seafood pasta and shrimp in coconut sauce over pasta. The mixed seafood platter, or mariscada is also a longstanding favorite.

I’ll admit it, right off the bat, I have a soft spot for Maxi’s. I first ate at Maxi’s over 17 years ago, when Manzanillo was a forgotten little village at the far end of a rugged dirt road.  And I’ve eaten there regularly over the years. This isn’t fine dining, but it is authentic Costa Rican Caribbean cooking.

Red Snapper Rice 'n BeansWe were served a complimentary appetizer of little bite-sized bowls made of plantain filled with a few different fillings—including guacamole, garbanzos, chorizo and refried beans. All were quite good.

My whole red snapper was on the small size (it’s all they had available, and was priced by weight), but wonderful. Maria Jose’s chicken in peanut sauce was a bit bland, and the sauce itself too thick and lacking in finesse. Fabrizio’s fried chicken did the trick, and the patacones were large, thin and crisp, just the way we like them.

RickyAnother plus, while Maxi’s down in Manzanillo had become a bit of a victim of its own success—too crowded, too loud, sometimes lax service—Ricky and crew are working hard to make a name for themselves in a new spot and are very on top of things.

They don’t have a liquor license yet, but you can bring your own, with no corkage fee.

Longtime fans of Maxi’s in Manzanillo will notice the lack of Barcelona futbol memorabilia, although I was assured it was on its way. I was also assured that the original restaurant was going strong under the care of some relatives.

Maxi’s is located about 350 meters south of Broadway Beauty, which itself is just a few hundred meters outside of downtown Santa Ana on the Old Road to Escazu.

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Who says airline food has to suck?

Meals by Charlie Trotter, Nobu Matsuhisa, Marcus Samuelsson, Michael Chiarello, and a mess of Michelin starred chefs can all be had at over a mile high… if you can afford some of these first & business-class fares.

Travel Tuesday Top 10: Airline Menus by Celebrity Chefs | The Points Guy.

Gastro Bar en el 38

Gastro Bar en el 38Located just off the lobby of the downtown Tryp Sabana hotel inside the Centro Colon, Gastro Bar en el 38 is a chic, new spot equally suited for casual drinks and appetizers or a more formal meal. The décor stands out, with bold colors, striking lighting and a mod-art deco feel. On weekends, the bar can actually get hopping.

Ceviche

The menu features a mix of tapas and contemporary fusion cuisine.  On a recent visit everything was beautifully presented, tasty and perfectly prepared.

Ceviche came with sides of sweet potato chips, avocado and a corn relish. The traditional Andalusian Gazpacho was hearty and flavorful.

 

Pumpkin AgnolottiPasta options on the wide-ranging dinner menu include pumpkin, ricotta and prosciutto filled agnolotti in a burned butter sauce and orecchiette in a rabbit ragú accompanied by garlic chips.

 

TunaThe thick tuna steak was well-seared and served with a herbs de Provence and watercress pesto, while a tender filet of mahi mahi came with a light romesco sauce over sautéed vegetables and lima beans.

 

The tapas menu features a host of traditional favorites: patatas bravas, tortilla espñola, and  shrimp in garlic sauce, as well as a few dishes with Costa Rican and Caribbean influences, including pati and patacones.

GazpachoThe fairly priced wine list is accompanied by a good and varied selection of wines by the glass.

This place offers live music on Thursday evenings, as well as a daily lunch special (plato ejecutivo).

Mixed Bag at The Market

The MarketThe Market is the Hotel Intercontinental’s newest restaurant. A casual and lively spot, they boast a range of “create-your-own” options, particularly in the realm of sandwiches, pizzas, burgers and pasta dishes.

Let me start off with the good. The burgers here are the best I’ve had in Costa Rica. I ordered the lamb burger, a generally risky choice. It came out moist and tender, with fabulous flavor. A companion had the traditional beef burger and was equally impressed.  Other options included fresh tuna, chicken breast and Portobello mushroom burgers.

The BurgerThe buns were wonderful, fresh-baked affairs of perfect size and up to the task at hand, a rare case in this country, where meager, mealy buns often wilt and fall apart before you’re half-way through your burger.  In contrast, at The Market you can choose between classic, whole grain, olive, bell pepper and sesame buns.

Toppings, cheeses and sauces were widely varied and of high quality. I’ll definitely be going back here fo a burger (c7,500).

TunaCarpaccioThe Tuna Carpaccio (c6,000) appetizer was also excellent, as was the homemade ice cream that topped our dessert choice…

However, the Chocolate Opera (c4,250) was inedible. A dry and tasteless layered creation of cake, chocolate and cream it had clearly been sitting in their display case for several days, if not more. Moreover, throughout the meal, service was horrendous.  Unknowledgeable waiters, long waits, and mixed up orders were the norm.  On the plus side here, our complaints to management were met with a healthy correction to the final bill.

The Market Open Kitchen

Costa Rica Goes Locavore – NYTimes.com

Product CCosta Rica Goes Locavore – NYTimes.com.

Costa Rica’s dining scene makes the New York Times and is even presented in a positive light, although I’m obliquely quoted (“Frommer’s described…”) as strongly disparaging said scene.

Oh, well. As one of my hero’s famously wrote: “Do I contradict myself, very well, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” (That’d be Walt Whitman, folks).

That said, the article wisely highlights two of my favorites, Product C and La Pecora Nera (see Rave #1), and points to what hopefully will be a very bright future for the country’s culinary culture.

Rave #3: Grano de Oro Restaurant

Grano de Oro RestaurantThe Hotel Grano de Oro has long been downtown San José’s most elegant boutique hotel. And their in-house restaurant has always been one of my favorites. But they’ve kicked things up several notches of late. Invited for another look on a recent night, I was surprised—and often wowed—by some of the changes and improvements.

Trio of AppetizersThe Grano de Oro now boasts a 110+ label wine list, including several premium wines offered up by the glass. During a pre-dinner visit to the restaurant’s beautiful new wine cellar, we were treated to a tasty ceviche with avocado foam, crisp crostini with homemade pate, and a bite-sized slice of salmon and goat cheese crepe.

Escargot on Garlic FoamOther menu highlights include a slow poached salmon in a vanilla sauce, served with raspberry pearls and green-apple compote. Escargot come already taken out of their shells, sautéed in butter and served over a garlic flan, with a foamy parsley sauce.

Vanilla Poached Salmon

 

Chef Francis Canal has embraced elements of contemporary Fusion cuisine and molecular cooking techniques—without overdoing it or falling into cliché. The palette-cleansing arugula sorbet was cunning, a deft balance of sweet and bitter that perfectly performed its designated task.

Roast Duck

Our main course was a roasted duck breast served with a caramelized fig on a round of roasted butternut squash and sautéed snow peas, all graced with a pate-smeared breadstick.

On this night, the popular Grano de Oro pie, a decadent chocolate and mocha delight that I usually order, was replaced by a delicate dark chocolate globe upon which a warm white chocolate and espresso mixture is poured, melting the whole thing into a lush dessert “soup.”

GrappaWe finished everything up with a smoky grappa from the owner’s private stash, but they do have an ample selection of grappa and other fine after dinner drinks for the general public, as well.

Rave #2: Lola’s

I can’t remember who first turned me on to Lola’s, or when it was. But I do know it was long before the place had been “discovered,” and long before the restaurant’s (original) namesake pet pig had passed on. Simply put, Lola’s is my favorite beachfront restaurant in Costa Rica. It’s the whole package: heavy handcrafted wooden tables and chairs set under large canvas umbrellas and ample shade trees, with feet in the sand. Hammocks are strung between coconut palms and almendros closest to the waves.

Fresh seared tuna is served over an organic micro-green salad or as a sandwich on fresh ciabatta bread. The “Dutch” French fries are crisp and perfect, and come with a homemade garlic aioli. The fresh fruit smoothies are manna on a hot beach day.

Way back when, Playa Avellanas was virtually unknown. Sure, surfers had the steady beachbreak pegged. And beyond them, a handful or so of Tamarindo locals and tourism insiders would meet Sundays at Lola’s.  But that’s about it. Now, if you want a table on Sunday (or most any other day of the week, it seems), you better get there early.

LolaToday, Don and Christi have expanded and opened Lola’s Norte, at the Las Catalinas resort development at Playa Danta, just north of Sugar Beach. The vibe and menu are the same, and the crowds have yet to discover this outlet.

So what’s your favorite beach restaurant in Costa Rica? A few of my runner-ups included Sobre Las Olas in Cahuita, Gusto Beach in Samara, and Playa de Artistas in Montezuma.

***Note: The photo of Lola playing in the water is borrowed from Flickr’s Creative Common’s public use photo section.***