He’s back, and he’s cookin’. Toronto -born, Tamarindo-seasoned Derek Furlani, one of the most exciting chefs on the dining scene in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, has once again grabbed the culinary spotlight with etcetera, his new dining emporium.
Hefty Furlani is like a force of nature, bursting with ideas, talent and energy. For five years he captained The Lazy Wave Food Company, arguably the best restaurant in town, where locals and tourists flocked for seriously good food at laughably low prices. Furlani did it all: creating sophisticated, up to-the-minute menus that incorporated whatever the local fishermen brought that
day, and cooking in an open kitchen where
customers could sit and chat while he
But like many larger-than-life personalities, Furlani makes an easy target. Most locals adored his restaurant, but a few griped about too-loud music and too frenetic an atmosphere. Running a restaurant seven days a week, year-round, will take its toll on anyone’s energy, so, sadly, Furlani sold The Lazy Wave three years ago. He busied himself in the United States, working on qualifying as an executive chef with the American Chef Federation. Last year, he came back to Costa Rica to search out a location for his newest concept, and came to the same conclusion he reached years ago: Guanacaste is where the money is, and Tamarindo, on the northern Pacific coast, is still the hottest restaurant market.
The new restaurant’s catchall name says it all. Not only is the menu a smorgasbord of cuisines, but the dining spaces are also a mosaic of ambiences. The prime location is hard to miss, just two blocks from the beach, en route to Playa Langosta, where the most expensive hotels, villas and vacation homes are. This is a huge space with room for, eventually, 140 tables, and an atmosphere to match every mood.
Up front, there’s a casual, family-friendly terrace with shiny aluminum café tables and chairs, and a curvy, mosaic counter, perfect for groups or singles looking for company. Inside, next to the gleaming state-of-the-art kitchen, is a small, elegant, formal dining room. Out back, there’s a large, covered terrace, a vast patio open to the stars, and a thatch-roofed rancho with a few romantic tables for two. Service is pleasant but a little uneven; with so many tables, Furlani has had to hire and train a lot of new local servers who will, no doubt, improve under his tutelage.
The dinner menu changes daily, but you can count on lots of local seafood. Light eaters can piece together a meal from the lengthy list of interesting, hearty appetizers: feta cheese-stuffed portobello mushrooms (¢3,390/$6.80), crispy calamari rings with tzatziki sauce (¢5,085/$10.20), a bucket of braised pork side ribs in a barbecue glaze (¢5,085) or a sampler plate of three kinds of local sausage (¢3,390).
I was seduced by the wahoo carpaccio, tender, pale-pink slivers of fish in a savory marinade, crunchy with sea salt and highlighted with red onions, green snow peas and shavings of real Parmesan cheese (¢3,390).
The star appetizer, though, has to be the Oysters Rockefeller, flash-frozen, plump oysters flown in from Texas, perfectly cooked in their shells, resting on a bed of tender green spinach and bathed in a succulent garlicky sauce, then gratinéed (¢6,085/$12.20) A rarity anywhere in the country, these tasty oysters alone are worth a trip to Tamarindo.
Choosing a main course from the vast menu is a challenge. My dining companion and I couldn’t decide among the fish specials, the curried lamb and the couscous-stuffed pork chop, so Furlani sent out a mixed sampler of his favorites. The corvine filet in lime butter was, as all fish is in Furlani’s expert hands, perfectly cooked: crusty on the outside, moist on the inside, with a citrus tang and another crunch of sea salt for texture and flavor. A sliced Black Angus flank steak, imported from the U.S. state of Idaho, was tender and lean and came with a garlicky chimichurri sauce. The tempura lobster and shrimp got mixed reviews. The batter was a little too heavy and dry for the lobster tail, but worked well with the juicier shrimp.
As in his Lazy Wave days, Furlani goes overboard on the vegetables. The huge, personal side plates of vegetables are masterpieces of flavor and artistry: picture a dark green mound of spinach set off by a creamy white mound of buttery-rich mashed potatoes, a dollop of bright-red creamed beets, warm-yellow summer squash and carrots in a red wine and tomato sauce.
After eating all your vegetables, you can’t even think of dessert, which is not a big loss, because the dessert menu so far doesn’t live up to the rest of the food. Options lighter than the ice cream and pastry-heavy desserts offered might work better.
At first glance, dinner prices look a little on the high side, but they’re commensurate with the going rate in tourist-rich Tamarindo. And you can’t beat the quality – and quantity – at etcetera. No one will ever leave here hungry.
Lunch is a much cheaper proposition, but the lunch menu presents the same challenge as dinner: what to choose from an eclectic, enticing menu that includes interesting salads, such as chicken mango in orange dressing (¢3,390) and a grilled vegetable salad with basil vinaigrette (¢3,390)? There are also a classic tortellini in brodo soup with Parmesan cheese (¢1,356/$2.70) and savory hot sandwiches on homemade bread, including what Furlani is calling a Breaded California Sandwich (¢3,390), though any Toronto food lover knows Furlani’s version – a breaded pork schnitzel smothered in marinara sauce and optional roasted peppers – is a delicious homage to the legendary veal sandwiches of the old Monarch Tavern in Toronto’s Little Italy.
Another popular lunch choice is the Vietnamese Noodle Bowl, a big bowl of healthy, satisfying cellophane noodles tossed with cucumbers, tomatoes, daikon, ginger and your choice of garlic sautéed shrimp (¢3,955/$7.90), grilled barbecue pork (¢3,051/$6.10) or spicy chipotle chicken (¢3,051). I can vouch for the excellence of the chicken version.
Don’t leave etcetera without at least one person in your party ordering the fries. In Lazy Wave days, customers would come from miles around just for a plate of Furlani’s hand-cut, crisp shoestring fries. This time around, he has gone one even better: Black Truffle Frites (¢1,130/$2.25), cooked in truffle oil and served with garlic mayonnaise and crisp, fried parsley sprigs. They are simple and sublime.
Furlani’s latest enterprise is off to a great start. In offering such an eclectic menu, though, the restaurant runs the risk of coming off a little helter-skelter. You know the food will be good; you’re just not quite sure where you are, gastronomically speaking. On the plus side, there really is something to suit every taste. With his excellent instincts and a little fine-tuning, I think Furlani will quickly bring etcetera into perfect food focus.
Located in downtown Tamarindo, between BAC San José and High Tide Surf Shop, the restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menu prices include 13% sales tax but not the obligatory 10% service. Credit cards are accepted. For information, call 653-0100.