French cuisine has a reputation for being fussy food with small portions, the desserts rich and decadent. At Pastelería y Café Eiffel in Santa Ana, southwest of San José, the desserts certainly live up to this billing, but savory dishes are light, delicious and anything but fussy.
A favorite stop of ours for several months now, Eiffel is a small, brightly lit café that is something of a local secret, though word seems to be getting out – several friends now count Eiffel as one of their favorites, too. Outdoor seating under umbrellas next to gurgling pools adds to the feel of a sidewalk café. Indoors, a 25-foot photograph of the EiffelTower, taken from a tourist’s vantage point below, combined with a delicious fruit tart and a cappuccino, might just make you think you’re in Paris, at least for a few minutes.
Pamela Batalla, chef and co-owner of Eiffel, has no shortage of great cooks in her family. Batalla first learned to cook from her grandmother (one of the driving forces behind the Hotel El Tirol in Heredia, north of San José), then headed to the French Culinary Institute in New York to learn pastry and cake making. Batalla combined college marketing classes, her cooking background and her father’s business acumen to open Eiffel in January 2005.
The menu’s savory dishes are typically light (one must save room for dessert!) and very reasonably priced. Favorites are the crepes, made with a thin, herbed batter and stuffed with a variety of fillings (¢1,500/ $2.90). We love the “Vegetarian” crepes stuffed with hummus, alfalfa, avocado, carrots and lettuce, and topped with a peanutcilantro dressing. Other crepes include the roasted red pepper with cheese and basil, topped with an herbed cream cheese dressing, and the chicken crepes with guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese and sour cream. At about $3 for a plate of three crepes, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the choices.
The house salad is piled high with herb baked chicken, avocado, heart of palm, tomato, roasted red peppers, corn, garbanzo beans and garlic croutons. Or how about the Thai salad? Chicken, peanut sauce, carrots and sweet red peppers served on a bed of lettuce with peanut-cilantro dressing. Pair any salad (¢2,050/$4) with a sandwich or crepes for a light yet filling and inexpensive meal.
Speaking of sandwiches, Eiffel offers a variety to choose from, but, to be honest, since we love the crepes so much, we have never ordered one.However, friends of ours have said that the “Bistro” (ham, camembert cheese and pears with a rosemary and garlic dressing, ¢2,300/$4.50) and the ham and caramelized onion (with apples and cheese, ¢2,100/$4) are delicious. All sandwiches come with a small side salad; paninis (¢1,700/$3.30) do not.
Of course, the perfect ending to a delicious meal is an extraordinary dessert.
Batalla uses classic French techniques with her own approach of infusing tropical fruits and flavors, giving traditional desserts an exotic twist. One of the most wonderful – and most difficult – things about Eiffel is choosing from the variety of petit fours offered. How about a tartlet of caramel and dark chocolate, topped with shaved white chocolate? Or a pear and ginger tart?
Brownies, éclairs and biscotti vie for top billing, alongside savory items such as mini quiches, caramelized onion and blue cheese tarts and mini pizzas. Most small petit fours and savories are under ¢500 ($1), so go ahead and choose several.
More substantial desserts include the delectable (and rich) Eiffel cake: several layers
of chocolate cake interspersed with chocolate mousse and milk chocolate cream. Dessert Belgian waffles are huge and not for the faint of heart (or stomach). The chocolate waffle (¢2,900/$5.60) is topped with chocolate mousse, Nutella, sugared nuts and whipped cream, and is a personal favorite (who can resist a pairing of chocolate and waffle?). For those who prefer their waffle a bit more on the traditional side, a butter and maple syrup version is also available (¢1,500/$2.90); the lemon cream and strawberry (¢2,300/$4.50) also makes a delicious, yet light, combination.
A variety of hot and cold beverages round out the menu, including the requisite cappuccinos and lattes, as well as chai (iced or hot), iced caramel cappuccino (perfect for hot days in the Valley of the Sun) and naturales made to order with fresh fruits.
The waitstaff is always friendly and helpful without being overbearing. For Batalla, Eiffel is the culmination of her dream to show that French cooking, and pastries in particular, can be light and infused with local, tropical flavors.
Now that the secret is out, head over to Santa Ana for this delicious taste of France, whether for a full lunch or coffee and desserts. You won’t be disappointed.
Pastelería y Café Eiffel is in Via Lindora commercial center, 400 meters north of the AutoMercado in Pozos de Santa Ana. It’s open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 282-0184 or visit www.pasteleriaseiffel.com.