The team was all gung ho for a Saturday night on the town, so five of us headed to Crokante restaurant, pub and gallery, which opened its doors last July in Barrio Otoya, an old residential enclave in northern San José, now bustling with small hotels, art galleries, gift shops, trendy restaurants and cafés.
Housed in a restored old house, Crokante is not as pretentious as some of its competitors in nearby Barrio Amón. It is divided into three areas: the pub, with its informal atmosphere; the terrace, a cool spot for lunch, overlooking the old railway track; and the main dining room, which features the simple, modern decor of a chic café. A large mahogany-colored bar, polished stone floors and simple, wrought-iron furnishings, as well as rotating art exhibits by international and local artists, are all part of the scene.
Crokante offers a wide selection of international and fusion cuisine, a good, reasonably priced wine list and a large choice of cocktails and liquors. Main courses include various cuts of steak, chicken, fish, seafood and pastas priced from ¢2,500-4,500 ($4.80-8.70) including tax, but not 10% service.
One would be hard pressed to find a Tbone, salmon or mixed seafood platter at these prices anywhere around town. However, we didn’t sample any main courses, though they looked very good, because we decided to share a variety of hot and cold appetizers instead.
The beef and salmon carpaccios were both accompanied by a green salad and hummus – a strange but interesting combination of Middle Eastern and Italian that received no complaints. The grilled vegetables were smothered with gooey mozzarella cheese, as were the extremely tasty mussels.
Some of us felt there was too much cheese, or that perhaps another type of cheese would have been a better choice, particularly with the mussels. There was nothing chewy about the crispy, breaded calamari or the Crokante chicken wrapped in phyllo pastry, which is served on a bed of creamed spinach and is a definite hit, not to be missed. All of the above, plus a generous cheese plate, made an ample meal for five.
Appetizers, soups and salads are priced at ¢1,900-3,200 ($3.70-6.20), and there’s a small dessert menu. The house wine, a palatable Chilean Trio, is ¢1,500 ($2.90) a glass, and domestic beer costs ¢700 ($1.30).
We certainly had no complaints about the prices or service, but we did have a small beef about the pats of butter that came with the delicious, hot, doughy, home-baked olive bread – they were of margarine ilk, and frozen.
Unfortunately, an attempted robbery of a purse and bag belonging to one of our party put a damper on the evening for a while. The thieves were foiled by the amazing fast action of a diner at the next table. He gave chase, followed by members of our group and therestaurant staff. The stolen loot was recovered when the culprits discarded it as they jumped into a getaway car. This type of crime is common in restaurants, so ladies, don’t hang your pocketbooks on the back of your chair.
The incident was handled commendably by the staff, and one of the owners, a very concerned Alex Murillo, appeared almost immediately.We assured him that we understood such an incident can happen anywhere, and it would not deter us from making a return visit to Crokante. Murillo offered to buy us drinks and joined our table, which gave us the opportunity to hear more about the restaurant and its Costa Rican owners: three chefs, two doctors and Murillo, who is finishing his MBA program and aspires to become a pastry chef.
“Desserts are my downfall,” he laughed as he recounted the history of Crokante, which means crispy and crunchy.
The original Crokante is in Plaza de Comidas Rofas, in front of Hospital San Juan de Dios on Paseo Colón.
“The hospital staff was happy to have an alternative to fast food, and we quickly built up a following; that was when we decided to open a more cosmopolitan and upscale restaurant, pub and art gallery,” Murillo said. “We cater to different markets; our executive lunches are very popular, and the pub has a happy hour Monday to Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.”
The nightlife crowd is also considered, with live trova and ’60s and ’70s music on weekends. The night of our visit, Joe Delgado on guitar serenaded us with music reminiscent of the Gypsy Kings.
In summary, Crokante is well worth a visit, whether you are looking for bocas to nibble on, a reasonably priced lunch or a full-course dinner.
Location: Barrio Otoya, 100 meters west of the main entrance of Hospital Calderón Guardia, opposite Hotel La Amistad. Public parking is available across the street.
Hours: Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight; closed Sunday.