A new option for lovers of Italian cuisine has opened in Plaza Florencia, yet another recently erected shopping plaza in San José’s western suburb of Escazú.
The interior of the restaurant accommodating about 50 people is simple and pleasant. Two large paintings add a splash of color to the café au lait-colored walls, and the tables draped in mustard-yellow cloths have banquettes on one side, plus added chairs. The lighting is acceptable, though candles would add an extra touch at dinnertime. A good choice was the wonderful voice of Ella Fitzgerald in the background, played at just the right volume for conversation.
Al fresco dining is an alternative here, but as a rule I have decided to give it a miss when surrounded by concrete. With so many restaurants opening in shopping plazas, I no longer want to be a self-appointed guard watching my and other people’s cars. In fact, I have come to the point where I’m prepared to accept mediocre food if the setting is charming and the service praiseworthy.
On a recent Saturday night, seven friends joined me for a first-class feast at San Lorenzo.
Owner Roberto Revello, an outstanding chef, is from a small village near Genoa on Italy’s Mediterranean coast. Before coming to this country, he practiced his culinary art in his homeland, as well as in Chile and Peru.
Our table looked like a yacht in full sail as eight of us flapped around reading the gigantic, attractively illustrated menus measuring about 18 by 30 inches. Despite the menu’s size, the choices are not excessive, always a good sign, and if you forget your glasses, deciphering it will be no problem.
Those who like to have wine with their meals, take note: San Lorenzo has no liquor license, though hopefully this will be remedied in the future.
Plates of complimentary pâté were immediately demolished with gusto by the liver lovers. A basket of bread also appeared, but no butter. I dipped mine in the olive oil provided.
The affable Revello arrived at our table and offered mouthwatering antipasto suggestions.
We chose to share the fresh tuna tartare and eggplant parmigiana, both delicious, as well as the octopus with black olives and capers in a piquant oregano sauce. I found the octopus, as I have done before, tough as old boots and pushed it aside. I must remember to stick to squid in the future.
Revello appeared again to recommend main courses, elaborating on the ingredients before disappearing back to the kitchen. We were all in a pasta mood and wanted to taste his homemade varieties. There was a choice of ravioli, tortellini, fettuccini, lasagna and gnocchi, plus penne and spaghetti, all served in a variety of sauces.
The ravioli Beatrice, filled with mushrooms, cheese and cream of truffles and served with a quail’s egg in an extremely rich sauce, was superb. Other delectable orders included pansotti, a Genoa specialty stuffed with spinach in a creamy walnut sauce; tortellini stuffed with duck pâté; and fettuccine in gorgonzola sauce with zucchini, flavored with bay leaves.
From the risotto selection, both the one with porcini mushrooms and the other with asparagus spears were greatly praised. Nobody sampled the selection of fish and beef or the house specialties, which included osso buco (braised veal shank), rabbit in white wine and lamb stew.
For dessert, we chocoholics indulged in the astounding, calorie-laden Vesuvius, a chocolate sponge cake spewing forth gooey hot chocolate and served with whipped cream and ice cream. The chocolate Marquise was also a dark, rich delight. However, our zabaglione aficionado was disappointed to find the whipped dessert came with a fruit sauce and ice cream.
Our dinner for eight came to $79.
Appetizers range from ¢3,000-6,200 ($5.80-12); main courses are priced at ¢3,200-6,500 ($6.20-13) (¢12,000/$23 for entrecote of beef); and desserts are ¢2,800-3,000 ($5.40-5.80). Prices on the menu don’t include the 13% tax and 10% service.
The meal was a gourmet delight and Revello is charming and attentive, but, sad to say, the wait service left something to be desired. Our young, inexperienced waitress needed more training, and should be told not to bump into diners as she reaches across the table with plates, and to apologize if this happens.
We all agreed we felt rushed and had no time to digest our meal between courses.
Dessert orders were taken and started arriving before I’d finished my pansotti; I’m a slow eater, but I found this faux pas inexcusable (as was the shabby, unfinished washroom accessible through a storage area).
With such excellent food on offer, one hopes the restaurant can improve its service to the level its cuisine deserves.
(Reviewer’s note: The food deserved four spoons, but the service made the overall dining experience a three.)
Location: Plaza Florencia, 200 meters north of La Paco commercial center in Escazú.
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, noon to 10.30 p.m.