Home-cooked food is a tradition with the Bonessa family, and that’s what you will find at Cassava Café and Deli. Located in the western suburb of old Escazú, known as Escazú Centro, this delightful, peaceful restaurant is a dream come true for world traveler Gillian McKenzie and partners Lilly and Barbara Bonessa, who used to operate a catering service out of their home.
“We found this lovely property, an old, wooden Escazú house, and decided it would make an ideal restaurant,” Lilly said.
“Our mother, Roberta Bonessa, taught us how to cook using tried and true family recipes,” added Barbara, who studied restaurant management and supervises what goes on in the kitchen.
Tranquility, simplicity and a woman’s touch go hand in hand at Cassava, which offers an assortment of reasonably priced Italian and international fare.
You can choose to sit under an umbrella at the tables on the front patio, or on the covered patio in the back, overlooking the large, verdant garden. Lilly said the back patio is popular with groups such as the Mothers and Babies Club and the Wine Club. Cassava is also kid-friendly, with a play area and special menu for the small fry.
Three of us arrived for lunch and chose to sit in the airy, spacious, simply furnished dining room. The original interior decor has not been tampered with, just spruced up. White paneled wooden walls, polished wood floors and mahogany-brown furnishings are all part of the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.
Our young waiter was keen to offer us good service. He made a couple of errors – not wiping the table before he brought our desserts and whipping away my delicious lemonade laced with fresh mint before I had finished it – but we couldn’t help forgiving him because of his enthusiasm and charming smile.
Lunch got off to a good start with the hummus and the crostini smothered in sautéed porcini mushrooms. Other choices include beef and vegetarian carpaccio, tuna tartare, teriyaki chicken skewers and “Mother’s focaccia,” baked daily using Roberta’s traditional Genoese recipe. You can buy this and other home-baked goodies from the deli counter at the entrance to the restaurant.
Starter portions are small and would not serve as complete meals. However, my tasty sopa azteca, served with all the trimmings, was an ample lunch for me. Starter prices range from ¢2,000 to ¢3,690 ($3.40 to $6.40).
The innovative salads, however, are meals in themselves. The nutty steak salad, slices of grilled steak served on a bed of greens with caramelized nuts, mushrooms and shaved Parmesan cheese, and the citrus spinach salad with feta cheese, walnuts and apple were deemed delicious by diners at another table. Salads range in price from ¢3,000 to ¢4,390 ($5.20 to $7.60).
Also available are a selection of wraps, panini and pita sandwiches with a variety of steak, chicken, fish and vegetarian fillings, served with salad and yuca (cassava) chips (¢3,390 to ¢3,990/$5.80 to $6.90). Make sure you check the daily specials, which include Cassava’s tour de force, the homemade pasta made by Paolo Bonessa, owner of food producer Pasta y Basta. The tagliatelle with al dente zucchini and the ravioli stuffed with spinach in a nutty sauce were melt-in-yourmouth delicious.
For dessert, we indulged in the Vesuvius, a chocolate cake that spewed forth hot chocolate sauce, and the arrollado Capri, a lemony square. Lunch for the three of us, including lemonade and coffee and all taxes, came to ¢25,340 ($44).
The breakfast menu offers fresh fruit, granola, yogurt, pancakes, French toast, typical Tico with gallo pinto and eggs, and a delicious-sounding wrap stuffed with egg, cheese, mushrooms, onions and green peppers and served with baked tomatoes. The Smiley banana pancakes are popular with the little ones. Prices range from ¢2,000 to ¢2,600 ($3.40 to $4.50).
Though I’ve yet to try it, the dinner menu is more substantial, offering a wider selection for carnivores and seafood lovers. A wine list will be available in the near future, Lilly said. Cassava also offers take-out service and catering for special events.