MYA New World Cuisine, yet another new eatery in the western San José suburb of Escazú, has been receiving rave reviews from happy fans since its November opening. The name is an anagram of the first initials of the owners, friendly, vivacious general manager Milena Gamboa and talented executive chef Ali de Paz.
The restaurant’s memorable feasts of diverse offerings and unique flavors stem from a fusion of cultures and ingredients. Born in Puerto Rico, de Paz grew up surrounded by the aroma of freshly baked bread from her father’s bakery. She finished her education in the mainland U.S., and, after four years of chef training, ran her own, highly acclaimed restaurant in Gainesville, Florida. With more than 25 years of experience as a chef, de Paz has adapted Latin American and Caribbean cuisine to create her own exotic combinations of characteristic tastes and textures. Her captivating presentation is guaranteed to have you salivating before you take a mouthful. Sous chef Jeff Horton, who worked under de Paz’s tutelage for four years in the U.S., is very much part of the team, as is Peruvian pastry chef Elisabeth Trebejo, who dreams up some amazing creations.
The dining room and upstairs balcony bar are tastefully decorated in tones of black and brown and shades of greenish gray. The modern furnishings and floor-to-ceiling windows enhance the rotating exhibition of colorful paintings by Costa Rican artists. At night, lighting provided by interestingly shaped fixtures adds to the pleasant ambience. The only problem we encountered was the loud whirring noise of the blender that drowned out our conversation when four of us went for lunch.
For those who aren’t interested in a main course, MYA offers an eclectic choice of appetizers that are great for sharing, whether you want a full meal or a delicate nibble (₡4,200-9,900/$8.40-20, not including tax or service).
The delicate flavor of the fresh goat cheese marinated in olive oil and served with crostini was embellished by the addition of fresh herbs, roasted garlic and peppers. The grilled shrimp served with de Paz’s special 17-ingredient, dark, spicy jerk sauce titillated the taste buds in true Jamaican style. If you are a calamari fan – and I don’t mean the tough, often battered or breaded variety – you must try sous chef Horton’s pride and joy, a tender ceviche in a mirin, lemon, sesame and wasabi sauce. It’s to die for. Other tapas include mussels, chicken tacos, nachos, baby back ribs and more.
From among the main courses (₡7,000-13,000/$14-26), we passed on the steaks and chicken and ordered the grilled tuna “Coco Loco,” marinated in ginger and lemon and served with a coconut curry sauce and roasted pumpkin. This turned out to be the least appreciated of our choices; our tuna lover felt the sauce killed the delicate flavor of the fish, and, although still raw in the middle, it appeared not to have been rapidly seared, but cooked on low heat.
The “Napoleón de Arepas,” a stack of authentic Colombian arepas layered with eggplant, portobello mushrooms, sweet peppers, zucchini, Edam cheese, ginger, chopped onion, tomato, garlic aioli and tamarind balsamic jam and decorated with crispy strips of fried yuca (cassava), was a cornucopia of delectable flavors and an amazing sight to behold.
For dessert lovers, the sesame-brittle crepe filled with Nutella, topped with fried wontons, decorated with spun sugar and served with ice cream, is not to be missed.
I had the opportunity to sample more of de Paz’s innovative cuisine when I returned for a wine-dinner event to promote Columbia Crest winery from the U.S. state of Washington. The restaurant has a small cave containing mostly wines from the New World, including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and the United States. Expert oenologist Juan Muños presented each wine to go with a plate of de Paz’s culinary creations: Crab cakes were served with Two Vines chardonnay, medallions of pork with Two Vines shiraz, H3 merlot complemented the clams, and the Grand Estates cabernet sauvignon was an excellent choice for the tenderloin.
On both occasions, the enticing, distinctive menu, professional service and welcoming owners made a visit to MYA a happy and memorable experience.
MYA New World Cuisine
Location: Plaza Obelisco, Calle Vieja, San Rafael de Escazú.
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; closed Sunday.
Phone: 2288-0569, 2288-0570.