I entered the new Búfalo Grill and Market with definite apprehension. I consider myself an intrepid explorer when it comes to restaurants and sampling new foods; however, the idea of tucking into a buffalo somehow filled me with uneasiness.
The restaurant’s friendly owner, Luis Gómez of Venezuela, seemed to sense my trepidation; as soon as I walked in, he asked solicitously if he could help me. No doubt he noticed I was staring at the wall photos of buffalo with endearing, wooly faces. I decided to sit with my back to that scene and face the plum-colored wall on the opposite side, taking in the pleasant ambience created by the modern black-and-white decor and market counter that doubles as a bar in this small, simply furnished restaurant in Santa Ana, southwest of San José.
As I waited for my lunch companions, Gómez told me about where the buffalo roam and how they came to be on a farm in Costa Rica’s northwestern Guanacaste province. Gómez, his wife, Elas Amaya, and partners Carlos Rincón and Irene García have a ranch on the slopes of Miravalles Volcano, where the free-range water buffalo, originally imported from Guatemala, graze on the lush pastures.
“In Venezuela, buffalo are working animals like oxen. Our ranch in Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that raises them for human consumption,” Gómez said.
A few restaurants here offer tasty buffalo cheese, which can be purchased in some supermarkets, but Búfalo Grill is the only eatery that serves buffalo meat.
Why eat buffalo meat? It has become popular in North America because it is a healthy alternative to beef, being lower in cholesterol and calories and higher in iron, proteins and omega-3s. The health-conscious and those on restricted-red-meat diets can get their fill without feeling guilty, as buffalo contains 76 percent less fat than beef and 68 percent less fat than chicken.
My companions and I, all buffalo-meat rookies, forged ahead and ordered the Mediterranean buffalo carpaccio. The thinly sliced meat, garnished with mushrooms, capers, kalamata olives and arugula and drizzled with mayonnaise, looked wonderful, but the flavor of the meat was a bit bland. This was also the consensus regarding the somewhat chewy cuts of sirloin and New York steaks and the grilled tenderloin on a skewer. It was agreed that fat marbling makes meat more flavorful, and possibly the lack of it had something to do with the taste. Perhaps marinating and the addition of herbs and spices would improve these healthy meat dishes. The tasty buffalo hamburger patties, however, were well spiced and delicious, and the salads, veggies and accompanying potatoes received no complaints.
The coffee and desserts were very good: Seasonal fruit in a red wine reduction; Volcano Miravalles, a chocolate muffin that spewed forth hot chocolate sauce; and the apple delight, a crunchy oat and pecan pie crust filled with spiced apple, were all served with delicious ice cream made with buffalo milk.
Menu prices are about average and include 13 percent tax. Appetizers range from ₡3,075 to ₡4,305 ($6 to $8.60), sandwiches and burgers from ₡3,075 to ₡5,904 ($6 to $12), grilled meat cuts from ₡6,641 to ₡8,118 ($13 to $16) and desserts from ₡2,398 to ₡3,075 ($4.80 to $6). Domestic beer costs ₡1,476 ($3), and a glass of passable carmenère house wine goes for ₡3,350 ($6.60).
If you want to cook your own buffalo burgers, chili, stews or other healthy, meaty meals, you can buy buffalo meat at the restaurant’s market; however, steaks are available only in the restaurant.
Búfalo Grill & Market
Location: Santa Ana, 150 m north of Red Cross.
Hours: Monday to Thursday, noon to 3 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 10 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 9 p.m. The market opens at 10 a.m.
Phone: 2282-4122, 8703-2441.