If you’re strolling down the beach in Puerto Viejo and happen to stumble upon a collection of sushi sand castles and sand-shimi, remain calm and stay where you are. It is likely you will soon be greeted by April Jenkins and given a coupon for free sake at the hotel and restaurant she manages, The Lotus Garden. Jenkins, an advertising major from Texas, uses her sand creations to help direct people to the restaurant, which is less then five minutes from the ocean.
The Lotus Garden got its start twelve years ago when an American named Jordan Klow, a Tico named William David Sanchez, and a Filipino named Roque Brebonbria came together to bring sushi to Puerto Viejo. “The town lacked far-east Asian cuisine; there was just an opening for it,” says Jenkins.
From Saki bombs to Satay, the restaurant offers Asian fare and an atmosphere to match the name. The dining room is spacious and decorated with fountains, dangling red paper lamps, wooden tables and hardwood floors, exuding a Zen-like feel that complements the laid-back Caribbean town. Just outside, two sloths have taken up residence in The Lotus Garden’s courtyard trees.
The staff is as friendly as the surroundings. Pam, a Canadian massage therapist who’s been in Puerto Viejo for five years, showed us how to properly take Saki bombs as a precursor to our meal. All you need to do is place your chopsticks across the rim of a beer, balance a shot of sake on top and shout “Sake Bomb!” while slamming a fist on the table. The shot falls in. You chug. You order another round.
After the bombs, we were treated to an innovative take on the traditional Japanese miso soup. In place of tofu squares and seaweed, The Lotus Garden added freshly chopped vegetables such as carrots and bell peppers, making for a heartier soup with a crunch. “The rest of the recipe is a secret,” Jenkins comments with a chuckle.
The main attraction arrived next, an expansive dish of all-you-can-eat sushi composed of simple yet flavorful rolls and sashimi. All of the sushi is made fresh, with tuna and marlin caught by local fisherman, while the salmon is imported from Chile. The Lotus Garden usually keeps their sushi simple, but adds the occasional Tico flair.
For example, the Puerto Viejo roll combined marlin and mango, a salty and sweet amalgam that that confused my taste buds into submission. An all-you-can-eat plate costs $20 per person and starts with 20 pieces. And although the restaurant doesn’t have official competitions, the most a single person has eaten was 90 pieces.
In a fit of indulgence, our table of three took down 80. Then we headed out into town, content and full of fish.