Mercury was in retrograde again. Why the Dining Duo chooses to travel when Mercury is in Retrograde is beyond us; or perhaps we’re just gluttons for punishment. Having nearly missed our plane to Morocco the last time we were controlled by the stars, we got to the airport with hours to spare, only to find that our reservation in the first class Priority Pass lounge was never made by Centurion and this horrible woman with control issues called security on us when we refused to leave. The plane left for CR at 2:30 am, and of course we were in the front row with the bulkhead two inches from our knees; thankfully there were two other seats available, but sleeping in a nearly upright plane seat was akin to sleeping in the adjustable bed that Michael made Scott buy a few years ago. Of course the hotel car wasn’t at the airport to pick us up, and just as we arrived at the hotel, totally sleep deprived, we checked in only to get an urgent message from our housekeeper telling us that apparently just after we left for the airport a hot water pipe had burst and our house was totally flooded with water. It was a great start to a wonderful trip because we knew that it would only get better from here.

Grano De Oro – San Jose, CR
Room 31 used to be a lounge, now a room that overlooks the lights and city of San Jose. It’s located over the Jacuzzi area that is surrounded by ten columns all lit at night, and topped with flowering plants and palms.

We recommend this suite as the best in the hotel($275), other than the garden villa. It’s a grand old stately colonial room surrounded in wood carved paneled wainscoting. Various hand hooked rugs grace the individually painted tiles on the floors and on the walls, which are accented by notched wood recesses displaying different flatware painted with fruit…all lit beautifully. Wall to wall windows display an unobstructed view of the city beyond, and although there are some street and car noises when the window is open, it is easily overlooked. Wood tongue and groove slats cover the ceiling in between beams, with two ceiling fans framing the room. At the head of the room are steps up to a bathroom, as well as to your own in-room Jacuzzi. The suite is decorated opulently, with thick drapes, vases filled with plants, and fresh cut flowers in and outside the room. It has a grand feel that is accented at night by the beautiful soft accent lights that warm the natural local woods. The crown molding is hand carved and intricate, speaking of times gone by. This is the only suite on the third floor and so there are no neighbor noises or intrusions, making this gorgeous and private suite an oasis in an otherwise unattractive major city.

Although the staff is extremely hospitable and helpful, we found it rather odd that there was no nightly maid service and no body lotion in the rooms. We asked for body lotion and we were told that it could be purchased at the gift shop. The beds are hard as rocks (we tried some others while the doors were open during cleaning times) and they only have foam pillows; apparently birds in this country are for flying not stuffing pillows. Our 9:30wake up call came 5 minutes late, but for Central America, that’s practically right on time. Also, there was an old 17-inch TV in the room that screamed to be tossed in the “bassura”.

The Hotel’s dining room is also gorgeous, with heavy wood beams and crown moldings, surrounded by silk drapes. All dining areas look out to a courtyard that is filled with flowers and plants, and centered by a dripping fountain that is both romantic and soothing. We chose to sit on the patio as it was an unusually dry summer night, and the tranquility of the fountain accented the particularly good meal. We were surrounded by Spanish native Costan Ricans, confirming that this restaurant was one of the best and most charming in San Jose. The service was excellent, and friendly, enhancing the meal that was otherwise good, but not of world-class standards. Nonetheless, the atmosphere was so transporting that it really didn’t matter much.

Scott had duck pate that was so soft and creamy that when enhanced by the mango chutney, it melted in his mouth. Michael had a few appetizers; the gazpacho soup that he thought was tasty because it was accented with shrimp, but he admits that it wasn’t as good as Scott’s homemade version. He followed that by the salad with bacon and poached quail eggs that looked better than it tasted. Scott had the sea bass, which was delicious but served cool. It was accented by a puree of vegetables that was a bit tasteless and a side of rice that was just rice. Michael enjoyed the three cheese ravioli that was sinking in cheese and way too heavy for the dish; that being said, it was tasty. The trio of chocolate was the best dessert, but although it looked magnificent, it tasted rather blaze. It was served with a side of café mousse that helped the chocolate, but again was only average. It didn’t really matter as the presentation of the food and the atmosphere of the environment were definite winners.

Although there is just about no reason to stay in San Jose, if you chose to stop over like we did, make sure to go to the museums which are small and interesting. We liked the Museo de Oro (the Gold Museum), which had a vast display of gold artifacts. Also, just walking distance down the populated Central Avenue is La Casona Souvenirs, a terrific set of stores selling all the crap you don’t need; it’s not crowded and the shop owners are friendly and not aggressive. Make sure to ask for “una ganga”—a bargain; you won’t get one, but it’ll make you think you did.

Paradisus Playa Conchal

Just for giggles, The Dining Duo decided to try an “all inclusive resort” something we’ve not done since our Club Med days. Although this one is certainly heads and shoulders above the Club Med of yesteryear, it’s definitely geared for the family who wants great value and a “no brainer” vacation. Playa Conchal is strewn across 2,400 acres of lush tropical landscaping that creates a walking village of sorts and is more of a “golf” feel than a beach focus in that only a few of the rooms face the ocean. The resort offers a “Royal Service” as well which has it’s own check-in service (very nicely done) and a private “adults-only” pool that has a beach entry and a swim up bar with unlimited drinks, of course, in the pool. The place has events every night and 5 restaurants that will attract the “where the food at” cruise folks. The rooms are adequate and although our suite was the “Bali Suite” we didn’t notice anything Balinese about it, save the Roman Columns to the upper bed area and the Central American iron headboard. The Butler service was always friendly, but the language barrier ensures that you’ll never quite get what you want in full. That said, if you want access to a long stretch of off-white beach and fabulously warm water, with lots of distractions and nothing to think about, this is a good spot to hang your sombrero for a couple of days. Rooms 35 and 37 are the best, overlooking the ocean, but beware that the 4-wheelers start early in the morning right between your room and the beach. Vrrrom, Vrrrrrrom.

Camaron Dorado Restaurant

Down the beach from Paradisus, and on the sand is a local restaurant that delivers atmosphere and food. Take off your shoes and dig your toes into the beach while they grill up fresh seafood right out of the ocean in front of you. A quartet of serenadors wanders by to complete the scene.

We started with the seafood soup (approx $7), which was loaded with scallops, lobster, oysters, shrimp and fish; it was a meal by itself. It had a creamy base and seasoned lightly to please the pallet. We followed it by freshly grilled lobster ($26) that was tender and delicious. The net result was an authentic experience that was absolutely worth getting away from the hotel for and discovering food in the real Costa Rica.

Next week: Nicaragua -- part dos

Posted by The Dining Duo | 7:28 PM | , , , , | 0 comments »

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