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Journeys When in

Nosara, Costa Rica: Lagarta Lodge

I come from a long line of people who enjoy experiencing life through the olfactory and taste senses (aka “foodies”). Before me, there was Tia Berta. Before her, came my mom. At any given meal out, you can find any of us commenting to the other:

“What’s that- coriander?”
*Taste sauce again* “No, that’s definitely cumin.”

We like to figure out the complexities and deconstruct the flavors as we go: call it eating as code-breaking.

When visiting a new place we like to inquire from the locals and also from other visitors, where is the best place to have a great meal. I watched Tia Berta in action, rattling off in Spanish her question to people we encountered from Argentine Lucretia at the beach to our VRBO coordinator Eduardo. She is fearless (and I love it).

Without a doubt, every time we asked this question in Nosara, Costa Rica, the answer was, “Lagarta Lodge.”

On the day of our arrival into Nosara, Eduardo drove us to this famed lodge. He had told us, if you go anywhere, you must go to Lagarta Lodge.

The walls of the restaurant are open air and look onto a jungle and riverbed from one angle and then onto the ocean and beach from another. It might not surprise you that the answer we received when we asked to book a reservation was a coy smile from the hostess and “everyone would.”

We squeezed in an early reservation for our party of four on January 1st. Since we were without car, we walked the easy but slightly uphill climb to the lodge from our house. (If I never say this again, when planning a trip to Nosara, the need-to-have item is a flashlight. Trust me, it will make all those evening trysts and trips materialize.)

For fine dining in Nosara, this is it.

When we arrived at Lagarta Lodge, the hostess made a point to confirm our arrival and invited us to enjoy cocktails at the neighboring Sunset Bar. Now, this bar is a must-visit. It lives up to its name- watching the sun set over the casual waves of the Pacific below was spectacular.

Sunset bar lives up to its name
Going, going…

We lingered over blended drinks. A fantastic detail about Lagarta Lodge is they only have one seating per night. You could linger at the bar as long as you like- your table and seats are held in your name.

Frosty drink in hand…
we lingered…

and lingered…
And we lingered some more…

I kept looking for lagartas, crocodiles, below in the riverbed but none were to be found. There was a black vulture peering down at the bar from a nearby tree bough. I have a feeling he wishes he too could suck down a blended bevvie.

No lagartas to be seen

Once the sun had officially sunken deep into the horizon, we ambled our way up to the restaurant. Our server was friendly and informative. As she ran through the evening’s specials, we all came to our conclusions and ordered a few minutes later.

The waitress brought out rolls, which are not seen often in these parts. We later learned that they purchase them from a bakery in Liberia. Not a hop, skip and a jump away. I treasured that roll because of the journey it had taken to get to my mouth.

Sopa de pescado

Nathan and I split an Ensalada con Palmito, Salad with Hearts of Palm, while the mamas halved their Ensalada con Aguacate, Salad with Avocado. Michael ordered la sopa de pescado, fish soup and it was made from scratch.

He pulled off the tiny crab that scented the broth, pulling the sweet meat from inside the claws. Our salads were good, especially since we had underestimated the amount of greens we would be taking in over the course of our stay.

For mains, Tia Berta and I ordered the Filete de Corvino preparada a la plancha con ajo, Grilled Sea Bass with Garlic and a side of their croquettes. The croquettes were an interesting treatment of mashed potatoes formed into the shape of a pear, rolled in breading and fried. They made such a pretty addition to the plate and the accompanying “pear stem” that was really a shoestring potato was a nice touch. Michael ordered the bacon wrapped shrimp brochettes along with my mama. Nathan ordered swordfish in a white sauce with a side of rice.

Corvino cocido de la plancha con molido de ajo
Shrimp brochettes wrapped in bacon with croquettes

Each of our entrees was cooked perfectly. The garlic sauce didn’t overpower the fish and the slight crunch of croquette complemented. We had saved no room for dessert and frankly the night had become so thoroughly darkened, it was time to start the journey home.

A memorable meal awaits you at Lagarta Lodge. And if you happen to walk from home, make sure to take your time meandering back- the stars will put on an after-dinner show of Milky Way proportions.

 

Categories
Recipes

Casados

COSTA RICAN RECIPES- Casados

Casados.

It’s what someone might say of a couple replete with smooches and rings on the left hand. They’re casado. Married. Nathan and I said our vows in a rustic church filled to the hilt with family and friends from all over the globe. When planning the wedding, it was important that it feel like us. I jokingly said multiple times, if the wedding had a theme, it was “it takes a village.” We wanted it imbued with as many of our closest people doing what they do best: singing, playing piano, baking cake, hand-making caramels… the list could go on.

We wanted it to feel like us. Nothing too gussied up, but full of texture, language, color and flavor. Yes!

The morning started quietly. In the silence of a new apartment, I padded around barefoot, drinking it in, contemplating the weight of the day ahead, excited with a pep in my step. And then breakfast, photos and ceremony threaded together to find me at the pivotal moment.

Will I promise to love Nathan in sickness and in health? I will.
Will I promise to love him until death do us part? I will.

So much leading up to this moment of transition: casados.


We had the happy occasion to travel on a family holiday trip to Costa Rica right after Christmas. We rang out New Year’s Eve and walked into the New Year trolling our local beach with sand dusting our toes.

A few people at work asked upon my return, “How was your honeymoon?” This tickles me as I try to imagine inviting anyone other than Nathan to a honeymoon, but I’m polite, and say, “Fantastic!” Come to think of it, the woman seated next to us on the HOU – SJO leg of our trip asked if we were newlyweds. It must be something impermeable. Perhaps it’s the starry eyed look or our need to tuck our heads into each other’s neck nooks like ostriches. We are that couple.

See, we’ve decided to stay on honeymoon permanently. One of the best pieces of marital advice we’ve gotten is from his parents to “plan adventures with each other!”

Trust me, if they’d seen:

  • the commuter airplane that hoisted us cross-country to the coastal town of Nosara chug noseward up-
  • the canopy tour with its pully system and the directive to “Jump!” off the mountains-
  • us staring into and separating darkness from darkness, craning our ears and eyes for Olive Ridley Turtles come to shore to lay their eggs and then set off again-
  • the two hour pitch black trek from one beach to a mini mart “cross beaches” rather than “cross-town” in search of lotion, shampoo and a green vegetable-
  • hand-to-hand combat with the warrior locust to usher it back outside

We are living up to that bit of advice.

Food is always a bit of an adventure. (At least in my kitchen it is). If another culture doesn’t first enter through my ear, then it sure does through my stomach. The food section on my last blog was even called puerta de la panza (doorway to the stomach). Much to my delight, the Costa Rican’ national dish* happens to bear the name of my newly cemented status, casado. When in Costa Rica, you will see this as a menu item in most soda ticas, bars and restaurants.

I spoke with new friend Isabel to get a better idea of what a casado actually is.

casado consists of rice, black beans, salad and a choice of protein including chicken, fish or bistek en salsa, meat in sauce. Some casados include plantains and some don’t. Further inquiry (on wikipedia) revealed a possible reason for the name: businessmen said they wanted to be served like those who are married because the implication is married men eat this kind of meal in the home for lunch or dinner. I’m taking it with a grain of salt, though maybe that is its origin.

Casado- Rosi’s Soda Tica

While we were in Costa Rica, each of us had casados at different restaurants and each gives it their own flare. One evening in San Jose, my mom ordered the Casado and it came not only with plantains and the usual fare, but also included Fajita chicken and a picadillo of squash and carrots. Yummy. When we were in coastal Nosara, the casado at a local popular soda tica did not include plantains.

Casado- Soda Vanessa

I think the casado is aptly named. It brings a smattering of individual parts onto a plate and from the many ingredients comes a hearty dish with variety that can be personalized by venue or person. And it appeals to my personal sense of order: each ingredient has its own quadrant of plate. Beans over here. Rice to the right of the beans. Plantains nestled up against the rice. Chicken nudging the plantains. Salad in its own corner. Unlike, Nathan who prefers all things mixed together, I like to build the perfect bite. See, casado: something for everyone!

We returned from Costa Rica in early January and find ourselves hankering a bit for the simplicity and beauty of those environs, not to mention the warm temperatures and sun in place of the living room heater cranking for a short burst to cut through the old building cold. Then again, we are casado…

Heater turned off, oven turned on, we get started.

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Casados

CHICKEN

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon ground roasted coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Mexican lime, quartered

Place chicken breasts in milk bath and refrigerate for an hour. Blend spices together in a small side bowl. Set aside. Once ready to cook chicken, place olive oil in pan over medium high heat. Remove one chicken breast and sprinkle both sides with spice blend. Cook on each side for 4 minutes or until cooked through.

RICE

  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 cup water

Rinse rice two times. Then add 1 1/2 cup water and bring to slow boil. Once boiling, set to simmer and cover for 20 minutes or until cooked.

PICADILLO

  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium parsnip, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup peeled and diced celery root
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • Salt to taste

Steam the diced veggies for 5 minutes. Remove from water. Combine oregano, salt, chicken stock and oil. Add to pan and turn heat onto medium high. Sauté veggies for 2 minutes.

BLACK BEANS

  • 1 can black beans, drained

Heat up black beans on stovetop until warm.

PLANTAINS

  • 2 plantains
  • 1 cup canola oil

Peel plantain and discard peel. Cut plantain into 1/4 inch chunks. Coat bottom of pan about 1 inch deep with oil. Heat oil over high heat but take care to not let it begin bubbling. Place plantain sections in oil and turn every 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.

SALAD

  • ½ head of iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, diced

This can be the final step for your casado to keep salad cool and ingredients in fridge until everything else has cooked.

Plating
Think of your plate by quadrant, when plating a casado: every ingredient gets its own home. Our casado will have a part of the plate dedicated to the beans, another to the rice, the plantains immediately next to the rice, then chicken and lastly salad.

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Categories
Journeys Notes from the Road

Pura Vida: an introduction to Nosara, Costa Rica

Pura Vida:  It’s a way of life. In Costa Rica, it kind of sums everything up. This catch-all phrase elicits smiles, nods, general agreement that in the end, it’s pure life. Costa Ricans get that distinction between living life and letting it pass by.

We’re smitten. The Costa Rican (Tico) way of honoring life resonates. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself!

As Lalo says, “pura vida is something a person says when everything’s good. ”

Pura vida indeed. The country has not had an army since the 1940’s, a fact proudly emblazoned on t-shirts in the San Jose airport. There is an open-armed welcome to tourists and travelers from all over the world with many restaurants, cabs and hotels taking American dollars as well as colones. Trash is separated into five categories. Only one is landfill. Their land is vivid, alive and thus they don’t want to spend more of it on landfill than possible. Their appreciation for the natural beauty makes toilets in the jungle part of a fragile septic system and they go to interesting lengths to not disturb the flow. Additionally, they have earmarked land near the beach that is off limits in Nosara from development. I spoke with our canopy guide and we agreed that environs like these can’t be bought. They’re precious as are all of the indigenous wildlife and birds.

Our merry travelers talk about their favorite moments in Costa Rica. Perhaps the zip line Beck describes or the Olive Ridley turtle tour at dusk might tip the scales for you. Costa Rica is calling…

Over the next few weeks, I will share recipes and restaurant reviews from our time in Nosara, so stay tuned.

Pura vida: How do you define the good life?