Tuesday, June 11, 2013

El Lagarto

As many of you know, my family recently returned from a week-long trip to the glorious country of Costa Rica.  This was our kids' first time out of the US, and my husband and I are so pleased that we chose such a magnificent place for this occasion.  I have over 1,000 photos and lots of stories that I want to share, and it's gonna take me some time to get through them all. 

My intention is to do a day-by-day recap of our trip, but I just could not wait until day 5 to tell the story of our best meal ever.  Anywhere.  Not just on this trip, in this particular country, but on ANY trip in ANY country!

Quick disclaimer:  prior to our trek to the restaurant, there were TORRENTIAL rains--of biblical proportions.  So, sadly, I did not have my good camera with me.  All photos of this amazing experience were captured in poor lighting with a camera phone. . . really sad that I don't have better pics, but still worth the effort to post in a blog.

To give you some back-story, our family has a phrase that we use regularly when we travel.  That phrase is "route 3".  It all goes back to several years ago when we were traveling (by car) from Texas to California.  Having done this trek a number of times--alone, as a couple, and as a family--we decided to plug in our destination to the new iPhone maps app just to see what would happen.  As luck would have it, the app gave us 3 different routes that we could take, and we opted to take "route 3", the scenic, off-the-beaten-path route.  It took us far from the familiar interstate, through deserts, over mountains, and across some gorgeous landscapes.  What that trip taught all of us is that life is more than the destination.  Half the fun is the journey itself.  Since that time, we have tried to incorporate an attitude of "route 3" and it has thus become common verbiage in our family.  So, if you hear me or my kids refer to "route 3" in the future, you now know what it means!

Okay. . . our best meal EVER. . . here we go. . .

El Lagarto is the name of the restaurant.  In Spanish, it translates to "the lizard", or "the alligator".  We almost missed this place, and only managed to hear about it from the lady acting as our concierge on this trip. 

This is an external shot taken from across the valley with my telephoto lens from our morning coffee shop (another post, for another day). I know, not very impressive from the outside. . . but wait till you get a look at the inside. . .

All natural teak wood with clam shell chandeliers!

This was the flooring in the front half of the restaurant.  Wood inlaid tiles!  Absolutely beautiful. . . the photo does NOT do it justice!

All of the tables were big, flat slabs of polished wood.  This particular one was the most beautiful of them all.  We thought it was funny that some poor sap would have to sit in the spot (at the lower right of the pic) where there was a hole in the wood that went all the way through!  Again, the photo does not do this amazing piece of furniture justice.

Keep in mind, that we were in this restaurant after sundown, in really torrential rains, and were actually the only people here for the first half of the meal.  So, now that we have the ambiance established, here's where the meal got REALLY fun!

This was a huge wood burning stove in the front corner of the restaurant.  You can see the wood in the very top box burning with embers/hot coals in a chamber below.  This is the crazy apparatus that the cook was going to use to prepare our meal!
Once the meat was prepped, the cook would pull a rope (it's hard to see, but it's hanging down on the right side of the photo).  When this rope was pulled, a giant metal plate would pound down onto the logs in the top chamber, crushing the embers/coals and forcing them into the chamber below.  The embers/coals would then be scooped out with what looked like a regular gardening hoe and ushered down one of the two ramps that you see to the grill plate below.

The grill, already prepared with whatever meat had been ordered, was then lowered down just above the smoldering coals.  You can see the grill and coals at the very bottom of the pic.  This is where the chef would then proceed to cook our meal to it's desired consistency.

This was our chef for the evening, as he was preparing our meal.
Dave snapped this pic of the girls while we were waiting for our food.
Our kids were all about "route 3" on this particular night, so we all ordered a different entrée to give everyone a taste of everything.  
Mine was the most boring (albeit quite delicious) meal of the night.  I didn't even get one of the cool plates like everyone else.  I felt a little cheated, but the awesomeness of this perfectly prepared beef tenderloin with grilled zucchini, grilled tomato, and baked potato, made up for the boring white plate.
Trevor ordered the pork tenderloin.  Also very delicious.  And. . . check out how cool that plate was!  If it didn't weigh about 10 lbs, I probably would have asked if I could buy one!
Kaylee's grilled Mahi Mahi was absolutely amazing (and I'm not even a big fish eater)!  It was freshly caught that day (as was all of the fish we ate on this trip).  But, she was most impressed with the cool plate and smiley face the chef made out of lettuce, carrots, and a tomato.
BUT. . .
Dave's meal completely stole the show!  Sadly, he only was able to eat about half of it, because the rest of us kept stealing it (especially Kaylee)! 

Calamares rellenos y camarones (stuffed squid and shrimp), was the clear winner of the "route 3" meal of the trip!
The photos look more disgusting than they did in real life--I think, mostly because the smell was unbelievably awesome (oh, and the lighting was a bit dim, too)!
We all enjoyed the squid. . .


Especially Kaylee. . .

Yep, that's a tentacle hanging out of her mouth. . .

Fun times!  Can't wait to go back to this place!
To be continued. . .


  1. Great pics, Vanessa! Maryann and I are going to Costa Rica in 9 days. We are flying into Liberia (the other airport I think) and will be staying on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica. Any tips? Rent a car or not? US Dollars or not? Etc.

  2. Oh, so excited for you guys! It really is an amazing country! We've never been up to the north part of the country, but I will be curious to hear what you think. We just love the Manuel Antonio area though. It has been our experience that most places take US cash. I would probably get some currency in colones (the conversion rate is roughly 500 colones=$1.00 US). We did not rent a car, but we were familiar with the area we were going. If you haven't been to the region, you might need one--depending where you are staying. Some places are pretty remote and not close to public transportation. They do have a really impressive public trans system, though. We were able to ride back and forth from our house to wherever we needed (in about a 10 mile radius) for about 60 cents each (280 colones).
    I would definitely recommend the beaches. Also, all the national parks are amazing (I will be posting pics from our National Park tour in a few days). Of course, zip lining in Costa Rica is just one of those mandatory things you have to do.
    Make sure you have Trip Advisor on your phone. We were able to get tons of info on local businesses/attractions from that site. It's a pretty big deal there too. All of the businesses actually ask customers to review them on the site!
    Hope you guys have an amazing time! Can't wait to hear about all of your adventures!