Wednesday

RESTAURANT: Lava Lounge in La Fortuna

For lunch one afternoon, The Dog and I decided on Lava Lounge in La Fortuna. It's right on the main drag of the town near the middle. They're open from 11am - midnight. They bill themselves as "International Flavor, Costa Rican ingredients". The building is rustic with benches and tables and a bar. It's open air, as many of the buildings in Costa Rica tend to be. If you visit their website, you can see some cool shots of the place. Click on the title of this post to get to their site.

We ordered a bottle of Sangria, Ensalada Lomito, and the Lava Lounge Burger. The burger was served with fried yucca, which our server said was a "Costa Rican french fry". We requested the fried yucca with the garlic option, but it was served without garlic. The yucca came out on The Dog's plate as four large logs of fried stuff. Other than their large size, they were completely unremarkable.

That being said, everything else was scrumptous! My salad involved mixed greens and grilled veggies topped with local grass-fed steak and bleu cheese with house dressing. The dressing was a vinagrette of sorts - not too overpowering and added the right notes to the bleu cheese and steak. In a nice change from the standard salad layout - greens on bottom, then the "good stuff", this salad had a layer of the grilled veggies on the bottom, a layer of the mixed greens, then more grilled veggies, steak, and the bleu cheese. $10USD

The Lava Lounge burger was divine. Juicy and drippy, loaded with melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, plus bacon, mushrooms and grilled onions. As you know, a good burger is hard to find, but we found one! $8 USD.

The menu also offered various wraps, pasta, and some sushi rolls, ranging in price from $7 - $10 USD. There was a daily specials board posted with some interesting options - tenderloin medallions in sangria, tuna steak with ginger pineapple soy salsa, and coconut shrimp with mango salsa. The sushi rolls were the standard offerings.

Let me write for a moment about the sangria. Simply perfect. It was slightly thick because it had been made earlier and the fruit was well-soaked with wine. They also served it cold without ice. We quickly consumed the whole carafe. $12 USD.

Total cost - 18975CRC or $33 USD. The prices on the menu DO INCLUDE the 13% country tax, but do NOT include the 10% service charge. And these taxes are a definite thing to consider when looking at menu prices....

TOUR: Hanging Bridges of Arenal

Looking for information about Costa Rica on the www would lead one to believe that toucans are simply everywhere in Costa Rica. This is not true. By the ninth day of our trip, I still had not spotted a single live toucan.

I had high hopes during our zipline tour, but no such luck. However, at the very end of our ziplining, one of folks in our group mentioned she had seen TONS of toucans at the Hanging Bridges.

Frankly, I had read in passing about the Hanging Bridges and they seemed like a boring and benign sort of activity, so we hadn't even considered visiting there while we were in the La Fortuna area. But now.... now that I knew there a definite possiblity of spotting a toucan, we had to go.

We drove there in the morning, arriving around 8:30 or so and paid $22USD/each to head on in. I'm not sure entirely what I was expecting - other than toucans - but this was a TERRIFIC day of light hiking and critter spotting. The trail is well-maintained and made up of these open weave brick things, nice for walking. (*Note: do not wear high heels for this particular activity.... of course, you probably wouldn't want to wear heels for most activities in Costa Rica.)

There were around eight or ten actual hanging bridges and the rest was the trail.
The bridges are in good condition and not too wiggly or bouncy when you're crossing. Overall, this was one of the least physically demanding things we had done - well, save for lounging on the beach or drinking in a bar. We chose to just go on our own without a guide and wound up spending around four or so hours there. The ticket person told us it would take around an hour and a half or two hours, but we were welcome to take as long as we wanted. I believe the trail is 3km or about 2 miles.

And the things we spotted! Tiny pit viper (they seem to like to curl up on leaves), Crested Owl sleeping in a tree, lots and lots and lots of howler monkeys, SKINKS, a mot-mot, and YES, a couple of toucans. I could hear them laughing in the trees and we finally got up close to spot them. Chestnut manibled toucans. It was lovely moment.

Due to our kinda crappy quicksnap camera, I didn't get a good pic of the toucan, but we did get lots of cool pics of the mot-mot. You can see him on the left. There's a HUGE cicada in his beak. Notice his "racket" feathers on his tail. Legend has it that a big storm was coming and all the animals of the forest were supposed to help prepare. The motmot was lazy and decided to hide in a hole in the ground, but his tail was left sticking out. As they worked, the animals walked on his tail and broke off all the extra bits of feather except at the end and so now the motomot has to live in the ground instead of having a nest in the trees and he is missing part of his tail. Depending on where you read this from, this story is sometimes attributed to the Mayans and other times to the BriBri, an indigenious population on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Regardless, it's a REALLY cool bird to see.

Overall, the Hanging Bridges were completely interesting and lovely. Take your binoculars and a camera. There's also a waterfall you can walk down to see. However, either pack a lunch to enjoy or plan on eating elsewhere. The restaurant onsite is pricey and without anything interesting on the menu. In fact, you could plan to go to La Fortuna proper after the Hanging Bridges and go eat at Lava Lounge... I've got a review here on the blog of our experience eating there. DELISH!

Click here to visit the website for the Hanging Bridges.

Tuesday

RESTAURANT: Bread & Chocolate in Puerto Viejo

Bread & Chocolate is a charming coffeehouse offering homemade desserts and sandwiches and breakfast. They also offer lounge-about visiting cats for your pleasure. ** They're located about 50 m west of the main drag in Puerto Viejo.

The Dog and I - well, really it was just me - wanted an afternoon bit of cake and coffee. We were overwhelmed with the choices for cake (and coffee, too, but I wasn't looking for anything fancy for coffee - just a regular cup). The Dog ordered Queen of Sheba cake - a dark chocolate almond torte and I had the Quintessential Chocolate Cake. Both were 1600CRC/each and frankly, an EXCELLENT deal. The torte (The Dog almost ate it all without even sharing a bite with me!) was silky and rich and indulgent. My cake was moist and perfect with just the right amount of icing - not overloaded and not too thin. I would have shot pics of the desserts, but dang it, my battery died right after I shot the interior of the restaurant. Suffice to say, they looked like something out of Gourmet magazine.

We also ordered one of their handmade truffles. The Hot Damn - dark chocolate with cayenne pepper. This was a bit of a disappointment to us. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't anything dynamic. Good, but..... the truffles are 600CRC (about 1USD) each. They offer several other flavor combinations, but we were so satisfied after the tasty cakes, we didn't try any other truffles.

The coffee was served individually to us in French press pots for 700CRC/each with cup and saucer. Nice body on the coffee, not too light and not too heavy.

Bread & Chocolate is a fine place to duck into and lounge with some fine coffee & cake and ponder the greater implications of early sunsets and toucans.

** There are many wandering cats and dogs in Costa Rica. These pets hang out on tables, near couches, on porch steps, wander purposefully down the streets, and so on. If you are allergic to cats and/or dogs, you should probably not come to Costa Rica or if you do, stay at one of the internationally-owned mega-resorts.