The food in Costa Rica is usually nothing to write home about, or in fact to blog about. A lot of rice and beans, and very little spices or herbs. But there are some exceptions. A hidden gem is Ubin by Keilor Sanchez, at the nYa hotel in Montezuma. Sanchez is one of the top chefs of Costa Rica, with international experience. We already had dinner there three years ago, and this time noticed the availability of a tasting menu with wine pairing. That makes it the only restaurant in Costa Rica that I have seen with either of those.
The wine collection on display is impressive (for Costa Rica). Most restaurants in Costa Rica have a very short wine list, with often less than 5 bottles to choose from.
The 5 course tasting menu is USD 172 for two, including wine pairing (or USD 92 for one person) and needs to be reserved a day in advance.
The first course is mussel ceviche with passion fruit. It has a very nice flavor and texture, and is paired nicely with a Cava Reserva from Spain. The passion fruit pits add an interesting textural element, that could be mistaken for a small piece of mussel shell. I am not sure if that was an intended effect.
The second course was conger eel tartare with a wasabi vinaigrette, avocado, and carpaccio of zucchini, paired excellently with a Chenin Blanc from Israel. This dish reminded me of a poke and was very nice. I am not sure if I am more surprised about the quality of the food or the quality of the wine pairing. Probably the latter, because even restaurants with multiple Michelin stars manage to mess up wine pairings and this was just perfect.
The third course was seared tuna with a crust of fennel seed and coriander seed, with a kale coulis, and polenta, paired excellently with an oaked Pinot Grigio from Veneto. I usually don’t care so much for polenta, but this was a very nice combination. The tuna was delicious and worked very well with the wine.
Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the fourth course. It was fillet mignon with a chocolate and citrus sauce with mashed sweet potato, paired well with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Israel. The beef was good and the sauce very elegant, with only hints of chocolate and citrus. The Cabernet was quite elegant as well and therefore worked well with the citrus in the sauce.
The dessert was a chocolate tartlet with grand marnier, served with a coulis of cherries or berries.
This came with a glass of uchua liquor from Copey de Dota in Costa Rica. Uchua is Spanish for goldenberry or physalis. This is a unique drink from Costa Rica that was a very good pairing with the dessert. Sweet enough but also fresh enough.
We really enjoyed this tasting menu. Everything was delicious, well prepared, and beautifully presented. The wine pairings were all great, which is rare. Chef Sanchez uses the best local produce for this degustation and turns it into dishes with local, Asian and European influences. He selected the wines himself. This is great value for money and not to be missed if you are visiting this part of Costa Rica!
It was clear that the serving staff were not used to serving a degustation menu with wine pairing. The wines were poured at the bar (and not at the table to show the bottle, as is customary) and sometimes they forgot to bring us the wine when we already had the food. Or they didn’t explain the dishes or the wines. The waiters were very friendly and this was all fixed quickly when we asked.
We returned the next day for lunch. The tagliolini ai frutti di mare I had at Ubin was better than at two Italian restaurants in Tamarindo with Italian chefs and 5-star ratings on TripAdvisor. Guess where we’ll have dinner tonight?