Saturday, January 26, 2013

El Rancho Restaurant at Villa Nicolas

I am always careful when I eat out. I need to eat Gluten Free, and usually find this to be a challenge where ever I go. However, I had a great experience in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica at a great little gourmet restaurant called El  Rancho.

I have known Chef Kennet (aka Pato) and his spouse Susan for many years. Susan hails from Maine and has worked at Villas Nicolas over the years. Chef Pato has worked for some of the finest hotels in Manuel Antonio and is known throughout the area as one of the best chefs. Chef Pato now holds court at El Rancho, now located at Villas Nicolas.

Chef Pato

Compared to other Latin countries, Costa Ricans eat dinner relatively early. The sun sets @ 6pm almost all year. So, its dark shortly after 6pm. Restaurants generally serve dinner from 6 to 9pm

El Rancho is an affordable boutique restaurant open to the public. Everyday Chef Pato and staff meet with fishermen, and  farmers to search for the best products for the evening meal. One night, I had Snook,  another night Sea Bass, and then tuna the following night.

Chef Pato fuses native food with an international flare, yet prices are not at international heights. Many of Chef Pato's dishes are naturally Gluten Free. Unlike the USA, where the chefs are tucked away, Pato is front and center in an open air kitchen, cooking for all to see. He is conscious of dietary needs of his customers and is willing to make things for special order. Just ask!

(The semi-circular bar is popular with many patrons. )

I told Pato my dietary needs and was able to make many dishes that were Gluten Free. One night I had "Snook Fish" Snook is a deep water Pacific fish-simply Delicious! Because this is a small restaurant, I felt like I had a personal chef! We ate at El Rancho 6 times in the course of two weeks!

Always pleasing to the eye and the palate!

(Chef Pato's spouse Susan hails from Maine and occasionally assists when the restaurant is busy!)

There are many dining establishments in Manuel Antonio, but this is one should not be missed. Other signature dishes are: chicken curry, Pork, and other FRESH seafoood.

The Details:
El Rancho at Villas Nicolas
Km 4 on the Manuel Antonio Road ( next to Si Como No)
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Chef Pato
Open everyday (Closed Sundays)
Sunset to 9.30pm
Cash Only
Full Bar.
Contemporary Native Costa Rican Cuisine.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Running in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica-Steam & Sweat

No matter where I am in the world, I always try to  find the time to run. It is something I do almost everyday.

(Aerial of Puerto Quepos)

This month I am in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Costa Rica is  a mountainous developing country. The infrastructure is not at par with the USA. Roads are narrow and often without sidewalks.

In Manuel Antonio, the Carretera is a 7 km road that is well paved that stretches from the fishing town of Quepos to Manuel Antonio beach. The road is steep with many inclines, and tight turns. There are few sidewalks. However, there is  one stretch of sidewalk that starts at the top of the mountain, and winds down to near the beach for about a mile.

(there is a sidewalk from Villa Roca to Mogambo, about a mile)

Running on the this mountainous road is a challenge. It takes "steam & sweat" to run here. To run up the steep inclines requires a lot of steam, which in turn produces and abundance of sweat! If you are into endurance training, this is the place!

The first three days my glute muscles and legs were sore from running up the mountain. My muscles were challenged. Everyday I challenged myself to overcome the pain, by increasing my mileage. By the end of two weeks I was able tackle the steep hills and inclines.

(incredible views and vistas on the Carretera on the way to the beach)

While running on the main road (Carretera) I noticed, monkeys, sloths and a variety of birds ( toucans). Also, the beach on Manuel Antonio is flat, and at low tide the sand is packed down which is good for running if you don't want to tackle the massive hills....There is no need to run with a shirt in Manuel Antonio. It's a beach town, and you will sweat!

Running Tips:
Do not run in Quepos centre, its too busy. If you must run in Quepos, run from the Malecon towards Parrita.
Be careful running on Manuel Antonio Road ( aka la Carretera), few sidewalks. 
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate.
Run early in the morning before the sun is too strong. Guys, go shirtless. 
Run on Manuel Antonio beach when it is not high tide. 

As you get closer to the beach, a large picture of Lady Gaga greets you. This is located at "Liquid Lounge" a new gay night club.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sunset in Manuel Antonio, Cost Rica

Sunsets over the Pacific in Manuel Antonio should not be missed. The resort area of Manuel Antonio / Quepos is nine degrees above the equator. There is virtually equal parts of day and night all year round.

Many restaurants/bars have incredible views and offer sunset specials starting @ 4pm to 7pm. The Costa Rican mountains are lush with jungle and cascade into the Pacific ocean. Late afternoon the sky over the Pacific emerges from blue to a kaleidoscope of colors as the sun melts into the endless sea.

One day Michael and I spent the entire day on the beach, and watched the sun fade into the Pacific.

Other days we went to the famed Barba Roja restaurant to watch the sunset. Barba Roja is one of the "mainstays" of Manuel Antonio. Its one of the oldest restaurants. It's a hangout for Ticos, expats and tourists alike.

One of our favorite places is a newer establishment called Mogambo at Rapheal's Terraza's. This little sunset bar caters to a gay clientele and is lively (especially on Sundays). The views are perfect. The right amount of jungle and Pacific. Isla Magote and other islands make a nice backdrop for a dramatic sunset.

The bar has a great happy hour with two for one, and there is a cute restaurant locate down below. The bar/restaurant is locate halfway between the beach and the top of the hill on the "Manuel Antonio Road" aka careterra. While at this bar, we ran into people we knew from Boston. You never know who you may meet in the jungle!

If you are visiting the west coast of Costa Rica, you cannot miss the amazing sunsets....

The Details:
Bar Mogambo at Raphael's Terraza's 
(Sunset bar located above restaurant)
On the Manuel Antonio Road going toward the beach
Gay Clientele
Open Tuesday to Sunday 4pm to Midnight. Closed Monday. Sundays are festive
Happy hour 4pm to 6pm 
Telephone: + 506.2777.6310
Barba Roja Restaurant
Centre of Manuel Antonio on Manuel Antonio Road
One of Manuel Antonio's oldest restaurants 
Great Seafood and epic sunset!

(View from Restaurante Barba Roja January 2013)

(One of our favorite photos from Barba Roja November 2007)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Isla Magotes & the Beaches of Manuel Antonio

The iconic Isla Magotes proudly sits in the Pacific and watches over the  beaches of  Manuel Antonio and Parque Nacional.

This uninhabited island is a protected sanctuary for birds. The rocky island jumps up from the Pacific. In 1519 ( over 100 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock) Ponce de Leon "discovered" Quepos and Manuel Antonio. He was looking for the infamous "Fountain of Youth". I actually believe he may have found it!  The nearby Nicoya  region in Costa Rica is known as a "Blue Zone" by National Geographic. Blue Zones are areas in the world where people live long lives, often  into their 100's.

There are several beaches in Manuel Antonio. The main beach stretches from The National Park ( a protected preserve) to the horse shoe bay of "Playitas". The main beach is long (1.5 km) with dramatic tides.

On the main beach there are concessions where you can rent chairs and umbrellas.  We rented a chair and umbrella everyday. Even though it is  9 degrees above the equator, Costa Ricans call  January, February and March summer. It's the warmest time of year, and there is less rain.  Strong sun block is recommended, you can burn sitting in the shade!

The jungle stretches from the mountains and empties into the Pacific. Wildlife preserves, thick rain forests and the National Park ensures that there is an abundance of wild life and biodiversity. We saw three different breeds of monkeys, two different breeds of sloths and countless birds in the jungle and on the beach.

The waves are wild. Surfing is big in Manuel Antonio and there are many small surf schools. Other recreational activities are: para sailing, sailing, and  horseback riding.  There are stores, small hotels and restaurants near the beach.

Sunsets are amazing over the Pacific. I am use to seeing the sun rise over the Atlantic. So, it was nice to spend a few late afternoons on the beach and watch the sun sink into the warm waters of the Pacific, and watch nature paint the sky red.....Pura Vida.....

Friday, January 11, 2013

Back to Costa Rica-2013

Since 1999, Michael and I have travelled to Manuel Antonio/Quepos Costa Rica.

(Greg & Michael, 1999, first trip)

It is simply one of our favorite places in the world to go! This is my ninth trip and Michael's twelfth trip to this remote resort area in the Pacific region. Going back to Manuel Antonio is great, it's like visiting an old friend: warm, comfortable and always welcoming.

Since 1999 We have stayed at Villas Nicolas. Villas Nicolas is a collection of warm self catering "hotel villas" that are situated on the top of the "hill" in Manuel Antonio overlooking the jungle and Pacific ocean. These units are rented daily/weekly or by the month.

Most of the "villas" have a small kitchenette, a well appointed bed room, sitting area and out side terraces. Units are decorated with art work from local artists. There is a wide variety of units from budget to deluxe. The grounds are a mix of native tropical plants, with three different types of monkeys that travel through the thick jungle canopy everyday. Everyday we see and hear a variety of primates at our door step!

Villas Nicolas also has a nice pool, perfect for a refreshing dip after a long hard day at the beach!

Chef Pato, a well known chef in Manuel Antonio holds court everyday (except Sunday) at El Rancho, a gourmet boutique restaurant located on the grounds of Villas Nicolas. The open air restaurant is casual, and very affordable.

The Details:
Villas Nicolas
Located at @ km 4 on top of the hill next to "Si Como No"
Manuel Antonio
High Season is Christmas to Easter
Phone directly: 011.506 2777 0481