The Flavor of Costa Rica
By Elisa Bosley,Â food photography by Andrew Purcell
Most people know and love Costa Rica for its fabulous natural landscapes: verdant rainforest, pristine beaches, mist-shrouded volcanoes, tumbling waterfalls. But for an increasing number of travelers hungry for more than scenery, Costa Rica also offers foods that are at once fresh, exotic, and supremely comforting: ripe mangoes, voluptuous papayas, simple rice and beans, giant pots of vegetable-laden soup, fresh fish steeped in herbs, rich roasted coffee, cool glasses of pale limonada. In this country as elsewhere, the local flavors offer much more than mere nourishmentâ€”much the way a kiss communicates more than mere regard.
At Xandari, a unique resort and spa set on a former coffee plantation overlooking Costa Rica's Central Valley, the country's indigenous gifts of sight, sound, and taste enjoy full reign. Created and owned by a husband-and-wife, architect-and-artist team, Xandari is a dream come true for people seeking an easily accessible tropical vacation destination. An easy twenty-minute drive from San Jose International Airport, this gorgeous spot beckons honeymooners and families, as well as business travelers who may have only a day or two to spare, who seek to experience Costa Rica's renowned beauty, hospitality, and food.
Although Sherrill and Charlene Broudy, Xandari's visionary owners, hail from California, Xandari is nothing like a typical, American-style resort plopped in an exotic location. In designing Xandari, Sherrill says that his goal was to â€œexpress my vision of Costa Ricaâ€”curved lines that remind me of the gentleness of the people; generous outdoor spaces for enjoying the excellent climate; a serene setting of exotic flowering plants; natural ventilation rather than air conditioningâ€”and to augment this vision, kilometers of scenic trails through fruit orchards, coffee trees, bamboo groves, banks of wildflowers, and Tarzan jungles with vine-laden trees to waterfalls and natural pools.â€
That vision is now a reality. Each roomy guest villa is designed to complement rather than dominate the land's natural beauty, featuring bold colors, original artwork (much of it created by Charlene), curved walls and ceilings, Latin-American fabrics and woods, and private patios. Gorgeous, lush gardens surround every structure, and walls are painted to reflect and enhance the area's beauty, using a palette that stretches from warm terra-cotta to deep purple, vivid yellow, and bright red.
Perhaps wisest of all, the Broudys hired local townspeopleâ€”mothers, sons, brothers, and sisters from the adjoining town of Tacacoriâ€” to infuse Xandari with the simpatico nature intrinsic to the Costa Rican people. â€œI think the nice thing is, our people are not â€˜professional'; they're all from up and down the street, and they live and work right here, like we do. They're genuinely sincere [about caring for this place], and I think it makes a difference,â€ says Sherrill.
Taste for Life
The townspeople who staff Xandari share the Broudy's enthusiasm for showing off the best their country has to offer, and their dedication shows. Jorge Alfaro Rojas, Xandari's young and enthusiastic chef, has been on staff for ten yearsâ€”and he's only twenty-three. â€œI started in the garden . . . then I was a bartender, and now I'm the chef,â€ he says, laughing.
While he's well-versed in traditional world cuisines, Rojas' vision includes bringing more of Costa Rica's natural foods to tourists' attention. â€œNormally in the hotels, they never use Costa Rican food,â€ he says. He understands the opportunity, as well as the challenge, of enticing tourists with local cuisine. â€œIf you come here from Italy or France or the United States, and you eat food that's [supposed to be] French, you say, â€˜well, they tried, but the flavor is not the same'â€”so it's better to offer the really good Costa Rican food.â€
As Xandari's menu evolves, more of the country's traditional dishes are appearing on the extensive menu. â€œWe have chorriadas [corn pancakes], gallo pinto [rice and bean mixture with herbs], and sopa negra [black bean soup]â€”that's the best,â€ Rojas says with a smile. â€œIf the food is good, people will like it. Here we try to use fresh everything. It's easier to buy [ready-made ingredients], but we want to use everything [that grows] here.â€
In the morning, guests gather in the main lodge and breakfast in the al fresco dining area, as the morning sun gently illuminates the green hillsides. A complimentary buffet breakfast includes a mountain of freshly cut, locally grown fruits, homemade muffins and breads, granola, yogurt, several fresh juices, a pick-me-up blend called the Tica Mama (see recipe on page 51), and Costa Rican coffee or tea. Guests may also order from the more extensive breakfast menu, which includes the not-to-be-missed Chorriadas (Rojas's mother's secret recipe).
Lunch options include soups, salads, sandwiches, and a few specialties, such as Tacos al Alambre: chunks of chicken marinated in garlic, oregano, thyme, and Salsa Lizano (Costa Rica's famous bottled condiment), grilled and served with homemade corn tortillas, black beans, guacamole, and fajita-style vegetablesâ€”all presented on a glossy green banana leaf.
Dinners are fresh, innovative, and satisfying, with a decidedly elegant presentation. Arroz con Pollo is a classic Tico dish of rice and chicken, served with crispy yucca chips; it's wonderful served alongside the Xandari Salad, a mix of just-picked greens, avocado, sunflower seeds, goat cheese, and a unique papaya-seed dressing.
What makes Xandari special is its seamless blend of Costa Rican charm, stunning natural beauty, and top-tier comfort. The serene, unselfconsciously elegant setting and ambiance make you feel that you're at a home away from homeâ€”perhaps visiting a fabulously creative and artistic cousin. In the words of the head gardener, Jose Luis Ballestero, â€œI feel all this [Costa Rica's landscape] was made by God; and he put man in the middle of the Garden of Eden to preserve it, not destroy it. Xandari is a model of what can be done.â€ From the food you'll eat to the warmth of Costa Rican hospitality, it's a delicious way to experience paradise.Â
Xandari Spa Village
Xandari's elegant, nature-focused, full-service spa capitalizes on the smells, sounds, and sensations of this lush tropical climate. Super-private treatment rooms, called jalapas, feature thatched roofs and are open on two sides to gentle, temperate breezes and the cheerful cacophony of Costa Rica's countless wild birds. Each softly lit room has a massage table and tiled shower, plus a roomy Jacuzzi available before or after treatments as you sip fresh juice and gaze out over the emerald-green hillsides. On-site ingredients are used liberally in all spa treatments; try the aromatic Costa Rican Coffee & Macadamia Body Buff, or an Aromatherapy Hair Mask, which includes a blissful scalp massage using a customized blend of oils and herbs.
â€œWe like to use products that we find on the plantation, such as coffee, papaya, and herbs [including rosemary, sage, and mint],â€ explains HÃ©lÃ¨ne Faivre, spa director, â€œas well as selva de Osaâ€â€”mud from Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, renowned for its skin-nourishing properties. â€œIt would be easy to offer treatments that come from Asia or all over, but we want this place to be truly Costa Rican.â€
For more information, call (800) 686-7879 or visit www.xandari.com.
Tica Mama (Breakfast Smoothie)
1 Â Â Â cup chopped fresh papaya
1/2 Â Â Â cup chopped cantaloupe
1 Â Â Â banana
1 Â Â Â cup orange juice
1Â Â Â cup milk
1/2 Â Â Â cup granola or bran flakes
1 Â Â Â tsp. vanilla extract
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Papaya-Seed Dressing (Aderezo de papaya)
1Â Â Â Â clove garlic
2Â Â Â Â tbs. chopped onion
1/2 Â Â Â tbs. chopped fresh tarragon
2Â Â Â Â tbs. fresh papaya seeds
1/2 Â Â Â tbs. fresh ginger
1/2 Â Â Â tsp. salt
1/2 Â Â Â tsp. black pepper
1/2 Â Â Â tsp. dry mustard
1/4 Â Â Â cup rice vinegar
3/4 Â Â Â cup olive or canola oil
Organic Mixed Greens:
Organic mixed greens
Sliced red bell pepper
Sliced red onion
Sliced fresh tomato
Goat or feta cheese
Toasted sunflower seeds
1. Combine all dressing ingredients except oil in a blender and blend well. Incorporate oil a bit at a time, blending until emulsified.
2. Arrange remaining ingredients on serving plates. Drizzle with dressing and serve.