I don’t attempt restaurant reviews because when I’m home in Boquete I don’t like to eat out. Sorry, but there really aren’t, or until now haven’t been, any outstanding restaurants or chefs. I like the food at Panamonte and the ambiance and service and it is consistent. The Rock food is sometimes good, other times just OK, and the service is sometimes very good and other times not. The Rock has a nIce ambiance and location but is not consistent. Frankly, I don’t eat out much because when I’m on the ship I’m eating out every night. So after several months eating out on board ship, when I’m home I just want to sit by the fire with Nikki and the dogs, watch a movie or series, and eat in my easy chair dressed in my grubbies..
Until now …
I wrote earlier about the celebrity chef opening a new restaurant in Boquete. Davide Care is a real, celebrity chef and his new Retrogusto restaurant on Avenida Central offers a nice, upscale ambiance, good service, and fantastic food. The bar tender, Leo, worked on Royal Caribbean for four years and is friendly and makes a fantastic margarita. Davide had found a guy in Volcan who makes limoncello which is as good as the real deal that’s made in Italy.
This month I begin my twelfth year in Boquete. Twelve years ago I never dreamed we would have a four-lane highway to David and NEVER thought we’d have a great Italian restaurant, with the real-deal Neapolitan pizza, and TWO … not one but two! … gelaterias!
Davide, who is Giuseppe Garibaldi on Facebook [Garibaldi was the military commander who played a key role in the formation of a united Italy, but also played key military roles in Brazil and Uruguay], has been executive chef for top-rated restaurants in Europe and Asia. He and his wife Ziling looked at various Central American countries, as well as Casco Viejo, before deciding to make their home in Boquete and open their own restaurant in town.
Davide has an incredible way of blending flavors together in unexpected ways. I’m not a fan of smoked salmon, but his appetizer of smoked salmon, feta cheese that he makes himself, some fresh herbs, and a touch of crusty sweetness all plated beautifully is to die for. His thin slices of ceviche corvina are wonderful. He offers a baked mushroom cap topped with an Italian-style sausage with a light cheese sauce that is excellent. My way of ordering is to sit down and say, “Hey Davide … feed me!” since I figure the chef knows what’s best.
What is now one of my favorites had me scratching my head when the waiter first placed it in front of me. A light cheese fondue sauce with a perfectly poached egg, a slice of fried spice Italian sausage, and some delicious crunchy croutons. “Really?” But strange as it looked to me, the blending of flavors was incredible.
Davide makes his own bread, cheeses, sausages, and the beef … Most gringos eventually give up on beef in Panama because no matter what you do to it, it’s pretty much like shoe leather. [Most of our beef is Brahma because the Brahma tolerated Panama’s heat and are happy to eat what grass they can find. So the beef is lean, tough, and without a lot of flavor. I have a cousin who is in the cattle food supplement business in the States and he tells me that Brahma lacks the enzyme that causes meat to deteriorate and spoil. Another reason why the Spaniards liked Brahma: you could hang it and it wouldn’t spoil.] Davide serves up great chunks of local beef, but because it is dry-aged for 24 days it is flavorful and tender like you would never expect from local beef.
Davide makes all his own pasta. I’m not a big fan of gnocchi, but the other night he served up gnocchi in a delicious creamy sauce with silvered almonds. The blending of the gnocchi, cheese and almonds was incredible. His home-made meat ravioli with mushroom sauce is superb, as was his tortellini stuffed with cheese.
I can’t eat shell-fish but Nikki had a sea food chowder that was excellent and filled with shell-fish. [Don’t feel bad for me: there was a time when I ate clams, lobster and shrimp like there was nothing else to eat on earth. I grew up in New Jersey and went to school in Boston and clam chowder or a bucket of steamer clams was heaven. A friend and I traveled around the New England coast, sleeping wherever, but we took along a big pot and we’d buy lobsters that maybe had a claw missing and couldn’t be sent to market so were being sold along the road cheap. Pop ’em in a pot of boiling water … So while I could, I ate far more than my share of shell-fish.]
Davide’s trout entre was delicious and this is the first time, ever, I’ve had trout fillets that did not have a single bone!
The pizza is authentic Neapolitan pizza … Davide’s sauce, mozzarella cheese, pizza crust, all home-made and cooked to perfection in 90 seconds [required if it is to be the authentic Neapolitan pizza] in a super hot wood-fired oven.
Desserts are just as creative. My favorite is a frozen coconut parfait topped with tiny chunks of fresh pineapple and sprinkled with dried rose petals.
The other night I spotted a friend who knows her stuff when it comes to high-end restaurants and food and it was her first time at Retrogusto. After the meal I asked here what she thought. “Incredible. There’s nothing like this in Chiriqui. Now we can bring our friends here when the visit from the States and they’ll realize we don’t live in a third-world country.”