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Chowhound Dinner: Pura Vida - Review

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Chowhound Dinner: Pura Vida - Review

Jacquilynne | Mar 21, 2005 04:29 PM

This month's Chowhound dinner was at Pura Vida Costa Rican restaurant, at the corner of Bloor and Landsdowne. Pura Vida, from what I gathered in my 11 hours in Costa Rica is the unofficial Costa Rican motto. They use it as a greeting, a rallying cry and a way of life.

Kathleen had helpfully stopped by earlier in the day to make arrangments, which was fortunate as they apparently had to make special plans to have an English speaking waitress available that evening. She was pleasantly accommodating and although English was clearly her second language very helpful and able to explain most things - except why the bread was described as 'naked' on the menu. She made recommendations and accommodations throughout the meal.

The group started with a couple of appetizers to share. Fried plantain with cheese was yummy, and nicely presented, returned to the skin of the plaintain. The naked wheat bread, which turned out to be fully dressed was like bruschetta on acid. Instead of watery tomato and basil, it was covered with a sweet and spicy salsa, melted cheese and jalapeno peppers. The bread itself was thick and tasty. We also ordered a plate of the house Nachos, which came, as the menu described them, 'a lot of goodies'. Covered in a sauce, cheese, and bits of many other things, the nachos were served in a pie plate that contained only some of the mess. The best part about it was that the tortilla chips being used were obviously freshly made. Some of them sogged under the pressure of the mountains of sauce above, which was unfortunate.

We each ordered our own entrees, and there were a few orders for rice dishes, one enchilada and two of the 'married plates', which we determined probably referred to a homestyle meal. The rice dishes certainly looked good and came with a generous amount of seafood.

The 'casado' with fish came with some lovely black beans, a healthy serving of some seasoned white rice, a bit of a salsa styled salad, some potato stew with a lovely flavour of cumin, and a fairly generous piece of white fish, pan fried with simple spicing. It was fairly plain food, nothing fance, no elaborate presentation, but the lack of adornment really let the quality of the ingredients shine through. The fish, while thinly filleted was moist and juicy and flavourful on its own merits. The rice was nicely flavoured, despite looking like plain white rice. The unexpected potato stew was rich and interesting. This very large entree was $9.

When dessert came we opted for some pie and some tres leches cake. The tres leches cake was very sweet. Too sweet for some of the hounds. It was cake, soaked in condensed milk, covered in a milky cream and plated with more condensed milk. I thought it tasty, but the piece they served, which looked small was far more than I would have wanted to eat on my own. The pie was said to be pineapple, but seemed to be apple when it arrived. The filling was nondescript and tasted mostly of cinnamon while the crust was thick and mealy, all in all, not great pie. The fact that we were never entirely certain whether it was, in fact, pineapple or apple was not a great sign.

There was a great deal of confusion when the bill came, as some items had been included twice, and others not at all. I'm not entirely certain we had it all sorted out when we left, as we seemed to all think we owed much more than the actual bill.

Getting to Pura Vida couldn't be much simpler, there's a subway station (Landsdowne) mere feet away, and only a few feet beyond that is a Green P parking lot.

The restaurant is very plain and utilitarian, dominated by a large projection screen for television. They run karaoke on it sometimes, football or boxing others, and Spanish language television still other times. This isn't a fine dining establishment by any stretch of the imagination, but the food is flavourful, generous, and inexpensive. It's a real chowfind.

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