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Colibri Restaurant, Something for Every Palate I have a confession. I don't invite vegan friends over for dinner. They're nice, friendly folks, but what the heck do I feed them? It's intimidating. I'm not what you would call an inspired cook to begin with and all I feel safe feeding a vegan is veggies, beans, and quinoa. That's boring. I've looked in the vegan section of a cookbook but I don't even know what seitan makhani or aloo matar is, much less be able to make it. Although matar in Spanish means kill, a bad cooking omen. Which is why I was so excited when the new restaurant Colibri opened in what was formerly Mango's at Isla Verde and advertised that they specialized in vegan and vegetarian dishes. I could invite my picky vegan friends out to eat, and Colibri would know what to do with them. They also have pork, chicken, beef and fish dishes for those of us who like more variety in our food. The owners of Colibri are Carolina Saldarriaga from Colombia and Daniele Levorato from Italy. They are both business and love/life partners; and this is their first restaurant, although Daniele has had previous restaurant experience. What I love about them is that they are welcoming and friendly, and sincerely want to make your dining experience with them a good one. Their chef is Chris Young, formerly of Valle Escondido, who has an excellent reputation in town. The Colibri decor is minimal yet comfortable. Like the old Mango's, there is a lot of light and open space. "Boquete is a lovely place and a great opportunity," says Carolina when asked why they chose Boquete. "It's about bringing something new here with a constantly changing menu and lots of specials." So what exactly is new about Colibri? Well,the large array of vegan and vegetarian options for one. And their menu is creative and diverse. Their passion is to use fresh, local produce, fish, and other markets to produce a unique dining experience. For instance, ceviche is a well known local dish, but add passion fruit to it and it makes it ever so exotic. Arepa is a Colombian/Venezuelan specialty but when you turn it into a beef slider (a la White Castle from the mid-west) you've developed a creative combination. Check their menu out at their website: http://www.restaurantecolibri.com/. I've been to Colibri to eat twice now and both times the food was delectable. The first time I went with my husband for dinner. He had amber jack fish on rice paired with a pineapple sauce. He loved it. I had Pad Thai with beef- Carolina warned me it was spicy, but I like my food hot, so for me it was perfectly seasoned. I did think that $17.00 for beef Pad Thai was pricey. The second time I went for lunch with a friend, who is a vegetarian. She was thinking about the coffee bisque soup, and wanted to know if it was vegetarian. Daniele went back to the kitchen to ask and reported it had chicken stock in it, so my friend went with the roasted tomato basil soup, which she really enjoyed. I liked that Daniele checked on the soup's ingredients with a "no problem" attitude and reported right back to us. It is that kind of service that is much appreciated, especially here in Panama. My friend also requested a side order of coconut roasted potatoes which technically was a side to the falafels, but once again, it wasn't a problem. I had the Thai Marinated Beef Tenderloin Salad. The beef was tender, nicely spiced, and the salad was perfectly done. Their Crème Brulée is to die for. When we asked for our check, I mentioned that we were Jubliados and was told that the jubliado discount applies only to the five main courses listed on the menu. Sure enough, there in fine print it says so at the bottom of the menu. I asked Carolina why they chose to do this, and she said it was to keep their prices down. But, in my opinion, their prices are on the high side. Many of you will no doubt think that I am making "much ado about nothing" but it will be my small personal act of a rebellion to order only those items which offer the discount. But I digress. If you want delicious, interesting and creative food with great service, owners who aim to please, and a locally renowned chef, Colibri is the place to go. And you'll never have to worry about what to feed a vegan again.
As we finished eating dinner tonight at home, I said to my husband: "What would we do without PriceSmart Potstickers?" "They are consistently good," my husband agreed. To be fair, Candice Chrestman's Thai dipping sauce really made the meal. I love Pricemart Potstickers because I don't like to cook. I'm not good at it. Having a meal that I cook come out well is statistically at chance. I throw the cooking dice and hope for the best. Which is why I love restaurants. They do the cooking for me. I wish I could say that they all do it well, but here are some examples of some Boquete restaurant faux-pas (all restaurants are now out of business or under new ownership): A restaurant charged me for the meal which I wouldn't eat even though I complained that meat sauce thrown over lasagna noodles was not lasagna. They said it was "bastante bien." Maybe. But it wasn't lasagna. When I quietly pulled an owner over to let him know that my friend and I had both experienced food poisoning symptoms after eating at his restaurant, he yelled at me to "stay the f_ _k out of my restaurant." I did as requested. A fairly large restaurant had no waiters or bartenders when my husband went to order a pizza to go. He ordered it directly from the chef who didn't know where everyone was. If you've lived here for a while, I bet you have similar stories. I don't have any funny horror stories to tell about Retro Gusto, a new restaurant in town down the street from the Catholic church. It has an open dining area which is spacious and chic in an understated way and a nice selection of appetizers, salads, pasta dishes, meats, and pizza. I ordered the meat pizza and was pretty clear that I did not want chicken on it. It came with chicken. When I pointed it out to the waitress, she cheerfully returned it to the kitchen. My pizza (sans chicken) came back again with a light crust, a nicely seasoned sauce and tasty toppings. My husband had the pork chop, that although a bit overcooked, was "very flavorful." We then had the Nutella dessert pizza, which was delectable. A chewy crust with plenty of that sweet hazelnut filling. I could live on the Nutella's pizza alone. Considering the quality and quantity (a lot) of the food, the prices were reasonable. The menu said that the prices were "promotional" so I hope that they are not raised in the near future. They're just right where they're at. Nothing kills a restaurant in Boquete faster than overpriced food. Davide Care', the owner, stopped by to apologize for the mix-up on the order and to ask us how everything was, which is something that seldom happens in Boquete. He had previously opened a restaurant in Shanghai that was very successful, and I can see why, considering his attention to detail and concern about his customers. Davide's vision is "creating the first Italian farm to table in Panama which is in synergy with all the amazing producers of region. What makes a restaurant successful is location, concept and soul...you need the last one to succeed." And let's not forget consistency. In Boquete, owners practically need to live at their restaurants to insure consistency. Which, in addition to not being able to cook, is why I would never open a restaurant. Let me raise my glass of wine to toast the new Retro Gusto. May it continue to serve great food at reasonable prices on a consistent basis. May it become one of those restaurants that you automatically think of as an option when you decide to go out and eat. In the mean time, I have my home menu of either Potstickers, grilled chicken, or meat loaf. I can make a mean meat loaf when the cooking dice are in my favor.