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VOL. 13 #3 -- Jan./ Ene. 26 - Feb. 8, 2007
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Places

 

La Esquina de Van Gogh

This bright and beautiful place deserves better culinary effort

Dining out is like flying in an airplane. Every once in awhile, an establishment takes you on a trip that reaches a high altitude and stays there, coasting on excellent food, superior service and a relaxing ambience before finally coasting to a smooth landing that leaves you with the feeling that you just experienced a highly enjoyable culinary journey.

Then there are others that take you on a rather bumpy ride that leaves you feeling that "it could have been better...much better". "La Esquina Van Gogh" is, unfortunately, one of the latter.

First of all, I must state that I have a bias against frozen, pre-prepared food being served in anything but a fast food restaurant. Either make it fresh or don’t offer it. For example, our appetizer order, the El Cuarteto de Vincent ($16.50 for 4 persons), featured packaged breaded mozzarella sticks and packaged Hot Chicken Wings. The nachos that filled one end of the platter were barely warm and the cheese oozed on top was of the liquid variety, not melted. And it was cold. As for the promised quesadilla, none were served. Instead of a variety of ‘dipping sauces’, there was one. If I want frozen mozzarella sticks and packaged hot chicken wings, I will buy them at PriceSmart. Not a good start.


Guests of La Esquina de Van Gogh also enjoy a good selection of art reproductions and free internet access.

Next up was Sopa de Cebolla/Onion Soup ($3.50). This needs to be removed from the menu until the chef learns how to make it. What we tasted was a broth that was definitely not beef or beef consúme, the onions barely sauteed, not caramelized, and the bread slice on top capped with a slice of cold cheese. No attempt had been made to place the soup under a broiler to melt and brown the cheese as is customary. It turned out that this procedure wasn’t necessary...the soup liquid had so much oregano in it that we couldn’t, and didn’t, eat it.

Things took a marginal upswing when the main courses arrived. The Pollo Chombito/Blackie Chicken ($5.50) was a large, flattened chicken breast that had been grilled and topped with a "Tropical Fruit Sauce". The breast was tasty and moist, but the "Fruit Sauce" consisted of nothing more than small chunks of cold pineapple. Trout Frangelico ($9.50) was a large and moist filet of trout, so mthered, however, with a ‘creamy sauce’ that was thick rather than creamy. The ‘Shrimps Flambee with Frangelico’ topping the sauce were chewy and the entire dish was served at room temperature. Someone in the kitchen needs to learn how to manage several entré orders at once, so others don’t sit and get cold. Or why not place the already prepared meals in a hot holding oven? Meals served at room temperature is not acceptable.


The restaurant is located on Vía Veneto, accross from Hotel Las Vegas.

The Curry Tuna Sky Wrap ($4.50) turned out to be a very large empanada style sandwich. While the flavor was good, it too was only just warm and I had the feeling that its perfect shape and appearance had more to do with a machine than a human hand. While I could be wrong, "frozen" crossed my mind. This suspicion was supported by the "onion rings" served with it...definitely out of a bag. Why? How much effort does it take to dip fresh onion slices in batter and fry them? That one step would lift the dish into another category altogether.

The Vegetable Pasta with Olive Oil ($7.50) was very good. The pasta and vegetables were al dente, the olive oil just the perfect light touch. Next up was the Chimi Churrasco ($9.50), a quite large portion of meat that, while slightly tough as most carne nacional is, it was nevertheless quite juicy and good.

La Esquina Van Gogh

Via Veneto, across from the Las Vegas Suites Hotel

Rating: 1/2
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Hoping for a good close, we ordered dessert, but the Cheesecake ($2.75) was the only one that was very good. The Chocolate Cake ($2.50) was very dry and the Flan ($2.50) was abandoned after one bite.

I think it is important to state that I always give a restaurant the benefit of a doubt; perhaps the chef is having a terrible day, maybe there are problems in the kitchen we customers are unaware of. This happens, I know, because I have owned and operated restaurants in the past. But La Esquina Van Gogh is a small, bright, gallery-like restaurant, its walls covered in vibrant art, and Brazilian music playing in the background, and with such visual appeal, it deserves a better culinary effort than was served my party.

 
 
 

With Rancho Río and the "Bubba Gump"

The coast of Coclé awaits you


The "Bubba Gump" offers visitors "work" and relaxation.

The coast of the province of Coclé is starting to "wake up" as a tourist destination, not only due to the large beach resorts that have opened in the area in recent years, but also thanks to smaller projects seeking to offer visitors an alternative with a "native" twist.

One such investment is Restaurante Rancho Río, located in Farallón – a large, thatched-roof bohio offering fresh seafood specialties near the mouth of the Farallón River. Surrounded by the green forests of the river, Rancho Río offers an ambiance of tropical seclusion, away from the crowds of nearby resorts, where guests can enjoy everything from a mixed seafood platter to steak and poultry specialties prepared by well-trained chefs.

During the evenings, Rancho Río offers live folklore performances featuring Coclesano troupes, as well as live music in a variety of genres. The restaurant's facilities also include a souvenir shop, internet facilities and an eco circuit "River Adventure Land" encompassing a canopy tour over the Farallón River.


Alberto Quirós, one of the owners of Rancho Río, accompanied by one of the restaurant's chefs.

The Bubba Trade Company, the parent company of Restaurante Rancho Río, also owns and operates the Bubba Gump, – a remodeled shrimp vessel which offers guests the opportunity to learn all about the shrimp fishing experience in the coast of Coclé.

Sailing along the beaches of Farallón, Sea Cliff, Juan Hombrón and Santa Clara, passengers on the Bubba Gump can volunteer to be "put to work" helping with the catch before they enjoy the sunset with a cool drink and refreshments.

The Bubba Gump also offers an hour-long trip along the bay (snacks included), a deep-sea fishing tour (five hours long) and a "Champagne Sunset Tour."

During the high tourist season in Panama (December-April) The Bubba Gump is based in Farallón. After April, the Bubba Gump is based at the Amador Causeway, in Panama City, alternately plying in the Bay of Panama and the Farallón area.

The Bubba Trade Company is a member of the "Coclé, Tu Mejor Destino" Cluster, a group of companies working to transform Coclé into a recognizable tourist destination.

 
 



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