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VOL. 13 #5 -- Feb. 23 - Mar. 8, 2007
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La Posta: a star in Panama's culinary firmament

Subtly elegant decor, excellent food, prompt service. End of review.

It isn’t, of course. "La Posta", now open for less than two years and already a bright star in our capital city’s always challenging culinary firmament, deserves a more in-depth look at what makes it such a success. My first sentence does, however, answer that question rather succinctly if briefly.

"La Posta’s" main dining area in muted, varying shades of beige, is at once both simple and elegant. The interior has, in fact, the look of a well-established eatery in Lower Manhattan or San Francisco in the U.S., and it comes by that look naturally. Built on the foundations of an old outpost (thus the name, "La Posta") when San Felipe was the bustling capitol of Panamá, the building dates from the late 1800´s. The food, however, is new and unusually exciting.

My party let David Henesy, our host for the evening, select the menu and his choices were outstanding. The fresh-from-the-oven bread is homemade, its crust hard and crunchy, reminescent of sourdough, but not with the punch. The appetizers, "Pulpo Three Ways" ($9.50), "Camarones Con Almojabanos" ($7.50), "Atun" ($7.50) and "Carimañolas" ($7.50) were uniformly excellent. Not a great fan of octopus, I nevertheless found myself greatly enjoying the subtle differences in flavor presented by the three different methods of preparation. A very popular appetizer was the "Carimañolas". The filling of this was both rich in flavor and textures. A large bowl of "Cream of White Bean Soup" ($4.50), stocked with small shrimp and other tasty morsels, was the dish my dining companions regretted having to share, however. An excellent soup in every way.

The main course consisted of "Chuletón de Cerdo Chiricano" ($11.00), a crisp, at times crunchy, yet moist pork dish that offered a variety of textures and flavors. Though unusual, it was a much praised and successful dish. Next was Corvina ($10.75), baked in a paper envelope in "La Posta’s" custom made brick oven. The julliene vegetables were perfectly done and the fish delightlfully tender and flavorful. While not a great fan of corvina, this style of preparation lifted this mildly flavored fish into another category altogether.

La Posta

La Posta
Calle 49, Bella Vista, and Calle Uruguay

Rating: 1/2
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The "Nicoise Salad" ($9.50) was a light combination of greens, a perfectly poached egg, and tender slices of lightly seared tuna, topped gently with a flavorful dressing. The crown jewel of the meal was, without a doubt, the "Risotto Arborio" ($14.00), a pefectly prepared, moist risotto filled with all manner of seafood. Each bite presented a wide variety of flavors and textures, yet that same variety seemed to meld perfectly. This was a dish that any restaurant in the world could proudly serve and one I will certainly order again in future visits.

The attention to presentation of the dishes added yet another wonderful aspect to the meal. Many restaurants seem to forget that the visual appeal of a dish adds greatly to the overall culinary experience....it prepares the senses for what is to come. In that respect, "La Posta" excels. One wonderfully delicious example of "presentation" was a large garnish of fried watercress. Yes...fried watercress. While that may sound simple and mundane, let me assure you that it was one of the highlights of the meal. Still brightly green and mild looking, it was crisp to the bite and the watercress flavor simply burst in your mouth. Truly outstanding. If Fried Watercress doesn’t come with your meal, order it as a side dish...it is worth it.

Having started at such a high culinary level, it would seem impossible that "La Posta" could continue to grow and improve. But after watching the close, professional eye kept on what is being served, I think it is safe to say that we can expect much, much more from this excellent restaurant.

Personal note to the dining room manager; tell the wait staff to stop running. It is distracting to the diners and looks unprofessional. And if there is one thing the kitchen staff of "La Posta" is, it is professional.

 
 
 

Getting to know San Felipe

Panama City's Casco Antiguo (Old Quarter) is actually the "second" city of Panama, founded in 1673 after the sacking and burning of Panama La Vieja (Old Panama) by English privateer, Sir Henry Morgan two years earlier.

Built on a tiny, rocky peninsula five miles from the ruins of Panama La Vieja, the "new" city encompassed the neighborhood of San Felipe –the walled quarters of the well-to-do. The poor lived in extramuros (outside the wall), in an area known today as Santa Ana.

A large part of Casco Antiguo's original Spanish colonial architecture was lost in a number of fires during the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus, what we see today is the "resurrection" of the city with French, Caribbean and North American styles of the mid-to-late 1800s.

Another part of Casco Antiguo dates from the early days of the Republic (1904-1930), reflecting classic and art deco influences.

The following is a list of recommended sites at the Old Quater:
Casa Góngora: a museum and events venue, thought to be one of the oldest buildings in San Felipe
San José Church: home of the Golden Altar, the most valuable item saved from the sacking of Old Panama.
La Merced Church: the facade of which was moved, stone by stone from its original location at the ruins of Old Panama to its present location

 
 
 

An excellent location from which to discover Panama

An excellent location from which to discover Panama


The lodge’s manager, Michelle Britton (right) and members of her staff.

Visitors looking forward to relatively long stays on the Isthmus have a new lodging option: the Balboa Bay Bed & Breakfast, which only four months after its opening, has received guests from as far as Australia, North America and Europe.

The facility offers eight bedrooms (private, double, triple) as well as two apartments, plus a business center, a living room and a well-equipped kitchen. Rates range between US$10-50 per night, and the apartments can be hired for between $250-800 per month.


Comfort and relaxation in the heart of the city.

Balboa Bay’s best asset is its location. Housed in a restored townhouse, the facility is situated on Calle 39, Bella Vista –a district of colonial-style houses which is only blocks away from the trendy restaurants and discos of Calle Uruguay, the impressive urban development of Avenida Balboa and the shopping districts of Vía España and Avenida Central. The lodge is a short taxi drive from the country’s central bus station –Gran Terminal de Transporte, located in Albrook. Tocumen International Airport is only 25 minutes away, via the Corredor Sur expressway.

Owned by a Panamanian family, the Britton’s, Balboa Bay is managed by Michelle Britton, a young professional with degrees in marketing and hospitality, who will be glad to serve guests in Spanish, English and Italian.

For more information, call: 227-6182.

 
 
 

The Metropolitan Nature Park:

The City’s “Green lung”


A school group takes a tour of the metropolitan Nature Park, only five minutes from downtown Panama City.

Located just five minutes away from downtown Panama City, is one of the country’s most important natural attractions: the Metropolitan Nature Park. Known as the "Green Lung of the City", the park —the only tropical forest located within the limits of a major Latin American urban area—harbors a great variety of flora and fauna, and offers recreational and educational activities for all ages.

The Park’s friendly staff greets visitors at "Las Oropéndolas" room. There, a video presentation is offered, followed by interactive lectures and games on the importance of nature conservation.

After a short safety briefing, guests are taken into the field for an excursion on the Park’s nature trails, where it is possible to observe all sorts of tropical mammals, insects and reptiles in their natural habitat. Trips may take between one-and-a-half and two hours, depending on the length of the trail, plus the age and physical condition of visitors.

Facilities at the Metropolitan Nature Park include a number of resting and picnic areas. There is also a small library with hundreds of volumes on environmental topics. A small fee is required for the use of the facilities.

The Park’s headquarters are located on Vía Juan Pablo II. For tours and more information, call tel.: 232-5552/6723, or send an e-mail to pmetrop@sinfo.net

 
 
 

Bookmark, the biggest little bookstore in Panama

By David Dell, Volcan.


Not even cosmopolitan Panama City has so many English books in a single place.

A bookstore may not normally rate as a tourist attraction, but visitors to Chiriquí should not fail to stop at Bookmark – the biggest English-language bookstore in Panama.

On the road from David to Boquete , in the little community of Dolega, is the Book Mark, an unimposing place with a small gravel parking area out front.

American owner, Harold De Mun, has been running his crammed bookstore in Panama for the last eight years. His claim of having over 25,000 new and used books is easily believable because, as you venture deeper into his house, you keep finding room after room stacked to the ceiling with all manner of books.

Some of the books came from the now defunct Canal Zone Library. He does have a small Spanish section but, wonderfully, the majority of the works are written for the linguistically challenged like myself.

The best is always in the back.
Harold's assistant, Michael Ellis, showed me around the store. In the front is a comprehensive selection of books on Panamanian political history. Thankfully, the country is now one of the more stable in Latin America, but it is always interesting to read about the former dark and dangerous times.

The owner was enjoying the midday siesta when I arrived, but did surface later to show me the "back room."

This is the place for true book aficionados as it contains hundreds of out-of-print volumes and those holy grails of the literary world - "first editions."

Many of the spines were aged and the titles could only be read from the inside frontispiece but glancing though a random selection I quickly saw the potential that lay on those overcrowded shelves.

Bookseller Hal Mun among his treasures.

Everything from gourmet to gardening
The selection in the rest of the store was all-encompassing, to say the least. There were books on every subject an ex-pat could possibly imagine from a bookstore in Panama, and quite a few on subjects you couldn't imagine.

Fortunately, Michael or Harold can assist in shortening the search; they seem to be able to direct you to the room or shelf or, in some cases, directly to the book for which you are looking.

When you meet someone with 25,000 books in his home, it begs the question: "What is your favorite book or author?" Harold, who admits doing graduate work in English literature, now says he doesn't do a lot of reading. His favourite author? John le Carre.

Outside the store was a grab-bag table with a lot of George Bush books. Was this an indication of his political leanings? "Not at all," he said. To back this up he pointed to a shelf inside the store, and in pride of place was the book, “Where's my Country Dude?” written by Michael Moore.

In the back room, I spied and bought Hemmingway's “Farewell to Arms”. My wife, ever the devourer of romance and escapist novels, scooped up a few novels by Arthur Hailey and John Grisham.

There was simply too much to see and scout on this one visit, so a return is planned in the near future. I plan to scour the dark mysterious labyrinth that is the "back room", A treasure awaits; I can just feel it in my bones.

Unfortunately, Harold De Mun, is not enjoying the best of health these days and wishes to sell his literary goldmine. For those retirees that are bored and looking for something to do, here is a chance to make some money and, if you like reading – well 25,000 books should keep you busy for a while.

 
 
 

La Escapada eco-lodge

Have a little escapade in Bocas


Water sport opportunities abound.

Since the "discovery" of Bocas as a tourist destination approximately a decade ago, tour operators have focused on promoting its islands and coral formations, often ignoring the vast potential of the province’s mainland –a territory of forest-clad mountains and large extensions of coast, most of which is sparsely inhabited by Native American tribes.

Kyleen and Ron Bennett, a retired couple from Florida, have become pioneer tourist investors in the area with the establishment of La Escapada, an eco-lodge which, as its name suggests, invites guests to escape from civilization indulging in the area’s rustic, tropical environment.


The resort is surrounded by green forests and crystal-clear waters.

After traveling through Central and South America, the couple (she was a realtor and he was a builder) decided to take up residence in the area, escaping from the crowds of the nearby islands, where the expanding tourist and residential development has caused real estate prices to soar.

Three months after the land was purchased, the construction of La Escapada started, and soon became a meeting place for Australian, Canadian and U.S. expats, especially on Sundays and Thursdays.


The owners of La Escapada eco-lodge, Kyleen and Ron

La Escapada is flanked by verdant forests inhabited by colorful birds, and crystal-clear waters, where guests can dive, go fishing or enjoy water sports. TVs are not allowed in order to maximize the potential for relaxation and interaction among guests.

La Escapada is 40 kilometers from the Costa Rican border near the town of Changuinola, one of the main commercial centers of the province. It is easily accessible by road from the border and from David, Chiriquí (approximately three hours south).

For more details, visit www.laescapada.net, call 6618-6106, or e-mail: ky@laescapada.net


Lots of time for quiet meditation.

 
 



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