Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Restaurant The Gecko Ballena

La Cusinga Eco Lodge

Time Out

with Marcel and Andres

There are still some untouched green zones on our ever more developing coast and the two

properties owned by John Tresemer stand out among them. While Finca Tres Hermanas

can best be described as a private eco reserve, La Cusinga Lodge is an eco tourist destina-

tion with true green credentials. Perched on a ridge above Playa Arco, the most private

beach of Costa Ballena, La Cusinga, and in particular its restaurant, The Gecko, open up to

the most spectacular ocean view at close range. This explains, to some extent, the rather

unusual arrangement of the tables: Guests sit next to each other, on split levels, facing the

lush greenery and the Pacific Ocean. During lunch, this makes for a pleasant experience. At

dinner, staring into the dark, it has a somewhat stifling effect on conviviality, especially if

you’re intent on having a conversation with someone three seats over.

David L. Mahler, the chef at The Gecko is driven by a passion for quality and fresh ingredi-

ents, something we find sadly missing in many other restaurants on our coast. He describes

some of his ventures on his own internet blog (see below) and unfortunately, but under-

standably, he doesn’t give away any of his trade secrets. Dave’s worked for restaurants on

the US east and west coasts, as well as in Hawaii. If we’d have to label his cooking style,

we’d call it upscale American.

The menu is a daily changing four-course affair at a very reasonable fixed-rate price. All the

food is prepared and cooked to perfection. Our menu opened with a cream of spinach soup,

something we wouldn’t necessarily order from an à la carte menu. It was served cold and

was a delightful opener. The next course was a salad made from organic greens and or-

ganic tomatoes with the most delicious organic (yet again!) goat cheese we had ever tasted

in all of Costa Rica. The main dish was a red snapper on olive oil with vegetables and spa-

ghetti. Dave explained that while he wouldn’t typically prepare fish with spaghetti, it was a

special request by one of his guests which he was pleased to accommodate. The dessert

was a choice of two freshly made cakes, one fruit, one chocolate and even though half of

our party of four was on a diet, we ended up devouring all of the fine desserts. Dave was

kind enough to top it off with a sample of his home made ice cream. Needless to say, we’ll

be back for more!

Highlights: David is living proof that developing and managing your own supply chain can

make all the difference. The Gecko has a clear opening policy for the general public, even

though it’s only for dinners on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The raw materials used

here are first rate and so is the cooking.

Room for Improvement: The Gecko loses much of its charm at night since you dine under

undimmed and exposed light bulbs, facing the dark tropical night. We suggest new table

arrangements on the upper level, with dimmed lighting, candles and some appealing table

decorations. The Gecko stands and falls with the presence of David L. Mahler and subse-

quently is somewhat exposed.

Restaurant The Gecko · La Cusinga Eco Lodge

Ballena · off the Costanera Sur between kilometers 166 and 167

open to the general public on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for dinner only

restaurant open daily for hotel guests only · chef de cuisine David L. Mahler

owner John Tresemer · general manager Geinier A. Guzmán

telephone 2200 0579 · major credit cards accepted ·

This review was written about a visit done on the very first night we were open. We have since made adjustments to the lighting and changed our seating a bit. Also interesting that the reviewer does not note that he and his partner had asked that they have the sauce being served with the fish that night, left off. Everyone but the reviewer and his guest received a lovely fresh Pargo filet topped with a sauce of roasted organic tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and basil. The reviewer does not eat onions, so his fish was served with extra virgin olive oil, jugo de mandarina and basil.

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Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me

This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.