Restaurant The Gecko Ballena
La Cusinga Eco Lodge
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
www.lacusingalodge.com · www.chefofthejungle.blogspot.com
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.