Day one, Panama City, part two. After a much-needed nap (FKGuy), and an adventure in purchasing two toothbrushes (me) we headed downstairs, straight to the Champagne bar. Because every evening should start at a Champagne bar, and yet so few do.
At 7 PM it was not the liveliest place on earth, but then again, we didn’t need lively, we needed Veuve. And at $10 a glass, it was a bit of a shock that we only had one each. Our 8 PM dinner reservation was yet to come. I stopped by the front desk to see if it was safe to walk to our destination, about 3 km away. (I knew it was a long walk but was unfamiliar with the area so I needed to ensure we would arrive without incident.) The guy at the front desk looked at me like I was nuts.
“But it’s so far! You’re not going to walk all the way over there!” I know. We need the exercise, plus, we are about to have a huge meal. “OK. Then here is a shortcut [points to map]. Yes, it is perfectly safe. You’ll be fine.”
What he neglected to mention, however, is that the forty minute stroll was not actually pedestrian-friendly. We would cross major roadways without the aid of a traffic light, we would encounter street after street with no sidewalks, and we would, every few minutes say aloud “no wonder Panama City has such bad traffic. Nobody walks here!”
Eventually, Google Maps showed that we had arrived at our destination, and just as quickly passed our destination. How is this possible? Well, Intimo Restaurante is hidden behind a bakery and offers no sign of its existence until you meander behind the bakery, through a garden, and into the restaurant.
We made it.
The name doesn’t lie. With only four tables and a bar that seats ten, it is tiny. After a friendly greeting, we were seated at the chef’s table (aka the bar), and greeted by the bartender. “I heard English is the preferred language at this end of the bar.” Yes, please. We sipped outstanding craft cocktails while opening the envelopes that concealed the menus, like a secret invitation.
Intimo offers the choice of an a la carte menu, or a twelve-course tasting menu. (Want to guess which one we chose? Hint: the one where did not need to make a single decision.) I was excited about the menu, with one caveat: food issues. I cannot eat eggs (yes, I know it sucks), or mayonnaise (on account of the whole egg thing) If they were willing to accommodate my needs then I would be willing to try new foods.
As we mulled over the many items to come, I asked for a translation of a few items, both of which were Panamanian slang. I felt much better about my limited language skills when I found out these weren’t real words.
The first course, “pesca,” was a Corvina tiradito. In case we had not enjoyed enough raw fish at lunch, there was a piece of beautiful, melt-in-your-mouth fish, with pineapple foam. The subtle flavors kicked off the meal perfectly. For the second course, out came a tiny, yellow almond macaron with sweet corn filling. It looks like dessert, yet tastes like an almost-sweet-yet-still-savory bite of something you can’t quite place, yet want to eat again and again. Amazing.
Items three and four came served together, and though I tried both, I just don’t like chicharrones. I’ve tried them, and there is not a situation in which I am going to want to eat a pork rind, no matter how fancy. The other item on the plate was a sort of empanada, covered on the outside with a smokey dust (I later learned was made from lung). The smokey flavor was very overpowering and I slid my plate right over to FKGuy.
The absolute highlight of the meal came next, in a dish that needed some modification. Confit portabello mushrooms served with paper-thin slices of button mushroom and a sous vide egg yolk as the sauce. For my non-egg-eating self, they made me a special sauce to top the mushrooms. Oh. Em. Gee. I don’t think I have ever eaten a portabello that delicious, and I don’t say that lightly. I have eaten a lot of portabellos in my life, and most are fine, if uninspired versions of vegetables masquerading as meat. I’ve eaten them in sandwiches, in pasta, stuffed with cheeses, among others, and I have often made them at home. But they have never been such a perfect texture, with rich, earthy flavors. Naturally, I stalked the chef until he told me exactly how to prepare them. I will attempt to make them this weekend, and we will see if he lied to me about either the ingredients or technique.
The meal continued with a three rice dish, a bean dish, and a butter poached lobster with black garlic sauce. (I watched in envy as FKGuy enjoyed every garlicky bite of the mayo-filled sauce.) Throughout the evening we enjoyed course after course, and by the time there was not a speck of lobster left, we were stuffed.
Then there was more.
Sous vide fish (more fresh fish! Woohoo!) with a rice cracker and veloute was wonderful, but by the time the last savory course came out, I wasn’t even hungry enough to touch it. I had not paid attention to the fact that it was pork belly, either, which neither of us enjoy.
I was ready for dessert, and there were two of them coming.
Much like every evening should start at a Champagne bar, every evening should end with two desserts. The first, a meringue topped with Maria cookie ice cream, was outrageous. I love all kinds of ice cream, and this one was exceptional. The following chocolate dessert was not too shabby, either, but despite my admiration for meals that end with multiple desserts, I may have peaked too soon in dessertland.
Our meal was over the top. Food and service were both fantastic, and we could not ask for anything more. After a three-hour meal, walking back was not an option, so we chose uber. As I turned on my location and opened the app, I was given two choices: uberX or uberENGLISH, with the English option being 50% more expensive. After our expensive dinner, I decided to be cheap with the uber. After all, I had done fine all day talking to people, ordering food, and buying toiletries. Clearly, I should be able to get us back to out hotel in a transaction that involves limited communication, right?
Not so much.
To nobody’s surprise, our guy got lost trying to find the restaurant (you know, the one with no sign,) so I called him. Spoiler alert: I CANNOT communicate in Spanish over the phone. At all. After a lot of frustration, a guy that left the restaurant a the same time we did, told me to give him my phone. I complied, and he told the driver exactly where to find us. Three minutes later we slid into the car and headed back for some much-needed sleep. Muchas gracias, fellow diner.
(In case you are wondering, our uber cost $2.20. The English version would have been $3.20, but not nearly as entertaining.)