“Can you believe this is the street where your nonno lived for the first time when he moved from Ocú to Panama? ” my dad was referring to his own dad, who per my Italian roots we always called Nonno (grandfather in Italian – you see, “abuelo” sounded too old… nonno was cool). My ballet teacher was looking around and suddenly said: wao! this is next door to the old Dance School! I used to live right there, across this little plaza, but there used to be a kiosk there… now its gone. They used to play the lottery there on Sundays. I walked from my building two steps and I was already here, at my ballet school. The school was famous for its impeccable Spanish Dance troupe, and the small ballet group rehearsed at the back. I remember looking at these gardens, incredible!”.
Where were we? at Clementinas Café, at the corner of 11th and B Avenue, right next to the Police at Panama`s 300 year old colonial city known as Casco Viejo. The secret gardens of the building had been a place where dreams flew for the young ballet dancer and many others. Now, they have been beautifully restored and are part of the cafe. Stories didn´t end up there, as they discovered the history patched wall at the cafe´s back. In a way, the cafe gave you the impression it had been there forever with its patched wood tables and old style bar.
The food takes elements of Panamanian cuisine (from both the Caribbean and the Pacific) and re interpret them into new – old combinations. The Caribbean classic “fufu” soup (in Bocas del Toro called “Rondon”) was re interpreted into an incredible coconut milk soup with chicken and shrimp. This soup ( I love soups) was really, really good. My favorite dessert was the “arroz con coco” (coconut rice) which had both rice and coconut, but don´t ask me what the chef did… it just tasted delicious. I stopped talking altogether and just slurped the thing down.
Although the Clementinas Hotel right above is already receiving guests, the Cafe opens officially tomorrow. Outdoors and indoors seating, a great space for family brunch, small events or just a quick coffee. If you are coming from Panama City and need parking, Clementinas has private parking for you down the street !
Here are photos of the Café and the hotel rooms. Each suite is a full one bedroom with kitchen. Each room a bit different, with original antiques from the timeless elegance of “old” Panama.