Thursday, January 29, 2015

ESCAPES: Santiago, Chile

Plaza de Armas in central Santiago
It was just before the end of 2013 that I was headed to Chile, landing in Santiago a few days before New Year's Eve. I wasn't sure what to expect of the metropolitan city, but I'd heard good things, and had a high school friend who'd moved to the progressive capital city a few years back. Santiago has been named one of the best cities in the Americas for start-ups and entrepreneurial activity, which always interests me. This connotes an innovative approach to life, which I very much appreciate. I was interested to explore Santiago. And it was summer in the southern hemisphere (with arctic temperatures and record lows back in New York City), so what better time than January? I met my friend Jessica who'd arrived in Santiago a few days before I had. She'd already explored some of the great markets of the city, hunting for trinkets and keepsakes and anything in the market that would trigger her sense of the place, that she could eventually translate into jewelry back home. We were staying in a lovely hotel in a bucolic part of town called Las Condes. I was severely jet-lagged, having traveled from Miami with a stopover in Lima, Peru, without the benefit of sleep. Once I checked into my spacious digs (the room was a suite with a kitchenette), I booked a massage and took a power nap. The spa in the hotel was welcoming and cozy and the massage did wonders for my aching back, post-flight. After a shower, I met Jess on the rooftop bar with fabulous views of the city. With a glass of Chilean white in hand, we surveyed the tall buildings and mountainous backdrop -- and temperate weather -- with smiles. Our first night, we met my friend Tim and a gaggle of his expat friends at a nearby bar called Flannery's. Now, it's a well-known fact that every city has its fair share of Irish pubs, so I had my trepidation in going there. But as it turns out, it's very much a part of the "real" Santiago experience, at least as an expat. We caught up and met Tim's interesting and eclectic group of friends and had too many white wines to make it to dinner at a reasonable hour.
 So, we stumbled nearby to the beautiful W Hotel Santiago -- the first W Hotel in South America, in fact -- and ate a lovely late-night dinner in their lobby restaurant. Since I was on a mission to consume as much ceviche as possible, and fresh Pacific seafood in general, I started my first night with some barely-seared tuna and some sea bass ceviche, for good measure.  

We left the following day for the coast, but we returned to Santiago towards the end of the first week in January. One of the things we heard most frequently from locals and guides was how easy the metro system was to use. I am a New Yorker, so I usually feel like I have a handle on underground travel anyway. But this was, in fact, an easy, clean, inexpensive, and relatively hassle-free way to get around the city, even for those who may be public transport-averse. Some metro stations have mini shopping malls within their subterranean walls, or beautiful artwork in the form of large-scale murals, depicting scenes from Chile's history, like the photograph pictured. Santiago also boasts a lot of great outdoor space in the form of parks and plazas, and the city is quite dedicated to green construction, sometimes covering entire office buildings with living terrariums. It's a great foil to the glass-and-concrete downtown buildings, and in line with the progressive thinking of this very European-influenced South American capital.

As much as Santiago offers many of the great marks of a capital city -- wonderful art and history museums, grand public spaces and parks, interesting shopping and markets -- and these should be explored, of focus is specifically food-related here. So, the basic rules of what you can expect to find in Chile are fairly simple. I went during the Southern Hemisphere summer, so there was lots of luscious fruit to be found in the markets, best of all the gorgeous, fragrant, elongated frutillas (strawberries) and the incredibly inexpensive and delicious, buttery paltas (avocados). (Chileans consume the most avocados per capita of any place on the planet). The streets are lined with vendors offering fresh fruit and vegetables at ridiculously low prices.
Eating casually, you can find some great bocadillos, or sandwiches, in casual sandwich shops to old school watering holes. The lomo sandwich, with roast pork, is a Chilean classic called the chacarero, and is sliced pork piled on a crusty roll, often with tomatoes, cheese, peppers, and something green -- possibly chimichurri sauce, sometimes green beans. The sandwich is an appetite-killer, very satisfying and homey, and delicious with a cold beer or sangria. There are empanadas aplenty in Chile, made with everything from classic ground beef to potato or pumpkin to crab or mixed seafood. It's a great lunch or portable snack, especially by the beach. And though there are precious few internationally-sought-after Chilean dishes, the seafood here is really fresh, and is served in everything from stews (try the famous Conger Eel stew, called Caldillo di Congrio) to one of the inspirations for my trip to Chile in the first place: CEVICHE.

I already mentioned my deep love for ceviche in my previous post about coastal Chile/Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, so I'll spare the waxing poetic once again. But really, if any food is deserving of poetic praise, ceviche is up there on the list. Yes, there are a lot of onions involved. Also, the pepper in some form, often aji' amarillo, the famously sweet-and-spicy local yellow pepper. There is citrus aplenty, though just as often the sour juice used is something a little more aromatic, like passion fruit (oh, do I love passion fruit!). And then the varieties of seafood used in these ceviches is head-spinning. But all pristine and local, and fresh, as is required in this dish. 

As for neighborhoods boasting some great spots to enjoy food and drink, Bellavista is among the cutest. This is the part of town, built on a hill, where Pablo Neruda's Santiago house, La Chascona, is located. (I highly recommend going to this museum-house, though they don't allow photos to be taken inside, hence no photos here). There is a complex on the main road leading down from the house, called Patio Bellavista. It's essentially a plaza lined with bars and restaurants and shops, particularly ones that sell artisanal products, from soaps to honeys to handcrafted jewelry. Then on this same street, (Constitucion), there are plentiful dining spots from which to choose. We settled in on the very adorable Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate), based on the novel and film of the same name. This cute, Mexican-themed oasis features a romantic setting. Apps and mains can be light or heavy (from salads and ceviches to fried goodies and full dinners), but always save room for dessert. There are some ridiculous chocolate-based offerings, and with a name like this, you must try them! 
The second half of our time in Santiago, we actually rented a 2-bedroom condo, complete with pool and gym, to feel a bit more like locals than when we were staying in a hotel. We started to find our way around town. We were in the Cerro Santa Lucia neighborhood, with a great park and a large market nearby. It's a cute part of town very close to Lastarria: this is the part of Santiago in which I would most likely hang out, and probably live, if ever I were to spend any significant amount of time here. It's got the bohemian vibe and high cafe/restaurant/bar index I look for in a beloved neighborhood. Cobblestone streets, check. Great food spots, check. Wine bars to dive bars, check, check.The only problem I really see with Santiago night life is that there isn't much of it, particularly for a Latin American city, so here one must be contented with nice drinks, a dinner, and a nightcap -- most places don't even stay open much past 1 am.

Still, the places that are around, especially in Lastarria, are great. For good food and wine, there is Bocanariz (mouth nose!), serving interesting flights of wine and great apps-as-meal dishes like a selection of ceviches, sashimi, and various raw or barely-cooked seafood delicacies. The seared tuna was amazing, and the passion fruit ceviche hit the right notes for me. We also enjoyed an interesting quinoa and shrimp salad -- everything light and tasty, and great accompaniment to the delicious white wines from the Central Coast (we'd just returned from a wine tasting trip to the area -- more on that in another post).

There's an old school dive bar just down the street where we had some great after-dinner drinks, called Bar Berri.It's a turn-of-the-century colonial house that was an illicit after-hours bar, now a 2-story drinking den for a mix of local cool kids and expats. And just around the corner and down the street a bit, you'll find Emporio La Rosa, voted by The Daily Meal as one of the 25 best ice cream shops in the world -- and they're not afraid to tout this ranking. Their flavors are indeed amazing, so beyond the usual nut and chocolate and fruit combinations, you have rose petal and dulce de leche and lucuma (a local fruit called egg fruit). They also serve sandwiches and lunches and coffee, but really the driving force here is the wonderful selection of top-notch helado (ice cream).

As for high end fine dining, the Vitacura area (sort of the Madison Avenue of Santiago), with lots of upscale shopping, also features upscale restaurants. Puerto Fuy, a gorgeous hot spot among many in this chi-chi nabe, is a gem. The talented chef Giancarlo Mazzarelli created not only the menu but also the decor, with an organic, woodsy feel reminiscent of the lake district in Chile. The formal dining room up front is more urban spare-chic. Jess got a foamy, frothy creamy mushroom soup that was an intense representation of the best a chef can possibly extract from a fungus: it was heavenly. I ordered a mixed seafood starter that included octopus, sea urchin, crab, conger eel, and ceviche -- kind of like a refined greatest seafood hits of our Chilean adventure. It, too, was a treat. The main courses were stellar as well, with a highlight of a local fish prepared three different ways. We shared a dessert -- yes, the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake, but with a fresh strawberry sorbet that may have been the best thing I've ever experienced made from a berry. Gaston Acurio, the biggest celebrity chef in Peru, has cebicherias all over the world, and his La Mar in Vitacura is a gorgeous one. There's a maritime feel to surroundings, with a view of the Andes from the terrace -- plus, great ceviche and the best pisco sour in town. And though I'm not one to advise travelers to eat in Italian restaurants outside of Italy (and I almost never do it, myself), I will admit that I enjoyed a fun dinner with Jess and my high school friend Tim at Tiramisu' in Las Condes (or nearby). This success of a restaurant is comprised of 4 rooms (they kept expanding to keep up with demand), and still there's always a wait at this pizzeria/casual trattoria. But the bar scene is fun so lingering in anticipation of a table isn't so bad. And in reality, the pizzas are damned good, authentic Neapolitan pizzas. And that's all one can really ask of a pizzeria.

There are countless other restaurants serving up local, Peruvian, Argentine, and all kinds of food from all over the globe, and Santiago's food scene seems to be in constant flux -- constantly expanding, that is. I can't wait to see how it's blossomed even more the next time I return to Santiago...


Hotel Plaza El Bosque Ebro
Ebro 2828, Las Condes
+56 2.2498.1800

W Santiago
Isidora Goyenechea 3000, Las Condes
Modern luxe hotel with a fabulous rooftop pool

Castillo Rojo
Calle Constitucion 195, Providencia
+56 2 2352 4500

Puerto Fuy
Avenida Nueva Costanera 3969, Vitacura
+56 2.208.8908

La Mar
Avenida Nueva Costanera 3922, Vitacura
+56 2.206.7839

Avenida Isidora Goyenechea 3141
+56 2.519.4900

Como Agua Para Chocolate
Constitucion 88, Bellavista
+ 56 2.2777.8740 

Emporio La Rosa
Ave. Las Torres 1424, El Rosal
+56 2.2280.4100

Bar Berri
Rosal 321, Lastarria
+56 2.6384734

Encomenderos 83, Las Condes
Total expat bar.

La Chascona
Fernando Marquez de la Plate 0192, Bellavista
+56 2 777.8741
This is the Pablo Neruda house in Santiago, which, like his other 2 houses in Chile (in Isla Negra and Valparaiso), is now a museum.

Mercado Central
Ismael Vlades Vergara 900, Parque Forestal
Lots of restaurants on the perimeter of the market from which to choose.

Pueblito Los Domincos Market
Av. Apoquindo 9085, Las Condes
Open Daily 10-8
Great shopping for souvenirs, Andean wools, copper ware, and jewelry.

Patio Bellavista
Constitucion 30, Bellavista
Open 10 am - 10 pm daily
A collection of shops and restaurants and bars built around a central plaza. There are scheduled performances and cultural exhibitions as well as a boutique hotel, Hotel del Patio. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

FOOD PORN: A Look Back at 2014 (Catering Edition)

Spicy steak tartare on baguette crisps with cornichon
The last month of the year is always (thankfully) an extremely hectic, busy time for chefs and caterers. 2014 was no exception for me, and as a result, my blogging suffered. As in, I haven't posted on here since before Thanksgiving. My apologies. 

So here, now, I thought I'd start the new year off with something different than what's currently clogging your inbox. I'll hold off on the healthy eating and new year resolution diets and cabbage soup recipes to reflect on some of the lovely, tasty tidbits and creations I made over the past year. This is a multi-part posting under a new Blu Aubergine blog category I'm calling FOOD PORN. It's simply handsome photos of drool-worthy dishes -- trolling for culinary salivary stimulation. And I'm unapologetic.

Here are some catering goodies from 2014... 

Baked brie en croute with honey, nuts, and dried fruits

Deviled eggs with candied ancho chile bacon 

Herbed ricotta crostini with prosciutto and apple

Homemade gravlax rosettes on endive leaves with horseradish cream

Crab and avocado salad cuplets

Ricotta crostini with cranberry honey and rosemary
Israeli couscous with pistou and veggies + lentil and goat cheese salad

Buckwheat blini with caviar and creme fraiche
Cheese plate with persimmon and pear, ginger and apricot jams

Grilled swordfish steaks over fregola sarda with zucchini

Caprese with burrata and haricot verts
Roasted chilean sea bass crostini with romesco, prosciutto, + scallion 
Sweet potato latke with chipotle sour cream and wasabi caviar

Meringue kisses with pomegranate cream