G and I were a long-distance couple for about eight months before I made the big move to Chile (You can read about the beginning of our relationship, how we met, our courtship and the proposal here.) Granted, we were lucky that our time apart didn’t span years, as it does for so many other LDR couples, we still missed out on the usual day-to-day activities that come with the start of any new relationship.
Which might explain why we find ourselves going out on dinner dates quite frequently now that we live together. Of course outings are (and should be) part of every married couple’s life, but it does seem like we are trying to make up for lost time considering the fact that we try to head out at least twice a week. In defense of this lavish tendency, I’d like to note that G and I figure our time for such gastronomical activities can be measured in an hourglass and what’s left is less than half the sand. In addition, I tend to cook more times than we actually go out and it’s refreshing to know that if we don’t cook, it doesn’t mean we’ll starve.
Santiago has its wealth of restaurants, relative to those you’d find in Sao Paulo and Mexico City (both cities where I’ve eaten mind blowing, delicious food) and I also find that there seems to be a wide variety of options – diversity in their origins and applicable to any desired price range. For a country that seems to be far from hopping on the diversity bandwagon, I personally think that there are many, many options out there and the list of restaurants G and I are looking to try, grows with each new edition of “El Mercurio’s” Club de Lectores list of participating restaurants (Chile’s largest newspaper, “El Mercurio,” has an agreement with American Express to offer card-holding subscribers, discounts at many restaurants. In our case, the cost of having the card, including the monthly subscription fee of the paper, is more than justified considering how much money we save whenever we dine at one of the participating restaurants.)
Some of the restaurants we’ve been to in the past few months, include:
Aquí Está Coco – recently reopened after falling victim to a fire a few years ago, a local online media outlet had it right when they stated that it reopened in “2.0” style. I’d been to the restaurant, which mainly serves fish and seafood, back in 2000/2001. The food was great and the restaurant itself had an old-world charm, literally having been gutted out and remolded from a former home that stood on Avda Concepcion in Providencia. Now, the restaurant is set to challenge the likes of La Mar in Santiago with it’s modern decoration, Peruvian-fused seafood dishes and wine cellar dining option, all which offer the differentiation necessary to call out its dishes from the various seafood alternatives available in this city. Note that their pisco sour “aperitivos” are literally the size of shots but their “Ceviche Altiro” more than makes up for that lapse in judgment by the staff. I feel like their menu needs more options, but can hail an “Amen” for their MEDITERANEAN TURBOT dish, which was, in a word, A-mazing. I’m sure G and I will go back at some point, but despite having had a great experience there, I’m not sure it can be repeated. Their menu didn’t scream “I’m delish” through and through. BTW, can I point out that when we went, G’s Mazda 3 was the “poorest” (his word, not mine) looking car in the lot. What, with the BMWs, Benzes, Porsches, Land Rovers and what not, we felt a little like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” when she went to the boutique to buy a cocktail dress.
A Pinch of Pancho – I recall that this restaurant was one of the first I’d heard about when I moved here because it was highlighted as an option for “good ol’ comfort food.” Located at General del Canto 45, near the Manuel Montt metro, the first thing we noted about this restaurant was how the outside SO DID NOT do the inside justice. The decor is eclectic, to say the least, bright and perhaps a bit overwhelming but nonetheless very, very cool. The food is definitely “comfort” and I went ahead and ordered the ribs, something I’ve never done in any restaurant. I can only attribute it to a deep feeling of nostalgia for all things American. They were good, but I’m not particularly a rib fan. G ordered some kind of meat, which was also pretty tasty, but rather basic with its potato side. I think G and I decided that we wouldn’t go back any time soon, not because the food wasn’t good – it was – but because it wasn’t really our style of food. After we left I’m sure we weighed a good 30 pounds more, combined, given the heaviness that is any and all comfort food. Still, it’s nice to know that solid American-style options are available in my same comuna.
Nolita – Nolita is actually owned by the same people who own A Pinch of Pancho and as such, they seem to have consulted the same interior decorator. This time, whoever did the decorating, did so with a less exaggerated hand (lowered the uppers and upped the downers). It’s located in the El Golf area of Las Condes at Isidora Goyenechea 3456 (in a neighborhood otherwise known as Sanhattan). Their specialty is their pasta, so I went ahead and ordered their lasagna, which of course, was amazing. The owners of both A Pinch of Pancho and Nolita are all about making sure their customers leave feeling like a grossly overstuffed pig sitting on King Henry the VIII’s table because I don’t recall actually having walked out of the restaurant. I’m pretty sure G rolled me to the car that time. As the New York Times adequately describes “the pasta dishes are rich and decadent.” No sh*t. Would we go back? In a heartbeat. Would I make sure to not eat for 3 days straight prior to going? Definitely. BTW those on TripAdvisor who described this restaurant as “disappointing but edible” must have been sniffing White Out – it doesn’t come close to being like that at all.
NoSo at the W Hotel – Ok, so I’m cheating a bit because I didn’t technically go there with G, but rather, with my mom. This restaurant describes itself as being the meeting point of French and Mediterranean cuisine but I personally found it to be more like it was sitting on the corner of “Falling a Whole Leap Year Short of being Good” and “Ridiculously Overpriced for such Small Portions.” Rather than being “succulent,” it’s pretentious and don’t get me started on the ridiculously small portions. I don’t tend to agree with my mom when she claims she should have brought her “lupa” (magnifying glass) in any given case, but this time around I agreed that we should have added my own personal lupa to the outing. That way we would have been able to see a fraction of what we were actually eating. I ordered one of the fish options and honestly, I can’t recall too much about it other than it tasted overly fishy. I’m all about fish but when the fish has too much of a fish taste, I find it’s rather fishy of it and the restaurant. But, it’s in the W (also in Sanhattan) so of course, I’m sure it will do well no matter what I write so more power to them, I guess. Also, and this could be me being persnickety of course, but I find that the table and the way the chairs are shaped and placed, make it really awkward to hold a conversation without yelling across to the other person.
Mestizo – I was actually a super fan of this restaurant (located in Vitacura, at one end of Parque Bicentenario) until I went for about the 5th time and realized that what I’m actually a fan of is their Mero (Grouper fish), their appetizers and their pisco sour. I like when I get to the point of actually knowing what it is I particularly like about a restaurant. It saves so much time and is much more cost-effective. I’m not gonna lie. Their grilled octopus appetizer is TO DIE FOR and I could eat it until the cows come home. It’s the kind of good where you want to take a piece of bread and soak up anything left on the plate – but of course, in this particular restaurant, I’m sure the Annie’s would frown upon that (if they only knew what they were missing. That, and garlic). You can tell there’s a lot of money invested here and besides the menu as evidence, there’s the geometric shape of the actual restaurant itself. It’s so random that it’s as isolated as it is, literally without any other restaurants or even hotels in sight, and located instead in a very residential neighborhood, at the foot of a park. One of my favorite times there was when I went with KM during lunch, drank a little vino, people watched and ate … salads perhaps? I can’t recall but in memory of that, I’d like to highly recommend this place as a very SATC option for outdoor/trendy lunching. Also, keep to the bar if you’re going for dinner – much cooler and the service is faster!
Epicúreo – Here’s a restaurant I really, really like. I like it because it sticks to offering good food, low on the holier-than-thou factor other restaurants we visit tend to have. It’s located outside of Patio Bellavista, right next to the Dublin Pub, on Constitucion. Though the location screams nightlife, the reality is that this restaurant is very below-the-radar in its appearance. In typical Chilean fashion, the site itself is a refurbished and remodeled former home, with wood floors and a comfortable, welcoming ambiance that seems to be both spacious and intimate, if that makes any sense. At the core, the restaurant states that its driver is the French cuisine. I can kind of see it, but not really. What I definitely CAN see is that the chef takes note of details when preparing and presenting the food and the result is pretty impressive. I had the Centolla (King Crab) black raviolis and of course, they were delish. The steamed mussel appetizers were amazing as well, as are their salads, notably their Asian option. The pisco sour is ok, nothing to write home about, BUT what lacks there is made up with a shiny gold star for outstanding service. Plus it’s rather inexpensive. My mom, sister and I ate there the other night and for three main dishes and three non-alcoholic drinks we paid less than US$50, with tip included. Not too shabby.
Pasta e Vino Santiago – The original Paste e Vino is located in the hills of Valparaiso, Chile and I went with G last year when we took a quick weekend trip to Con-Con so that this California girl could get a dose of ocean. Known for their pasta and wine (obvi) this place did not disappoint. Thus, you can imagine our enthusiastic surprise when we took a wrong turn one night (coming back from Epicúreo actually) and stumbled upon The Aubrey Hotel (btw my newest hotel obsession) with its sign for Pasta e Vino. It’s located at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal, at the end of Constitución in the Bellavista area of Santiago. The good thing is that it’s, in three words, ridiculously good pasta. The bad thing is that half of their pasta options are gnocchi and for those of us who don’t like gnocchi (G & me), this automatically reduces your pasta options by half. Furthermore, I’m not a big ol’ fan of raviolis either so for me, the menu was reduced to the three remaining fettuccine options. No bother though as each one looked so tasty, I had a problem deciding. The one I settled on was a cream sauce with a taste of honey intertwined, which resulted in a medley of nectar of the gods in my mouth. It was that good. But then I found myself with the same problem I had at Nolita, in that I’m pretty sure that G rolled me out to the car. There was no way I could walk – I couldn’t even finish the entire dish! Although if you go, bring a flashlight because at night, it’s impossible to see what’s in front of you. The servers, all of apparent different nationalities, are also a little on the slow side, though they do aim to please.
That’s a little overview of our dining experiences here in Santiago – very subjective and not at all to be taken as the bible of culinary experiences. In fact, it’s not even representative of what Chile, as a country and culture, is truly about. Yes, it’s a part of what makes Chile Chile, specifically Santiago Santiago. I encourage you to check out Cachando Chile for a true-to-reality take on culinary experiences here (the link is tagged for food entries) that will help round out an entry such as this one, which is focused on the subjective view of particular restaurants in Santiago.
Stay tuned for the other Parts (II or even III), budget permitting and as I get around to eating more (and working out so that I don’t balloon into a hippopotamus. That’s Obi’s role.)