Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chilean Cuisine

It's a blog not a meal, so why not start with dessert. My lunch after a long morning of siteseeing and lapis lazuli shopping. I think I earned it.

At the risk of offending 16 million or so people, the title of this post may be a bit of a misnomer, as Chile has very little in the way of a definitively Chilean cuisine. Much of the ingredients are grown in-country as they have a wonderful climate for growing produce, as well as a long coastline with cold waters that provide abundant and quite succulent seafood; that said, the way these foods are prepared can clearly be identified as Peruvian, Italian, or French.

If there is a Chilean cuisine at all, I would call it bland and avocado-centric. Avocado is to Chile as ketchup and parsley are to the US, they are abundant, nearly everpresent on the plate, and contribute little in the way of enhancing whatever they're covering. Now I must confess to having an Avacado allergy, so I'm perhaps a bit more sensitive to this, but they even serve mashed avocado as a breakfast condiment!

In spite of these comments I must say that we had many excellent meals in Chile, primarily at Santiago's finest restaurants. When traveling dining is of the utmost importance to us and cost is generally ignored. This luxury provided by two years of saving before each "major" vacation with only minor trips in the off years.

In order of preference (favorite first) here are the restaurants we visited: Cuerovaca, Puerto Fuy, Happening, El Cid (Sheraton Santiago), Mare Nostrum, and Astrid Y Gaston. There were a few others, but I don't even want to put their names in print lest it be considered a recommendation.

Parmesan clams at Mare Nostrum. We thought these a novel appetizer on our first night only to "discover" them on menu after menu. In any event they were delicious and the presentation was fun.

The "Peruvian Sampler" appetizer at Astrid Y Gaston. It was the only thing at the restaurant that we really enjoyed. This was a most expensive and least enjoyable restaurant. I think that by virtue of being a "chain" in the same sense as Emeril's is a chain in the US the food, restaurant, and staff lacked passion and excitement.

The lobster risotto at Puerto Fuy. It was simply beautiful and quite tasty.

The duck three ways at Puerto Fuy. Delicious! Duck seemed to appear on a disporportionate number of menus. I think it's a good protein choice as grazing animals like cows don't have a lot of habitable land in Chile unlike their neighbor to the East, Argentina.

An upside down shephard's pie at a restaurant near Pablo Neruda's Santiago home. It was quite good.

Sea bass (corvino) with shrimp mashed potatoes with quail eggs at the same restaurant as the shephard's pie. Good, if a bit strange.

Dinner at the top restaurants in Santiago with bubbly and pisco sours to start, a shared appetizer, two entrees, dessert, and a mid-priced bottle of wine averaged US$130 including a 10% gratiuty. As a value proposition this is probably 60% of the cost of a comparable meal in Atlanta, or 40% of the cost of the same meal in NYC, San Francisco, etc. The real values were to be found on the carte vino particularly if you have a taste for Carmenere.

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