An A for Arrieros Colombianos

Isabel and I were looking for someplace different for lunch. We were up for “relaxed, low-key, good, and fun,” and we found it at Arrieros Colombianos, set in an old house in the “Brasil toward Yungay” barrio of Santiago Centro, on Av. General Bulnes, a block west of Cumming. We pushed through the narrow wooden and glass doors to find ourselves in a cheery yellow and peach-colored bar with natural plank-wood floors and a homey feel. Good start on the fun and low-key part.

Arrieros Colombianos: patacones, chicharrones, arepasWe started with a maracuyá (passion fruit) sour—very good and not too sweet, just as I asked—served icy cold—just as I like it—and a Club Colombia beer to accompany an abundant starter of arepas (thick Colombian cornmeal tortillas), patacones (diagonally cut, flattened fried plantains), and chicarrones (fried pork rinds). Conclusion: “this stuff just has to be bad for you because it just tastes way too good!”

We were going Colombian all the way, so quickly discarded the meat, fish, and Chilean sections of the menu and went straight to Colombian home style: Bandeja Paisa, Sancocho, Ajiaco, and others before Iz decided on a hearty (and huge) Cazuela de Frijoles that came with an enormous plateful of rice, arepas, patacones, and Colombian sausage, and I went for the main-dish Arepa topped with pulled chicken and beef in a tomatoey sauce that reminded us both of barbecue.

Arrieros Colombianos_CheckWe passed on the one by-the-glass wine option (Concha y Toro Exportación) and ordered one of the few half bottles on the list—a 2010 Santa Ema Cabernet, which was served impeccably. In fact, service all around was excellent.

Price–a bit of a splurge for lunch at $26,000, but considering we had way too much food and could actually order half the next time around, it was reasonable enough.

Bottom line question: Would we go back? Sí señor—not a doubt about it.

Av. General Bulnes 86, Santiago Centro, Chile
Tel.: 2-699-4196

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Squeamishly Squella

Got together with friends for dinner last night. They suggested the well-known seafood place Squella over near Barrio Brasil. None of us had ever been there and all were game. Unfortunately, 24 hours later, my stomach is still a bit off and I’m yet to get past that uneasy “played-us-for-suckers” kind of feeling that comes with a less-than-clear pricing policy. It went something like this.

We walked into the 2-story house-turned-restaurant with the big “Club de Lectores” sign at the door announcing a discount for El Mercurio subscribers (good news! we have the card). The first floor was rather dark and certainly lively, but the smokers downstairs, non-smokers upstairs policy sent us to the 2nd floor. Nice, cozy white room, nothing snazzy, but pleasant and about what we expected.

I ordered a pisco sour (not bad, $3200) and everyone else went straight to the wine. We asked about the year of the Leyda Chardonnay listed. “Most of our white wines are 2010 or 2011,” the waiter assured us. (Nice trick, considering that the 2011 harvest season has just begun and the grapes are either still on the vine or fresh in the tank. Not even winemakers are drinking 2011 yet!) Didn’t matter, because they didn’t have it anyway, so we moved on to a Casas del Bosque Chardonnay Reserva, which showed up in its 2008 vintage ($11,800). Reasonably oaked, insufficiently chilled, but no one complained.

The waiter really pushed highly recommended the locos (Chilean abalone).
“On special tonight,” he says, “Nice big jumbo locos with papas mayo and guacamole. So tender you can cut them with a fork.” The two guys ordered them as a main course instead of an appetizer. Turned out there were just two to a portion. They were pretty big though and nicely presented, and the guys seemed very happy with their choice.

The ceviche craver in the group oohed and ahhed over her generous 3-version sampler (1 reineta/whitefish, 1 shrimp, 1 shellfish, $7800). I chose mero (Chilean sea bass) ($7200, sauces extra), and may never touch the stuff again. I suspect that what I really got was oilfish, a common switch, with less than comfortable after effects. I expected a rather thick portion of tender white fish, but got 3 small and thin slices that were tough and oily. The texture was just strange, like improperly cooked congrio (I made the really bad mistake of trying to make ceviche from congrio once—don’t do it—for many reasons—really!) But that’s what I was remembering as I tried to cut and chew this thing. It wasn’t dry; it wasn’t overcooked. Just strange. I probably should have sent it back, but didn’t. I left most of it on my plate. Good thing because I’ve been feeling queasy ever since.

Add some scallops al pil pil here ($7800, fine), some dessert there (stuffed figs, heard no complaints, $2800).

The bottle of wine emptied, and with insufficient quorum for a second bottle, the thirsty one asked for a glass of Chardonnay from the wine dispenser (don’t be fooled!). It arrived nameless and golden yellow. “That means a lot of oak, right?” the fresh-glass-holder asked me. “Or seriously oxidized,” I reminded him. Sure enough. Who knows how long that bottle had been kicking around, or what it was, for that matter, but it was having some serious identity issues and was more than a little confused with some Tío Pepe. (In other words, mega-oxidized).

I do have to admit that while I personally was less than pleased, the rest of the group was quite content with their food and service. But the big surprise came with the check (in Chilean pesos):

$68,400 – $9,150 discount = $59,250 total (In USD: $141 – $19 = $122) before tip.

Hm, we thought, must be just 15% instead of the usual 25% you get with Club de Lectores.

We asked. The waiter assured us that it was indeed 25%, but that locos and lobster are not included (well that seems like it could have mentioned that somewhere)… And oh, BTW, those two loco appetizers? They turned out to be $12,000 (about $25USD) each!
Get Out… No way!
Way.

Will I go back?

Not any time soon.

What to take away from this:

Our side:

  • Ask, ask, and ask again. Anything that isn’t put in print is subject to surprise.
  • Skip the mero unless you’re in a very upscale restaurant; you’re not likely to get the real thing, and the substitute is not even close to being worth it.
  • Just because the place has a fancy wine dispenser, it doesn’t mean that the wines will be good, fresh, or properly chilled.

Restaurant side:

  • Be more straight-forward with your customers.
  • Make sure that what’s on the plate is what’s on the menu.
  • If you’re running a special, make sure you specify very visibly in writing, hopefully–on the menu–any item that is not part of the discount program!
  • Bone up on your wine service, and please offer some decent by-the-glass choices.

Squella
Ricardo Cumming 94
Santiago de Chile
F: 699-3059

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Antiyal: Starting the new year with the Son of the Sun

2010 was a rough year for Chile… so it seems only fitting to start 2011 fresh with a wine that evokes hope and light for the new year.

Antiyal 2007

Bottle Nº 1603 of biodynamically managed Antiyal 2007, from Maipo Alto, Chile

When you think about food & wine pairing, do you think about the occasion as well? I do. So when I was choosing the first wine we would drink on 01/01/11, I wanted it to be meaningful. I checked through all the special wines in my “cellar” (ok, so it’s a closet) for just the right one.

It had to be Chilean—my heart, soul, and life are here. I love Chile, and I love its wines. I wouldn’t dream of kicking off the new year with anything BUT a Chilean wine!

I considered the different icon wines: Almaviva, Lapostolle Clos Apalta, Errázuriz Don Max, Viu Manent El Incidente, Tarapacá Tarapacay, Canepa Genovino, San Pedro Cabo de Hornos, Seña, Concha y Toro Don Melchor, Cousiño Macul Lota, Errázuriz Kai… there were many to choose from, all excellent, many that truly evoke Chile, not only in  vitivinicultural terms, but in the emotional, cultural, and historic sense.

I finally narrowed it down to two: VIA Wines Chilcas Las Almas Carmenere 2008 and Antiyal 2007.

Las Almas is a Carmenere—hard to get much more Chilean than that! And the word “alma” means “soul” in Spanish, and the idea appealed to me. 2010 really was rough; it built character—it “strengthened our constitution” (as a close friend would say), and I’m truly hopefully that 2011 will have more heart, more soul. Chile’s collective “alma” could use a boost and Las Almas was a strong contender.

But then there was Antiyal. Son of the Sun in Mapudungun, the language of Chile’s native Mapuche peoples. A biodynamically made wine from carefully tended grapes in Maipo Alto. A wine that I have an emotional bond with. I know the owners—organic/biodynamic guru-winemaker Alvaro Espinoza and his wonderful wife Marina Ashton—and have been to the winery many times—have even danced on the roof by the light of the moon.

Biodynamics works by recognizing the very close tie between the earth and the cosmos, and after a year in which Mother Nature was very restless, it just seemed right to invoke the Son of the Sun to appeal to her good nature for a calmer, more peaceful 2001.

Antiyal 2007 it was then.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not just about emotions. This is one exceptional wine from Maipo Alto. Thick deep plum-red legs dribble slowly down the glass as aromas of rich, dark fruit waft out of it. Blackberries, plum, prune, with a pinch of spice, licorice, and hint of leather on the complex and heady nose. No need to stop there! It’s lush and juicy with more plum and blackberry on the palate, with a wonderfully long finish.

The tannins are there-but nicely balanced and sure enough of themselves to make their presence known without stealing the show. My tasting notes say “a ripple of muscle under a flowing silk shirt” (Can you tell I’d been watching Chinese movies?).

Delicious acidity keeps all that richness bright and juicy, although the alcohol is high enough that I put it in the fridge on this warm summer evening (New Year’s is summer here in Chile) to bring the temperature down to a very pleasing  16ºC / 60º-ish F.

Antiyal 2007:

53% Carmenere
23% Cabernet Sauvignon
25% Syrah
14.5% alcohol
Unfiltered and made with 100% organically grown, biodynamically managed grapes.

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Some Serious Tasting Chile: A Post A Week

WordPress.com Post a Day challenge

Post-a-Day Typewriter respectfully borrowed from The Daily Post (WordPress.com)

I began this blog with all the very best intentions. I have reams of tasting notes and stacks of restaurant receipts and notebooks full of scribbled comments and catalogs of photos all waiting to be written up and posted, but somehow, poor Tasting Chile has taken a back seat to everything else I do, so… the time has come! Things are gonna change around here!

WordPress.com threw down its Get Serious gauntlet and I’m rising to the challenge!I hereby pledge to a minimum of a Post a Week! I’d love to do more–and hopefully I will, but just to keep it realistic… you are my witnesses… A post a week about Food, Wine & Restaurants in Chile–with an occasional stroll over to some other part of the culinary world I happen to be wandering around in.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, that’s the same typewriter image I posted on my primary blog Cachando Chile (if you haven’t seen it, pop over and take a peek–it’s dedicated to all things Chilean and tends to get far more regular sprucings).

If you’d like to know more about the WordPress.com PostADay2011 and PostAWeek2011 challenge, check out the Challenge Intro and The Daily Post.

Here we go! First post coming up soon!

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Elfos Restobar

Elfos Bar Santiago de ChileIt’s spring here in Chile, and we’ve decided it’s high time we returned to our old habit of an evening stroll—which more often than not ends with us rewarding our healthy walking efforts with stopping somewhere for a bite and a sip. That’s pretty easy to do in our “neck of the hood” because we figure there must be at least 50—maybe double that—bars and restaurants within walking distance of our place.

So we meandered through what I call “Old Providencia” between Manuel Montt and Seminario, admiring the many beautiful homes that haven’t been torn town for high rises (yet), and eventually stumbled upon a place we’d never noticed before. Elfos, on Roman Díaz, about a block from Av. Providencia.

We were game. Or wait. Maybe we were IN a game… Continue reading

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Fuente Mardoqueo: Best sánguches in town

The search is over. I’ve found the perfect chacarero!

cacharero, Fuente Mardoqueo, sánguche

The perfect Chacarero: tasty beef topped with fresh tomato, crisp green beans, and a touch of green chili

I am admittedly not the world’s biggest sandwich fan…and them’s fightin’ words in Chile.  Chileans love—and passionately defend—their beloved sánguches. So I’m here to call a truce. And while I’m not likely to ever get up much enthusiasm for the basic avocado- and mayo-smeared ham & cheese, there are other Chilean sandwich combinations that are pretty hard to resist. Make mine a chacarero, a super sánguche whose special defining feature is a big pile of green beans. Yep, that’s right, green beans. Who knew?

Fuente MardoqueoFuente Mardoqueo, half a block from the Plaza Yungay, is one of those word-of-mouth type places—a true picada—and it had been on our radar for a while. Continue reading

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Foolproof Chilean Beef Empanada de Horno

Sonia Rodríguez de Hofstadt of El Toque Gourmet

Caterer and cooking teacher Sonia Rodríguez de Hofstadt, of El Toque Gourmet

Two recent posts about empanadas, here and on Cachando Chile, have produced a flurry of requests for a recipe for those who cannot just pop over to the neighborhood empanada shop. Chilean caterer and cooking teacher extraordinaire, Sonia Rodríguez de Hoftstadt kindly offered to share her foolproof, no-fail recipe for Empanadas de Horno–de pino (beef)–of course!

Sonia is truly a woman of the world, the daughter and wife of diplomats, she has spent much of her life abroad, lived in 9 different countries, and speaks 5 languages. She was trained as a simultaneous interpreter and finally turned to her true passion: food from around the world. She teaches and caters through her company “El Toque Gourmet,” and is currently working on a book of the same title. Her specialties include (but certainly not limited to!) Asian Cooking, Mediterranean and European Food, American Desserts, and Chilean Asados.

You can contact Sonia at: hofstadt (a) manquehue.net
See more of what she’s up to here: El Toque Gourmet and Classes for Children

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for….The Recipe! Continue reading

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