La Gatita

By Margaret Snook, May 5, 2009

Somehow—for reasons beyond my comprehension—the seaside town of Concón, in Central Chile, has managed to get away with declaring itself the “Gastronomic Capital of Chile.” Yes, there are plenty of restaurants, but the vast majority are the typical seaside eateries with white-shirted, bow-tied waiters pushing outdated wines and overcooked fish. There are few worth writing home (or anywhere else) about. And then there’s La Gatita.

La Gatita seafood restaurant in Concón

La Gatita seafood restaurant in Concón

My husband and I have been hearing about La Gatita, a favorite seafood restaurant in the Las Higuerillas section of Concón (near the yacht club) for years. We’ve even tried going a few times to find out what’s behind all the to-do. But it fills up fast, and in a country where Sunday dinner begins at 2:00—or even 3:00, the line forms outside La Gatita at 11:30, and it’s filled to its 18-table capacity within minutes after it opens its doors at noon.

We got there at 12:20 and were fourth on the waiting list. “Table for two? 20 or 30 minutes,” she said. Hah! An hour 20, in fact, but we were determined. Getting a table was our goal of the day. Sure, the place next door (Calipso) was completely empty and had a better view, but we were on a mission and installed ourselves in the parking lot with the others.

This is clearly a picada, a simple place, with too-close tables and plenty of hustle and bustle, but the wait staff is fast and generally efficient. Hot rolls and spicy pebre appeared on the table within minutes, and the generously large and strong pisco sours we ordered just moments later.

We opted for an order of machas (razor clams)—half a la parmesana, half con salsa verde. The salsa verde (green sauce) turned out to be more onion than parsley, and the parmesana was creamy style, served on the half shell and swimming in sauce. Yummy, although I prefer the standard drier, creamless style with lemon juice. The machas themselves were perfectly tender.

Like most regional restaurants and nearly every picada in the country, the wine list leaves something to be desired. We wanted a half bottle of Chardonnay, and although a Casillero del Diablo appears on the menu, the only half-bottle whites were a Santa Emiliana Sauvignon and a Carmen Rhin. We needed more body to go with the fried fish and ended up going classical with a Santa Rita 120 Cabernet (a light red holds up better to the fried batter than a light-bodied white).

The wine appeared before we had gotten half way through the pisco sour. She popped the cork on the Sauvignon Blanc before we had a chance to say “tinto.” “¡EEEEE!” She responded, in that wide-eyed, air-sucking way that so many Chilean women do… it quickly disappeared and the correct wine appeared in its place, along with a big, apologetic smile, earning her good service points despite the error.

Congrio Frito (Batter-fried Conger Eel)

Congrio Frito (Batter-fried Conger Eel)

Everything happens fast here. Our main course showed up before the first course was cleared, but the waitress seemed to have 6 arms and managed to lift one set of dishes and smoothly replace them with the next set all at once. Suddenly I was seated before an enormous and perfectly prepared congrio frito (batter-fried conger eel or kingclip), the kind I’d been yearning for for ages. It was big and golden with crispy coating, flaky flesh, and accompanied by several fresh-cut lemon halves. “The Mr.” wanted merluza, which was unavailable, so he opted for albacora, which is usually simply grilled with butter and capers or almonds, but he too hankered for fried batter. Not the best choice of the day; he’ll stick to tradition next time. The fries served along side would’ve benefited from a few more minutes in the fryer to crisp and golden up their limp-ish pallor.

Singer in La Gatita

Singer in La Gatita

In typical picada style, a singer strolls through about once per seating (they turn this place over about 5 times on busy Sundays). ¡Bésame! Bésame mucho… he sings with a smile bigger than his voice. Tips are expected as he strolls from table to table.

The check

The check

The portions are generous, and dessert, out of the question, although the meal did end on a sweet note. The bill: not cheap, but a quite reasonable $20.000 (about $35 US) including tip for a Sunday lunch for 2.

The final conclusion? The mystery remains as to why people are so willing to line up and wait an hour-plus to get in. It’s good, sure, as far as picadas go, but great? Mmm… there’s still room for improvement.

Av. Borgoño s/n
Higuerillas, Concón
Tel: (56-32) 281-4235

10 Comments

Filed under Food, Restaurants

10 responses to “La Gatita

  1. Te.cl

    I love la gatita..

    the trick is to get in the waiting list, try a pisco sour on the next restaurant and come back like 30-1 hour later depending on the ppl there.
    The other thing i recommend is the dish called La Gatita, comes with everything from shrimps, razor clams, etc..
    I think it can’t be called “picada” tho, the prices are not “picada” like and the waiting demostrates the place is already well known.

    • Good advice for how to spend the time on the waiting list!
      The “La Gatita” dish sounded like way too much for just 2 people, but would be great for a group.
      The whole “picada” definition merits some study… like you say, the prices aren’t cheap (but then, none are in that area) and it’s well-known, but for its super casual and traditional style I still consider it a picada…

  2. I love picadas…
    Venecia restaurant in “Bella vista” is my favorita…
    Great food fresh cook just for you!
    Solange

  3. Can you believe I’ve never been to Venecia? I keep hearing good things about it!

  4. So I just found your other blog! And I know this is an old post but…

    I have no idea how Con Con (it means Arse Arse in French🙂 can claim to be a gastronomic capital of anywhere. The sign drives me mad every time I pass through on the way to Zapallar where there is actually a fantastic seafood restaurant- El Chiringuito- with consistently great food, lovely setting and the same price as most places in Con Con.

    Everywhere in Con Con is just so typically average, nowhere stands out except one little place for me…I don’t know the name but it’s a tiny, tiny restaurant past La Gatita on the right hand side heading towards the main part of Con Con. It’s built into a tree, if you can imagine it, with about 3 tables at most, the kitchen’s little more than a bunsen burner and a fryer but the food is really good. The empanada de pino (fried) was one of the best I’ve had anywhere and the owner/chef whips up a really great reineta and chips.

    Try and find it next time you’re on the coast…

    • Hi Matt- Yep, you found me out… and I agree with you about the whole gastronomic capital thing… maybe it was like getting the cool name for your web site? as in the first one who thinks of it gets to claim it?
      I am really stumped about the place you’re talking about (built into a tree?)… now I’m intrigued!

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  7. Picadas

    Margaret,
    Enjoy the sites, the people and surely you must have the capacity to find good wine in Chile, the rest of the world does and it is not all for export. A picada is a picada and not meat to be a Michelin Star dining experience but a simple taste of local products as the locals consume. In fact the less commercialized these places get by foreigners the better. God only knows what will come next to beautiful Chile since it now celebrates “Halloween!!!”

  8. Hi “Picadas” Yes, I know that picadas are not Michelin–and don’t expect them to be! I love the relaxed, informal atmosphere and the traditional food–that’s what they’re all about anywhere. For example, diners and truck stops in the US–same idea–honest food, honest prices, no fru-fru expected or tolerated. And no one wants to see them commercialized! (¡qué horror!)
    What gets me about places on the coast though is that often they are really quite expensive. I used to wonder why fish costs so much on the coast, and then later learned that it’s because a good deal of it actually comes through Santiago. Sad to say, the central coast has very little fish left, and most of what we want to eat at the picadas is actually brought in from the far south (or north) and comes through the hub in Santiago.
    All that said–La Gatita definitely merits a visit. It’s one of those places that you just have to try, and it’s far better than most of the places I’ve tried along the coast.
    Also tried the nearby Donde Jaime recently–also quite good!

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