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!

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.

Ricardo Cumming 94
Santiago de Chile
F: 699-3059

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