Most of our restaurants were within walking distance of our El Golf hotel. This did not prove to be particularly limiting, since most of Santiago’s best restaurants are in this area, and particularly along Avenida Nueva Costanera’s very upscale restaurant row. Our only culinary excursions outside of this area were in the city’s fish markets and in two wonderful wine country restaurants.
Although we knew that Peruvian star chef Gaston Acurio had branches of his two restaurants (Astrid y Gaston and La Mar) in Santiago, we initially leaned against going. After all, we had been to both of his original restaurants in Lima (where we loved La Mar and found Astrid y Gaston to be fine, but overly formal and overpriced) and we also go to the San Francisco branch of La Mar. But after seeing that the restaurant is continually packed and hearing from our reliable wine tour guide (see our blog on Santiago Wine Country) we decided to go anyway. We were somewhat disappointed when we were told the restaurant was out (relatively early Saturday night) of ingredients for the first two dishes we ordered. There were, however, plenty of other dishes from which we were happy to choose.
Our sea bass ceviche and spider crab roll with pulp, smoked salmon and avocado wrapped in nori were, as in the chef’s other restaurants, were, of course, excellent. We also, as always, enjoyed the crisp corn kernels and vegetable chips that Le Mar serves before its meals. After a full day of wine tasting, I just couldn’t handle another bottle of wine. So while Joyce had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I made do with a Pisco Sour.
This seafood restaurant is located in the large, fun Mercado Central fish market–the place to go to get ultra-fresh, reasonably priced local seafood. Since the restaurant had everything, we couldn’t decide what to exclude. So we didn’t even try. We ordered one of the restaurant’s three platters of broad selection of simply steamed or baked (different depending on the seafood) shellfish. Our huge platter, which they claimed was for two, but could easily serve four. It came with Ecuadorian shrimp, littleneck clams, mussels, oysters, abalone, octopus and king crab, plus fish ceviche and scallops gratin. Nothing complex: Just incredibly fresh, simply and well prepared seafood.
Since we could not even begin to eat what was on the platter, we were forced to do triage, skipping the ceviche (we were ceviched out) and the mussels (which fall lower on our shellfish food pyramid). Everything else was very good. We just wish we could have eaten more. (We had a half bottle of 2011 Miquel Torres Santa Dinga Reserva Sauvignon Blanc with our shellfish feast.)
We did, however, have two misfires on restaurants. In one, the food was very good, but the service was pretentious and downright rude. The first really bad service that we experienced in South America. At the other, the food was among the most disappointing of our entire 3.5-week trip.
This upscale restaurant, which is located across the street from La Mar, also focuses on seafood, but it is much more formal and has a totally different, much more subdued vibe. Although we really enjoyed the food, the servers, for some reason we can’t really identify, apparently did not like us. But first for the food. We shared two dishes and a bottle of wine. The meal began with an amuse bouche–a cappuccino de congria (Conger eel)’ which was warmed milk, with a bit of cappuccino and apparently, puréed eel. Very nice. Our first dish, which was simply called “Mixed Seafood with Fried Calamari” was a ceviche with salmon and what seemed to be snapper, with Peruvian corn (although we couldn’t find the octopus or langoustines we were told we’re in the dish). Our second dish was Bass “Robelo” with noisette (hazelnut) butter capers and asparagus. The bass, which was also served with lightly sautéed spinach, diced tomatoes and crispy seaweed flakes, was delicious. Our 2009 Veremonte Pinot Noir Reserva took a bit of time and swirling to open up, but when it did, it was nice.
As for the service, we must have done something to terribly offend our server. What it was, we don’t have a clue. But after we asked a couple questions about the dishes (with language preventing us from either communicating our question, or understanding their responses), the service became unresponsive. We had to ask each time we needed more wine or mineral water (both of which wee kept on a separate serving table). When we paid, even after reluctantly leaving a standard 10% tip, we did not get so much as a thank you. The server just turned, left and did snot even acknowledge us on the way out. Was it our breath? Did Joyce’s effort at Spanish somehow offend our server’s mother? We don’t know. But whatever it was, he certainly wasn’t happy with us.
Corny name, but recommended by our concierge. Although we skeptical from the rather plain appearance and the plastic menus, Coco Loco did offer the range of local shellfish options that would allow us to try a number of different, relatively straightforward local seafood dishes. So we took a shot. The razor clams baked with Parmesan were good, although a bit too much cheese for our taste. The other dishes were much less successful Once we freed our spider king crab from its pool of butter, it tasted as if it had been previously frozen. The Chilean abalone gratin came as relatively small chunks of nondescript abalone-textured meat hidden in a huge bowl filled with a gelatinous creamy cheese mixture that totally overpowered the meat. But, while the food was disappointing, we were, at least, pleased with the recommended Leyda Valley, Tarapaca Gran Reserva Chardonnay.
Santiago Wine Country Restaurants
Our wine country tours to the Maipo and Casablanca Valleys (see our Blog on Santiago Wine Regions), both included very nice lunches.
This was was our Maipo Valley lunch spot. We ate outside, on the lawn surrounded by manicured gardens. The four-course meal began with a wonderfully fresh raspberry juice (we never had that before) and cheese course (a bloomy rind goat cheese a soft cow’s milk and a harder cow with herbs). Then came a wonderful tomato with mozzarella and basil and the main course–a delicious rare tenderloin with julienned vegetables and a side of beautifully fresh tomato, arugula, spinach ad lettuce. We finished with a lemon sorbet, vanilla ice cream and fresh peach. The wine was less impressive, a 2011 Emaliana Carmenere Reserva.
A very nice winery restaurant that offers incredible painting lunches. After an amuse bouche of shrimp ceviche, we had a tuna ceviche that matched amazingly well with the Morande Pinot Gran Reserva, a black risotto with seafood and a surprisingly oaky Sauvignon Blanc and a Wagyu beef short rib with a Gran Reserve cab. We finished with a cheesecake with caramelized walnuts, served with a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Each dish, and the pairings that were served with each, were all very good. Moreover, the sommelier explained exactly why he chose each wine and, when learning what we enjoyed, in providing tastes of additional wines that he thought we would appreciate.