Santiago – Chilean and French food in Providencia
Providencia, along with neighbouring Las Condes where I was working most of the time, is where the middle and moneyed classes live, and the tall modern buildings can make it seem less exciting in comparison to other barrios. However, it’s still a buzzing area with lots of places to go, including a lot of middle to high end restaurants.
A lot of them feature Peruvian cuisine which is featured in the next post. In this section I start with the ‘better’ places and gradually move down market, not a comment on the food as such, just a way of organising things. The last few places are the ones I’d be more likely to choose if I was staying here any length of time.
Aqui Esta Coco (Advanced B/C). La Concepckon 236, Tel. 410 6201
This is the flagship restaurant of Chilean celebrity chef Coco Pacheo. They specialise in seafood as the glowing fish heads attached to the outside wall would indicate. The decor is slightly quirky but ostentatious and it attracts very well-to-do customers. It’s a big place with tables on two floors and they are always full, so it’s still best to reserve.
I went on two occasions, the first by myself when I was shunted to one of the tables to the side of the main room (after turning down a stool at the bar). This is a bad spot to be as it’s the main thoroughfare for the waters who whisk by at high speed, occasionally clipping your chair or table if they have to pass each other in the narrow space. The second time I went with a colleague and reserved a table on the outdoor terrace at the front which was much more relaxing.
On the first visit I had a Pisco Sour made with mint and basil (menta y albahaca) which was a very nice alternative combination (A) to the usual.
To start, after chewing on some uninspiring bread (C), I had the Empanada de Mariscos, a famous Chilean snack, and pretentiously described on the menu as being ‘the best’. They were ok (B) but needed lifting with some diced Aji chillies in oil from the condiment tray.
For my main I had the Congrio Mai-Mai, conger eel doused in a yellow creamy sauce (C) containing giant maize and mushrooms, which once scraped off (I hate cream on my food) to reveal the fish, was ok (B). This was a bad choice perhaps but due mainly to myself and the waiter not speaking each other’s languages. The best thing was the unblemished giant shrimp that sat on top of the whole concoction. Sea food should be kept as simple as possible in my opinion.
To finish a large slab of Torta de Lucuma, a cake made from an Andean fruit (called eggfruit in English due to its flesh having the same colour and texture as hard-boiled egg), which was very nice (B+).
Total spend on this occasion, $37,400, about £50.
The second time I went, myself and Erna shared a starter called the Seafood Selection involving Razor clams (B), Snow Crab Claws (C), Smoked Salmon (A), Horse Mussels (C) Octopus (B) Shrimp (C) and Sea Bass Cerviche (C), all ok but nothing special really.
To finish we (mainly I) had ‘A Tasting of Desserts’ which included a crème brulee (B), raspberry sorbet (B) and something similar to Leche Asada (B) all ok in themselves but which didn’t go well together and looked incongruous on the plate.
So two visits were enough for me and I wouldn’t go back. The best things about this place for me were the wooden sinks in the bathroom area! Out of all the uber-posh restaurants in Providencia, I would say this comes second, the first being Astrid y Gaston (next post) due to its tasting menu, which Coco does not have.
Le Flaubert (Advanced B-), Orrego Luca 125, Tel. 231 9424
Possibly a place to come for a less frenetic atmosphere (far fewer customers, only four tables on a Tuesday night) than other more hyped up spots. I was shown through to the pleasant back garden with lots of ivy, a trickling fountain, and the odd mosquito.
The ingredients are Chilean, cooked in a French style, and the menu is quite short (could be good, could be bad) and pretentiously displayed on a painter’s easel by your table (the French influence?).
I charged straight in with my order, eager to try some local classics but maybe I should have asked for recommendations first. To start Ostiones a la Parmesana (A-) which tasted great in a creamy, cheesy sauce, but you only get four scallops.
The recommended Sauvignon Blanc (‘Amayna’ from San Antonio in the Leyda Valley) was good (B+) but not as fragrant as others I have had, despite being the most expensive on the list at $15,400. Interestingly the waiter said he always drank SB as it suited the cold water seafood of Chile, which agreed with my theory of Norwegian seafood supremacy when in Europe!
Congrio a la Bizaritz (Conger Eel again) was described as coming with boiled potatoes (well prepared and cooked but needing salt (B)) in a sauce of garlic, olive oil and balsamic and topped with small prawns and parsley. The fleshy white fish was perfectly cooked but sadly the dish was swimming in a sauce totally dominated by the vinegar, despite the slope on my table draining most of it to one end of the plate. It moved from a B to a C by the end.
Desserts were standard French/Chilean fare (tarte tatin, creme brulee, manjar, chocolate mousse) The waiter was kind enough to give a small dish of the homemade ‘manjar artisanal’ to try but it was still super sweet and treacly to the point it made me cough. I went eventually for the ‘Sol de Maracuya’, continuing my South American love affair with this wonderful fruit (sorry, I smashed it in before remembering to take a photo!).
Unbelievably they had no sweet dessert wine to offer me so I went with the suggested Chardonnay but it smelt little better than the toilet so I sent it back and had it replaced (upon suggestion) by the waiter’s personal preference of a Santa Ema Sauvingnon Blanc, which was ok (B) but not good for dessert. Also, despite only wanting a bit, I had to pay for the whole half bottle as the waiter made a mistake in telling me it was available by the glass. So I took it home and had it the next day.
So, this is a pleasant peaceful spot with friendly efficient service, but ultimately I had a disappointing experience with both the food and the wine. Perhaps better if different choices are made, but maybe not, and I won’t be going back.
There are lots of other small bars, tapas joints and sushi places at the beginning of this pleasant little street however.
For more local nightlife you could also go to Paseo Oreggo Luca, a cul-de-sac between 2065 and 2075 Avenida Providencia. There are five neighbouring bars with outdoor seating that are buzzing most evenings. There is a night club called Subterraneo here too but I didn’t get time to go.
This would be a good choice any night of the week, but especially so on Sundays when most places are closed. It’s a modern French-style bistro, with a relatively short menu, mainly steaks and some fish dishes. I really enjoyed coming here as it felt like being back in Europe after a long time away. The waiters could smile a bit more and the bright white walls and pine floors can seem a bit brash but everything mellows a lot once the sun has gone down.
Carmenere was rapidly becoming one of my favourite Chilean reds, (although unbelievably the variety nearly became extinct after the phllyoxera plague of 1867 until it was rediscovered in Chile) so I got it in again. On the waiter’s recommendation, and with my budget in mind, I ordered one of the lower priced bottles; ‘Viu Manent’ Gran Reserva 2009 from the Valle de Colchagua, which I really enjoyed (B+).
I had the Filete Poivre Noir, a solid chunk of beef fillet rolled in black pepper , ‘sellada‘ (rare or sealed?) as opposed to’jugosa’ (medium or juicy) or ‘rosado’ (less than well done?) which was just what I wanted (A). It normally comes with a green salad but I swapped this for a portion of Ratatouille del Campo which was pretty good (B+).
For dessert sadly a very poor Baba au Rhum (overly soft and swimming in a liquid that wasn’t at all rummy, covered in squirty cream) (C-) and a shot of Poire Williams, a favourite Eau de Vie of mine, but not here (C+). Total cost for me $31,350 (with tip) or about £45.
On a second visit with three others, Neil, Frances and Erna again, we shared the Brie Flette (potatoes, onion, fish and Brie) which was powerful and tasty (B+) as well as the Crepe del Mar, a delicious pancake (B+) of salmon and spinach and a milder cheese, which was good but would have been better to eat before the dominating Brie.
For my main I had Saucisse de Toulouse con Lentejas, or sausage and lentils, a favourite comfort food of mine, which was good (B) but a bit too simple (I make a better Spanish version with the addition of other ingredients like spinach or bacon and a more spicy sausage like chorizo).
This is a classic Santiago bar/restaurant, a buzzing hive of activity with several seating areas in different rooms and levels, both inside and out. The chunky skinhead or bequiffed waiters, in black & white uniforms, minus ties and sleeves rolled up, rush about bearing silver trays. There must be a couple of hundred customers gnawing steaks and slurping up pasta at gingham clothed tables to a frenetic soundtrack of Folklorico, Chilean rock and other Latin beats. Tiled floors, walls covered with painted bell flowers, quirky paintings (sailing ships, luminaries from the last century, Captain Spock), old maps and political posters, all add to the atmosphere.
The food is good and reasonably priced and the portions are generous. The wine and drinks list takes up most of the menu. On my first visit I had the Lomo Vertado a la Parilla, a thick rare slab of fillet (B+) with a lettuce salad and Verduras Salteados, a bowl of sautéed (salteado) mixed veg (B).
The busy waiter recommended a 2009 Cab Sov called ‘Chocolan’ from the Valle del Maipo D.O. which lived up to its name (B).
Total cost with tip $28,000 or about £40.
Lomit’s (Intermediate B), Avenida de Providencia 1890
This is essentially a diner, although the waiters look formal in their red uniforms and bow ties. They specialise in a Chilean classic, the Lomito Sandwich. Basically this involves slices of pork tenderloin in a burger bun with a multitude of possible fillings, in my case avocado (palta), tomoto and mayo, known as the Lomo Italiano due to the colours being those of the Italian flag. Haute cuisine it ain’t, but can be very satisfying if you’re in the right mood (B). I had this with a round of chips (C+) and a couple of chopps (draught beers) (B). The portions were huge and I only made it halfway before admitting defeat.
Lots of other things on the menu obviously, all reasonably priced. Service was either friendly but inefficient or ancient and very slow, but is apparently better if you sit at the bar. There are lots of tables out on the street too. This is a place for the average guy who likes to watch football while he eats (as I do) and an experience in itself.
Another sandwich place in Providencia I would have liked to have tried but didn’t have time is Fuente Aleman. Apparently Anthony Bourdain visited their downtown branch for his No Reservations TV series, although it doesn’t feature is this clip of his culinary adventures in Santiago.
Despite the rather worrying name, it’s a trendy bar really, with two large dark cavernous rooms and a soundtrack of chilled house, or at least it was when I was there early doors (opens 8.30pm).
After some average bread buns served with a pretty horrible cheesy sauce (C-), I had the Pollo a la Pimienta, salteados con aceite de olivia (pieces of chicken sautéed with olive oil and bell peppers) which was tasty but over-salted and the meat overdone (C+). The Arroz a las Finas Hierbas was fine (B) as was the glass of Machali Cabernet Sauvignon (B) recommended by the waiter.
I also like to be able to see my food when I’m eating and this place was too dark to even read the menu. The candle holders were lovely though. I’m sure it’s a buzzing bar but in my experience, not somewhere to have your main meal.
Work put me up in the RQ Providencia Suites, which are serviced suites, different from a hotel which would have a breakfast room. Here your morning meal is delivered to your door at a time specified by you, which sounds great but in this case it’s pure junk food; coco pops, manjar filled cakes, bland cheese and ham on plastic sliced bread, sugary fruit squash, with only a few chunks of pineapple and kiwi pretending to be healthy. After a few days in to a two week stay, I started handing thebreakfast tray back to the delivery guy after taking the fruit and yogurt.
A hotel would also have a ‘do not disturb’ card to hang on the door handle but the staff here will just walk in if you don’t answer. The reception staff were pretty poor too and the security very unfriendly. The room was small (an armchair but no space for a sofa) and had its own kitchenette (although the hot plates didn’t work), a small balcony (I had great views of the Andes from the 16th floor) and Wi-Fi, usually with a good signal. There’s also a gym and launderette in the building I would honestly try to stay elsewhere.
Right next door there are a several places to eat or drink where you can sit outside, but I doubt the food is any good. I only tried Niu Sushi (at Diego de Velasquez 2115 Local 1) on the first day when I arrived but the food was a C.
My biggest regrets from my limited time (work got in the way) in Santiago were:
1) Not reserving early enough for a Sunday bicycle tour of the vinyards. The biggest (in all South America) and most famous is Concha y Toro (makers of Casillero del Diabolo) but there are lots of smaller wineries you could visit too. There are other cycle tours around town too, many of which take you to places I have mentioned in earlier posts like the central market and La Piojera.
2) Not taking a bus trip to Mendoza in Argentina over the Andes. The views are stunning apparently.
3) Not checking out the Barrio Brasil, one of the more Bohemian districts.
4) Not eating a good version of Pastel de Chocio (sweetcorn pie) the school lunch version I had just didn’t cut it. Humitas, (sweetcorn mash wrapped in maize leaves) are also supposed to be pretty good too.
At the airport however, I did manage to cross another food item off my Chilean friend Maria’s list of must tries. ‘Completos’ are hot dogs served with my favourite Chilean sandwich filling trio of mashed avocado, tomatoes and mayo. It was pretty good (B), thanks Maria!