This Saturday, my husband and I went out to the tapas bar at the Ritz Carlton Santiago called Arola. Arola is the new-ish project of Spanish Michelin-starred chef, Sergi Arola, from Barcelona. The new debut has gone hand-in-hand with an unveiling of the Ritz’s new modern, stylish look and total betterment on the food/wine front.
As we sipped this fizzy, dark red called Lambrusco from Italy with our tapas, I excused myself to the ladies room (really an excuse to put on lipstick). About 45 minutes later, wanting to take a picture with my iPhone, I fumbled for it in my purse. Not there. Ok…I look in the cushions of the couch. The floor. No sign of it. I tried to keep my composure and decided to retrace my steps back to the bathroom, the last place I remembered fishing it out of my purse (full disclosure: amount of wine not helping at this point). Nothing. I come back, annoyed with myself, that I officially lost my iPhone. Gone. Tchau. Adios. And so stupidly.
A security guard approached me and asked if I had left it in the bathroom about 45 minutes ago. Yeah…He says, “no worries, we have it”. There it was. Somebody turned it in to lost and found. I could hardly believe it. In that moment, my faith in people genuinely being honest was restored (especially in this country where you put it down and it’s gone). I have had this happen with flowers at La Vega but never an expensive IT item like an iPhone. I felt grateful my luck of being at the Ritz when this happened. The experience trailed on their superb service the entire evening. I had learned my lesson and considered myself one lucky gal.
I want to share with you guys a piece I wrote for Placeres Magazine on why Santiago is a total foodie destination now in Latin America. Get out and enjoy the city. We’re lucky to live in a place that’s blossoming and having new, top notch varied restaurants open all the time. Enjoy–and hang onto your iPhones.
So many flowers get thrown by international press at the restaurant scene in Buenos Aires, Lima, Sao Paulo, and even Bogotá. Sure, they are great. But what about Santiago? Today, there’s an effervescent food culture, restaurant happening, people that “go out”. Santiago is a foodie destination.
I have some criteria as to what constitutes a foodie destination and the attributes a city of this nature is. As I will prove below, Santiago fills all the requisites.
Markets Galore: In Chile, we are truly blessed to have the most amazing fresh, seasonal products. From fruit and vegetables to fish and seafood. We eat with the seasons here. Who in their right mind would ever try to make a pastel de choclo, corn pie, in the July, the depths of winter when corn season is long gone? Err, no Chilean would! That’s majorly important. Chileans eat according to nature’s bounty and follows its fruits during the year. Many of the typically Chilean dishes reflect that seasonality–and that’s key. This does not happen everywhere, especially in the US, where you can get melon in January and blueberries or halibut year round. For me, it’s daily or weekly inspiration. This is a fundamental pillar in what Chilean cuisine is. The same seasonality translates for the sea, too. Fishermen respect the natural cycles of spawning, reproduction and growth so you eat different seafood at different times of the year. Now, the big challenge, let’s get into this idea of everything a punto–perfectly cooked and al dente. Good-bye charred steak, dry fish, and mushy veggies that in the past plagued many kitchens.
Dedicated Artisans: The definition of an artisan is a worked in a skill trade, often making something by hand. I would add that artisans are often masters and dedicate their lives to the pursuit of perfection in their art. I am talking about perfection made by hand, procuring and using the best ingredients to fulfill its full potential. Not everything has to look perfect. This searching, if you will, is injected with a huge dosis of passion and love. In Santiago, we now have great artisan products, made by locals and resident foreigners, with specialized stores. The same as chefs and skilled cooks in restaurantes, these folks are pivotal in the development of the local gastronomy. Some references here are: Belgian chocolate maker Damian Mercer and his dangerously delectable chocolates; Las Violetas guardians of colonial pastries and the best huevo mol desserts in town; Pichasca with their suave cheeses and tangy yogurt made from goat’s milk on the hills of Ovalle; Le Ciccoline for its old school French bread when you really just need some brioche; textbook perfect espresso shots from Café Lama at Espresso Bar. Shops like Coquinaria have done a noteworthy job in bringing together artisan olive oil like Zeitun, pink rock salt from Los Andes, and the addicitive cured game prosciutto (Llama, deer, wild board) from La Unión. These are the people bringing the products to the population and increasing the foodie interest in the capital.
Wine Scene: Finally. Finally! The wine scene is moving here and it’s showing on wine lists in many great restaurants. I hope to see the culture of drinking good wine grow even more. It’s so awesome though to go out to eat and see wine lists, by the bottle and the glass, put together with creativity, good taste, and thought. And even a sommelier is now standard in many top restaurants to help guide diners. The only thing I think needs to grow is the wines-by-the-glass concept of higher calibur in more bars and ethnic joints, bistros, etc. Drinking fine wine doesn’t need to be a gourmet extravaganza and sometimes, while friends are downing their pisco sours, I would go for a nice glass of champagne. Good wines by the glass gets people experimenting and moving beyond Cabernet to try a Carignan, Syrah, Merlot, maybe a Viognier. Open their palates. And please restaurant managers, don’t charge 3-4 times retail. In Chile, 2 times retail mark-up is standard. Marking up wines, WON’T get people to drink better, and more, wine! If we are judging restaurants by their wine lists, here’s my short list: Baco, Astrid & Gastón, Tierra Noble, Cuerovaca, Ox & Opera.
Chefs & Cooks: The tendency on a worldwide level has been, for some time, that people want to be closer to the kitchen and its preparations. They are stepping away from abstact, high-concept food experiments like molecular and want honest food that is recognizable, well prepared and familiar. Regional. Local. Authentic. The chefs are the major catalysts of our experience at the table. In picadas, joints, there’s a direct relationship between the diners and the owner (nearly always on site and often cooking). The focus is on that empathy, relationship, and a familiar flavor done well. Parallel to this, you have a trend in Santiago of young chefs that are pushing limits as to the interpretation of Chilean ingredients and fusing them with more sophisticated techniques learned in culinary school (often French) to play with flavors and sensations. There are various names, I won’t mention any (hehe), and certainly there’s a current list of “culinary rock stars” that are putting together their own signature touches on Chilean nouveau cuisine.
Destination Restaurants: If there’s a joint that serves amazing food, wouldn’t you be willing to cross the entire city to eat there? Rhetorical question. That’s gastronomic culture. Restaurants that have been around for generations, where the family still receives you are the soul of local cuisine, in my humble opinion. Any culinary scene has to be a balance of what people eat and crave to eat on a day-to-day basis and a more “produced” version which is theatrical. To name some old school places that really specialize and rock certain dishes, here’s a few I love: Fuente Alemana to devour a Lomito Italiano; Galindo to slurp up their brothy Chicken cazuela; Carne Mechada (tomatoy-wine-pot roast) at Liguria; or Plateada (marinated beef brisket) or Porotos Granados (Cranberry bean stew with pumpkin) at Bar Nacional. Or how about the ethnic haunts for traditional Japanese utilizing Chile’s brilliant seafood like Kintaro and Japón for sushi, the insane falafel from Asly Falafel. Obviously there are gastronomic temples like Astrid & Gastón, the brand new Arola tapas bar in the Ritz (Michelin-star chef from Barcelona), and Opera for delicate French food and a festival of foie gras.
The best thing happening? People are going out to eat. Even in February when half of Santiago relocates to the coast an hour of way, the restaurants are full. As long as the food is consistent, the service professional and friendly and makes everyone feel at home in their restaurant. That people want to return. The only thing left is to share, enjoy, and be part of this growing foodie culture that’s blossoming in Santiago on all levels.