Salvador – “cocina” and cafe in the centre

There has definitely been a recent surge in “hidden dinners”, “pop-ups” and “closed-door restaurants” in Santiago and, amongst them, Salvador could almost be considered a veteran, recently celebrating a year in business.

I met chef and owner, Rolando, at another cena escondida, in my dining room actually. A friend, collaborator and supporter, he had been invited along by Colmado co-owner and chef, Manolo, after helping with some recent bureaucratic issues.

As we enjoyed Manolo’s delicious food, we listened in awe to the description of Rolando’s restaurant and, before the end of the night, a group of us had booked the last remaining places at his next “comedor clandestino” (clandestine dining room).

20130821-235028.jpgSalvador is open every weekday for lunch, and the menu changes every day, depending on the market-fresh and seasonal produce that is delivered, and now churns out 120 lunches a day.

Once a month, the team welcome a group of up to 14 people into the restaurant to enjoy a six-course dinner with matched wine.

And so, within two-weeks of our last hidden dinner, we arrived at Salvador, in a quiet cobbled street in the centre of Santiago, to enjoy just one such dinner.

20130821-234902.jpgWe were escorted upstairs, where we were greeted by our host, introduced to the other guests, and welcomed with a refreshing glass of bubbles, a Viña Casablanca Blanc de Blancs. A lot of love and detail has gone into the decoration, and the shared table looked inviting and homey, perfect for sharing a culinary experience with new and old friends.

It wasn’t long before our first course arrived, shared appetiser plates distributed along the table.

20130821-234703.jpgA warning: Rolando’s food is not for the faint-hearted or dieters! With many “multi-course” degustation dinners, you start out small and light, and gradually build up to the bigger courses but, here we were, presented with roasted butternut pumpkins, the flesh removed and enhanced with goat’s cheese and mint, then replaced in the shell and served with merken-perfumed toast. Yum! I think I ate a quarter of a pumpkin on my own. This is definitely a simple, delicious, and visually beautiful dish that you definitely want to try at home and share with a group of friends.

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The first of the entrées soon arrived, an innocent-looking and simply described dish of potato and asparagus. But a surprise was waiting! Upon cracking open the potato, an ooze of perfectly cooked quail egg escaped, adding “wow” factor and completing the dish perfectly. I’ve never liked a potato so much in my life!

20130821-234719.jpgThe next entrée was a cold carrot and ginger-spiced soup with a cured fish (“rollizo”). My fish had been replaced by pickled fennel and blue cheese and, I think in this case, my substituted plate won hands down! The flavour combinations created an unforgettable and amazing flavour punch.

Both of the entrées were served with a very-locally produced Aquitania Rosé of cabernet sauvignon, a dryer style rosé that complimented both dishes nicely.

Next up was the first of the main courses, and Rolando watched with interest for the reaction of the table. Described on the menu as a medallion of pork with a puree of apple, we should have known that none of Rolando’s dishes were going to be quite so pedestrian. We were presented a “terrine” of pig’s trotter, served on a bed of apple puree.

20130821-234755.jpgI tried to like it, I really did, but the chewy and gelatinous texture, and the search for actual meat, was a bit much for me, and I was thankful for the Las Niñas Reserve Shiraz (sorry, Syrah) to wash it down. Our Spanish companions at the other end of the table however, polished it off and, although contentious, it was a dish that I was glad to say I had at least tried (and know I never have to try again!)

20130821-234816.jpgWe stuck with the Syrah for our second main course, osso buco braised in wine and served in a crunchy sourdough loaf, accompanied by a sprig of fresh rosemary that added a delicious aroma and flavour to the dish. It was also accompanied by the roasted bone marrow, which we enjoyed lavishly spread on the crunchy bread. Another winner, although I was definitely running out of room by this stage, and dessert was still to come!

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20130821-234839.jpgDessert was described as a “teacup” of cheese with pomegranate and Late Harvest. I wondered just how we were going to be served a “cup” of cheese but, by this stage, I knew it would be something wonderfully inventive, and I wasn’t wrong. A delicate mix of lightly aerated creamy cheese was topped with grains of pomegranate, and covered a piece of Late Harvest-soaked sponge. It was a perfectly light and fresh end to a hearty meal.

To finish the night off, the chef joined us at the table for a fruity and fresh cocktail, and great conversation, before a group of us walked home in the crisp but pleasant Santiago night.

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I have been following Salvador on Facebook ever since, where they publish their daily menu and many hunger-inducing photos.  Of course, I knew I had to check out one of their famous weekday lunch menus so, on a work-free sunny Santiago winter’s Friday, I grabbed an equally work-free friend, and we set off early to make sure we got a seat.

We were given a table upstairs, with a view to the relatively small kitchen where Rolando was hard-at-work, directing the frantic show.

20130821-234909.jpgThe small, market-fresh menu presented a range of delicious options, which could either be ordered “a la carte”, or in a very-reasonably priced three-course “menu” with an iced tea, and either coffee or dessert.  We, of course, chose the menu and, the wannabe-Mexican in me couldn’t go past the entrée of chilaquiles.  Made with homemade toasted tortillas and topped with a delicious salsa and perfectly cooked egg, I would go back for this dish alone.  My much-larger-than-me friend chose the much-lighter-than-mine option of cream of zucchini soup which was also reportedly delicious, but we were too busy hoeing into our own plates to share this course!  The iced tea was a fresh homemade blend of celery, beetroot and ginger.

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For the main, I opted for a “milanesa” or schnitzel, stuffed with goat’s cheese and jamon, and served on a very-big bed of rustic baked potato.  Rodrigo chose the oven-baked penne with rocket and vegetables which, this time, I can vouch for and confirm was also delicious.

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Thankfully, dessert was a fine sliver of apple tart that couldn’t be refused, but that topped off the meal nicely.

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With most of the lunchtime rush behind him, Rolando came out of the kitchen to greet us, which gave us the opportunity to thank him for another delicious meal.

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I still watch the tempting menu every day and, thankfully for my waistline, I am often on the other side of town and working at lunchtime, but I am sure that this will not have been my last Salvador experience.

The “clandestine dining room” continues, and has grown to include some collaborative dinners with other chefs, including Colmado, the first of which was reportedly a great blend of different styles from two very talented chefs.  Watch their Facebook page for details, and get in quickly to reserve your seat at the communal table.

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