20140204-171315.jpgVendimia!  Vintage!  Harvest Festival!

I had SO much fun last year, and the first festival of the season is just one month away. The biggest, held in Santa Cruz in the Colchagua Valley, will run from 7-9 March, and the other regions will soon fill the calendar in the weekends after that, finishing in early April.

I managed to make it to at least four last year, Colchagua, Buin, Pirque and Casablanca, plus a couple of private ones at wineries and restaurants. Hopefully I can get to as many this year, and maybe fit Curico into the mix.

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Folk dancing (cueca), live music, grape squashing, traditional costumes, local produce, great weather, country settings, good friends, lots of delicious food, and wine, wine, wine!

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It’s the best time of year to be in Chile, and one of the things I love most about living here.

cordero al palo

20140203-232139.jpgSorry vegetarians, but “cordero al palo” (“lamb on a post”), a specialty from the Patagonia region in the south of Chile, is just plain yummy.

Luckily, we don’t have to travel the 2,000 kilometres to the south just to eat it (though the trip would certainly be worthwhile to see the amazing scenery).  Technically, a whole lamb impaled on its “post”, it’s a popular addition to various festivals held locally, like the patriotic 18th September week “fondas”, “vendimias” (wine festivals), and other food festivals.

I’ve also been lucky enough to enjoy a home-style version using half a lamb, cooked over a drum, similar to what we’d call “lamb on the spit” in Australia.

Slow-cooked for hours (approx. 5 for a full lamb) over hot coals, it is simply juicy, sweet, and finger-lickingly delicious.

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Thankfully, there are also a couple of good restaurants around Santiago if the cravings get too much, like El Meson de la Patagonia in Lo Barnechea for one.

What’s not to love?

My first Thanksgiving dinner

20131124-203822.jpgIt’s been a while between posts, and I’m sorry about that.  There’s a number of reasons, but a lack of fun things to write about is certainly not one of them.  Rather than backtrack, I thought I’d sit down and write about an event while it was still fresh in my mind.

One of the good things about living in a diverse city with so many expats, is that you get to sample a lot of different cultures, not just the local one.  It’s been “French Week” here for example, so there have been a number of French-style events around Santiago.  I also recently enjoyed a South American festival, with a great selection of food and wine, on a sunny Spring day in the park.  On top of that, the North American Thanksgiving is upon us, Christmas will promptly follow, then it’s New Year’s, etc.  They don’t call it the “Silly Season” for nothing!

untitledIt seems rather ironic that, although I’ve spent time in the US (and have an American brother-in-law!), I had my first Thanksgiving dinner in Chile.  When I first saw the event published, I thought the menu looked great, but I didn’t immediately sign up as I didn’t think of it as “our holiday”.  The event had been organised by Kimberly, another fairly recent arrival, this time from New York, who has set up her own business “Savory Five” and works with local chefs to deliver events with a twist.  As the date got closer, I heard from a few “gringo” friends about what Thanksgiving means to them and, no, it wasn’t ALL football, the discovery of America, and turkey.  In fact, for many, it is the launching pad for the holiday season, a great time to share with friends and family, and an opportunity to reflect on all the things you are thankful for.  With a new perspective, and a few places still remaining at the table, I enlisted seasoned foodie friend, Fer, to join me and we booked ourselves in.

20131124-203833.jpgThe evening started relatively early by Chilean standards, at 7pm, and was held at Casaluz, a pretty little restaurant in Barrio Italia.  When we arrived, we were shown to a beautiful, leafy courtyard where we were immediately welcomed with a refreshing cocktail.  Always a good start to an evening!  Despite the recent bout of hot weather, the day had been quite cool and the evening threatened rain.  Given the outdoor setting, and the amount of work that had been put in to make the courtyard look beautiful, I really hoped that it wouldn’t be the case.  The organisers were prepared for the cool change however, with soft, fluffy blankets available to wrap yourself in as the evening cooled down and, thankfully, the rain held off and the sky cleared as the night went on.

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We initially mingled, armed with our cocktails, and enjoyed some Thanksgiving-themed appetisers, my favourites being a yummy Pumpkin Arancini, and a Goat’s Cheese and Bacon bruschetta with Apple Chutney.  We bumped into some friends we already knew, and met new people, including a lady who had recently spent time with her daughter in Melbourne and couldn’t speak highly enough of our beautiful city.

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As people filtered in, musicians played softly under a nearby tree, and the pumpkin-resembling lanterns were lit up.  The courtyard and tables had been decorated with abundant Thanksgiving produce, some embellished with gold paint.  The overall effect was relaxing and lovely.

We were soon seated at our tables, and our order was taken for our choice of entrée, main and dessert, all with a Thanksgiving flavour of course.  Fer and I chose different dishes for entrée and main, but both decided we really needed to try the Pumpkin Pie for dessert.

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The rocket salad with figs, pecans, dried cranberries and parmesan looked great, but my Pumpkin and Ginger soup was not only good, but also reminiscent of home.

By the time the mains were being served, the sun had fully set and the lantern-lit courtyard was full of the buzz of people enjoying their evening.

For the main, Fer had ordered the quintessential Roast Turkey.  It was a little on the dry-side, an easy thing to do with turkey, especially when feeding so many people.  I went for the Rib-Eye, not being able to go past the promise of a good pepper sauce.  I felt a little like Fred Flintstone when my huge steak arrived and, although the meat was nicely cooked and tender, there was no way I was able to get through it all, not even with the help of some willing neighbours.  I wasn’t sure about the connection between Rib-Eye and Thanksgiving but, as we ate, our hostess Kimberly explained that her Great Uncle Stan always prepared a fresh Rib-Eye at Thanksgiving and the dish was on the menu in his honour.  A sweet tribute.

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The mains were served with “fixings” or sides, served “family style”, shared in the middle of the table.  There was a lovely plate of roast vegetables, mashed potato, an apple sauce for the turkey (as fresh cranberries had proven elusive in Chile at this time of year), and the delicious pepper sauce for the Rib-Eye.

During the meal, we were served different wines by our friendly sommelier, starting with a Sauvignon Blanc and a 100% Petit Verdot, and followed by a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which was my preference.

20131124-204123.jpgOur dessert arrived and, although the pumpkin pie was soft and sweet with a good texture, it really wasn’t to my taste.  I guess that’s what comes from a lifetime of eating pumpkin as a savoury food.  The alternative dessert, a pecan bar, arrived for my neighbour and he was kind enough to let me taste it.  It was nutty and tasty, but a little dry and possibly could have benefited from a little caramel sauce (yum!).

After being offered coffee, and lingering a while longer, we decided to make a move before we ourselves turned into pumpkins.  As we said our goodbyes, our hostess gave us a lovely “care package”, which contained a hand-drawn Chilean card, and a take-home serve of roast turkey.  I guess, like any good Christmas, there’s never a Thanksgiving without leftovers, and it certainly made the next day’s dinner an easy choice!  The package was trimmed with a card, prompting us to think of things to be thankful for, of which there are certainly many.

Overall, it was a fabulous, very well-organised evening, with every detail given careful consideration.  Considering that the kitchen had no experience with Thanksgiving dishes, the food was very well prepared, plentiful and delicious.  Most of all, it was lovely to mingle with a diverse and fun group of people, many of whom were also experiencing their first Thanksgiving dinner.


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.


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.


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.

Colmado – a little cafe with a hidden secret

Finding good coffee in Santiago was a priority when I arrived, especially after it had taken me close to 2 months in Buenos Aires to find a good, Colombian brew. After all, you can take the girl out of Melbourne but …

20130821-212706.jpgI had some success in the early days, thanks to some other bloggers’ advice, and found Café Santiago, on the corner of Teatinos and Catedral, in the west end of the city, with a proper barista and a waiter that remembered my order after the first visit, regardless of how much time past in between. Great qualities in a café.  Only problem is, they are a business district café that doesn’t open on weekends and, after I moved a little further east, it was a bit out of the way. Still, if I’m ever in that part of town, I will often stop by for a coffee and, sometimes, some pan tostado con palta (toast with avocado).

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In the meantime, I discovered the corner of Santo Domingo and Miraflores, a café lover’s dream. On one corner, you have two great little locations; Leerte, a quaint little combo of bookstore and tea room, and Cocteau (incorporating Panaderia Bernard), a café bakery with fresh-baked French style bread and pastries (a novelty in Santiago), a nice café menu, and coffee. Unfortunately, the service is a little impersonal (no matter how many times I’ve been, they’ll never know my order) and the quality of coffee is inconsistent, a victim of their own success as they are often busy.

20130817-194137.jpgOn the diagonally opposite corner, is Café Sur, which attracted me at first with its “café para llevar” (takeaway coffee) blackboard, another rarity in Santiago unless it comes with a Starbucks label. A smaller establishment with a limited food menu, these guys make good coffee and have remembered my order since Day One, the kind of service that makes you keep going back. Unfortunately, they are not always open on Saturdays, and never on Sundays.

20130817-194241.jpgIt was after a lazy weekend coffee at one of the above, that I happened across Colmado. Hidden at the back of a little, off-street courtyard, my curiosity got the better of me and, upon closer inspection, I could see it was a cozy and comfortable little café that took its coffee seriously, with pour-over filters, an espresso machine, and other contraptions that would look more at home in a science laboratory. I decided that this was a café that I had to check out sometime soon.

20130817-194339.jpgSure enough, the following weekend, I returned with a friend for a simple yet delicious breakfast with, honestly, the best coffee I’ve had in Santiago, and some toast made from handmade bread, topped with avocado, and finished with “gomasio”, a toasted, ground sesame with sea salt. Furthermore, the service was friendly and accommodating, and the location comfortable – perfect for a long, girly, weekend catch-up that was to become a frequent occurrence.

We soon got to know the hands-on owners; Ina, a Chilean local who worked for some years in Barcelona where she met her partner, Manolo, a Spanish chef with a wealth of culinary experience, and their business partner, Daniel, another Chilean who has also spent a long time living and working in Barcelona (enough time to develop the tell-tale Barcelona lisp!). Together, they have something in common – a focus on quality produce, great food and good, personalised, friendly service.

20130821-214702.jpgThe café is filled with delicious food options, and some quality products to take home, such as a range of coffee, homemade muesli, handmade sweets, etc. Other menu options include fresh-daily, homemade tortilla de patata (spanish omelette), sandwiches with options such as sheep’s cheese or seitan (gluten steak), and a range of temptingly delicious desserts, including a rich chocolate cake made with stout and raspberry jam, and an amazing cheesecake.

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In addition to the regular menu, in the beginning, Manolo was mixing up a big batch of paella every Sunday which had people coming out of the woodwork to discover this little hidden gem.

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Manolo had even started to plan some “cena escondidas”, hidden dinners, to be held in the café after dark, and we planned to be a part of it.

Unfortunately, the combination of some jealous, complaining neighbours, and good ole Chilean bureaucracy, suddenly had the café closed down unexpectedly and, seemingly, without valid reason. Although a temporary spanner in the works, we decided to move our cena escondida to my nearby apartment.

Fortunately, in the meantime, after a week of incredible ups and downs – fighting bureaucracy, employing lawyers, digging deep to discover the reasons, receiving amazing demonstrations of public support (both via social media and in person), and producing the required paperwork – the Colmado team received the news that they were able to reopen.

20130817-194357.jpgThat same, chilly Santiago night, a group of eight of us gathered in my apartment for our “hidden dinner”. Ina and Manolo brought EVERYTHING, from the table settings to the music, the candles to the cutlery and glasses and, most importantly, the food and beverages. We started the evening with a refreshing aperitivo, a gin tonic with strawberries and lemon, as the group started to arrive. A diverse group, we consisted of two Aussies, a Brazilian, a Colombian, a Mexican, and three Chileans (one of whom was invited by Manolo and runs his own restaurant which was soon to become our next foodie destination!).

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The first course was a “sea-bed”of mixed seafood, accompanied by a pour over dashi broth made with green tea and lemongrass. Catering for my “no seafood” necessities, the sea-bed was substituted by a 62-degree egg, with the same flavour-filled broth. Manolo had personally selected all of the wines, and this first dish was served with a dry Aquitania Rosé made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. I may be being converted to Rosé after all!

Next up was a roast “cebollin” (large spring onion) on a bed of “romesco”, a smoky pepper sauce, and topped with salted cod “bacalao” puree, topped with a catalan bull blanc. The flavour combination was amazing and, around about this time, we moved from the Rosé to a crisp Little Quino Sauvignon Blanc.

20130817-194559.jpgThe following dish was the most surprising and a true crowd-pleaser. “Tiradito” of artichoke, the artichoke was served thinly sliced and raw, and accompanied with a smoky roasted tree tomato, finely sliced jamon, and sheep’s cheese. A light sauce of ginger, coriander and garum introduced a flavour-packed punch that contrasted amazingly with the crunchy texture of the artichoke.

20130821-224218.jpgThe fourth course was octopus, marinated in red wine and served with a duxelle of wild mushrooms and accompanied by a delicious, smoked avocado puree and a piece of crunchy pork crackling. My octopus was replaced by a tender piece of seitan which combined with the other flavours and textures perfectly. At this point, we moved on to the first of our red wines, an Apaltagua Carmenere from the Colchagua Valley.

20130817-194549.jpgNext up, the “main course”, a not-so-mini lamb burger (did I mention there were two Aussies in the room? Lamb was always going to be a hit!) with orange-dressed endive and a homemade, smoky barbecue sauce, with a side of …. Delicious!

In a perfect lamb-meets-cab-sav combination, we were served a Lagar de Bezana Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from the Cachapoal Valley to accompany this dish.

Dessert was a simple yet delicious rhum baba with vanilla icecream, a subtly flavoured end to a flavour-packed meal. Thanks to the recent arrival of an Aussie friend, this was quickly followed by an after-dinner Caramello Koala treat! Don’t expect these at future dinners though.

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20130817-194329.jpgColmado is now re-open for business, and busier than ever. Whilst the paella has temporarily been put on hold, and the team have sought out other venues for their hidden dinners (at least until things in the neighbourhood calm down), you can find them there for the best coffee in Santiago and a range of delicious food (closed only on Tuesdays). With Manolo’s focus on fine food, Daniel’s hard work and charming service, and Ina’s designer-eye for detail and amazing skills at the espresso machine, this team has created the perfect place to while away some time, either solo or with a group of friends.

20130817-194320.jpgKeep an eye on Colmado’s Facebook page for the latest news and details of collaborative dinners with other local chefs and, if you want to host your own “cena escondida” at home, contact the team directly. At last reports, Ina and Manolo will be moving into a new, centrally located apartment from where they can host their own, regular cenas escondidas, an experience not to be missed. Keep your eye out for their first event, hopefully in October (I’ll be there!).