cazuela

20140224-194235.jpgSince food is obviously one of my big loves, I really wanted to include at least one Chilean dish in the list of things I love about living in Chile.  Sure, there was the “cordero al palo“, which is an obvious choice, but as far as a “prepared” dish goes, I love a good “cazuela”.

It is a delicious and comforting broth, made with either beef or chicken, and containing large chunks of vegetables, usually potato, pumpkin, and corn.  It is fortified with rice, and finished off with some chopped coriander or parsley.

20140224-194301.jpgBesides the flavour, another thing I like is that you can see what you’re eating!  It is usually made with a cheaper cut of meat that’s cooked until tender, so it’s good to be able to see which pieces of the meat you want to put to the side.  Plus, it’s a complete meal, with a balanced serve of protein and vegetables, the latter of which is often lacking in Chilean dishes.

You can get a good, and very cheap, cazuela in pretty much any Chilean “picada” around town or, if you want to be sure to get good quality, Gabriela (under GAM) does a good cazuela for two.

OK, now I’m hungry.  Yes, a good cazuela is definitely something to love about living in Chile!

 

South America

20140211-202151.jpgOr “location, location, location!”

Let’s face it, I’m not just living in a new country, but also a new continent, which brings with it a variety of different places, people and culture, and fantastic opportunities to explore.

It’s not like I’m on the move all the time like last time I visited South America and covered 7 countries in five months.  I work and have some form of daily/weekly routine that keeps me in Santiago most of the time.

But living here allows me to get out from time to time, and get to know places that would be   s o   f a r   away if I was still in Australia.

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I have managed to see a little more of Chile, flying up to San Pedro de Atacama when a friend visited, taking a road trip up the coast and into Valle de Elqui with another visiting friend, and another road trip south as far as Valle de Maule with another friend. These latter two trips obviously incorporated some wine and, indeed, my interest in that field has also led me to explore, in depth, many of the wine regions around Santiago.

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I saw a lot of the rest of Chile when I was here last time, but I’m sure the opportunity will come up at some stage to revisit more of this beautiful country.

But there is, of course, also opportunity to get out to see a little more of the continent.

Last August, I took a truly-foodie trip to Lima with fellow-foodie-friend Fernando and, in addition to seeing some of the city’s sites, experienced the great range of Peruvian food, from the street, to China Town, to the city’s top two restaurants.  Although I would have liked to have seen the sun sometimes (Lima is notoriously cloudy), the trip was delicious, fun, and worth the extra 5 kilos!

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Over New Year, it was great to be able to take a friend up on a very kind invitation to spend some time on his country property in Uruguay.  After finding some reasonably priced flights, a group of four friends enjoyed a relaxing time together, sharing home cooked meals and exploring the coastline and surrounding areas.  Those of us who were visiting, albeit for a second or third time, got to know a different part of country and enjoy seeing it through the eyes of someone that had lived there for 10 years and knows it very well.

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When a Buenos Aires-based friend managed to get a free apartment for a week in Mendoza, I was able to find a very reasonable flight (US$140 return – cheaper and quicker than the bus) and join her and another friend for a girly week of wineries and restaurants.  With the exchange rate very much in our favour, it turned out to be an indulgent week with a relatively cheap price tag.

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So, I’ve managed to get to know some places a little better and it’s great to be able to jump at these opportunities, which would be so far from reality back home, when they arise.

This year, I plan to see some places that I’ve never been before, both of Chile (e.g. Easter Island), and abroad, like Colombia.

Although flights here are not cheap compared to Europe or the US, where competition is more intense, good offers come around and I will be keeping my eye on them to see what other opportunities present themselves.

So, I don’t just love living in Chile, I love living and experiencing all that a whole new continent has to offer!

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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.

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!).

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an autumn day in Casablanca Valley

After a recent bout of rain in Santiago, which brought beautiful fresh snow to the surrounding Andes, we have been experiencing some lovely autumn days. Sunny, almost-blue skies (but for the smoggy haze), temperatures in the low 20s, crisp white snow in the mountains, leaves in a range of rustic colours. It is really very pretty.

On one such Friday, Beth and I decided to make a little day trip to the Casablanca valley to visit a couple of wineries. We caught the metro out to Pajaritos, then jumped on a bus bound for Valparaiso. Between us, we have made this trip a number of times now, and are learning all the tricks. The bus doesn’t actually go into Casablanca town but, if you’ve got no luggage, the driver will happily drop you off … on the side of the highway. From the main highway bus stop, you can often find a taxi to get you to your destination however, the driver who apparently owns this pick-up patch is about 80 years old, with a car seemingly as old.

20130608-095858.jpgWe knew that our first winery was right on the highway, so no need for a taxi, provided we could get the driver to drop us off at exactly the right place and avoid walking a couple of kilometres along a busy highway. Been there, done that! Luckily, our geography is getting a lot better, and I was able to explain to the driver exactly where to stop, and we were safely deposited almost at the gate of our destination, Emiliana.

Emiliana is an organic winery, employing environmentally friendly methods in the vineyard. (Check out their Organic-Biodynamic section on their website. It’s pretty cool.) As we walked up their long driveway, past the post-harvest, naked vines, we saw evidence of many of them – bee boxes for locally produced organic honey, chickens roaming the vines eating bugs, recycling facilities, and a group of alpacas contentedly enjoying their lunch in the sun.

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Inside the impressive tasting rooms, we chose the basic tasting with no tour, four wines for CLP 8,000 (about $16). The first of the whites was a reserve Gewurtztraminer from the Adobe line, but with 15% Sauvignon Blanc, resulting in a wine much drier than the usually sweet German style. We then tasted a 100% Novas Grand Reserva Viognier, with delicate apricot flavours, a winner and a purchase for Beth.

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The first red was a Novas Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon blend with rich leathery notes and toasty oak, a big red that I quite enjoyed. We then tasted the Coyam, probably Emiliana’s most well-known wine, a blend of six different red grapes, including 1% each of Petit Verdot and Mourvedre. With such a small percentage, it makes me wonder why they bother, but I’m sure the winemaker knows what he’s doing.

I have recently been very interested in some of Chile’s Pinot Noirs, having found a favourite in this same wine region, a fuller bodied toasty Pinot reminiscent of the heavier Mornington Peninsula style from back home. The similar cool climate and ocean breezes of the two regions must certainly be a factor. Our host was kind enough to let me taste their Signos de Origen Pinot, a heavier wine than their Novas line. A smart move, as it’s the wine that made it into my shopping cart!

The winery also offers tastings paired with their own organic chocolates or cheese, or with a couple of days notice, can organise an organic picnic in the pretty grounds. For larger groups, and with more notice, a gourmet buffet lunch can be prepared in the “casona”, with a view over the vineyard.

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We took the time to look around the grounds and take some photos from the upstairs vantage point of the tasting rooms before heading off to our next destination.

House, casa de vino, is right next door, a 500 metre walk down the highway. It’s part of the large Belen group of wineries, including labels such as Morandé, Tirazis Syrah, Vistamar, Mandura, and Mendoza-based Zorzal. We had been before for their in-house “vendimia” festival, but had decided to come back and try the restaurant.

20130608-095926.jpgWe sat outside with a nice view of the autumn trees, the gardens and, of course, the vines in the distance. Beth chose the venison-filled ravioli with roasted cherry tomatoes and red pepper ricotta and, having been on a bit of a Syrah trail lately, chose to pair it with a glass of Vistamar Syrah Cab Sav blend. Being a Melbourne girl, I couldn’t pass on the slow-cooked lamb shoulder, served with a mote risotto, onions and myrtleberries. I stuck with the suggested wine pairing, the Morandé Limited Edition Carignan, a light coloured Spanish varietal very popular in Chile. Both meals were delicious, though I expected a stronger flavour from Beth’s venison, which seemed to be lost in the other flavours of the dish.

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As we enjoyed the outdoor setting, we both decided on a second glass of wine. Although not on the wine-by-the-glass menu, we were lucky enough that the restaurant had a bottle of the Morandé Limited Edition 100% Cabernet Franc open, another one of my recently-discovered favourites, and we both opted for that. We decided to skip dessert, and share a small cheese plate instead, which was a nice way to finish the meal.

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We spent some time in the wine store, browsing over the other interesting products available in addition to the large variety of wine, and made our purchases before heading back to the highway to catch our bus home.

This part, we know from experience, is much more difficult than the arrival as you have to literally wave down a bus on its way back from Valpo or Viña del Mar and hope that, travelling at 100 kms per hour on a three lane highway, they manage to see you and stop in time. We must have hit almost peak hour, as many buses zoomed past, either ignoring us completely or indicating they were full (or, on one occasion, making much more suggestive gestures!). We walked almost to the closest toll booth, about a kilometre, to where there is an actual bus stop and, eventually, a kind bus driver stopped about 100 metres down the road from us. We delightedly ran to meet the bus, banishing any lingering thoughts of being left on the side of the highway all night.

We hit peak hour traffic coming back into Santiago, which made for a very long trip home, but we eventually made it to Pajaritos for our metro ride home, arriving two very tired girls, armed with a few bottles of wine each, after a pleasant Autumn day out.

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Santiago – a new home and a new frontier

Well, I had an interesting and busy weekend recently.  I had a minor housing emergency, where I was advised on the Monday that I had lost an apartment that I thought I had secured and was due to move into on the Friday!  I was left frantically trying to find a new apartment before the weekend.  Thank God for good friends, and I was able to stay at Natacha’s place for the week while I hit the Internet, and pounded the pavement inspecting properties.  After viewing up to 10 apartments, on the Thursday, I finally decided on an apartment just outside the city centre, close to my favourite market, La Vega, close to the metro, and with a swimming pool.  It’s on the 22nd floor though so, although the view is good, I’m not looking forward to that first tremor!

I moved into the new apartment on Saturday, just in time to receive my first visitor!  Cheryl, who I met in Buenos Aires, was passing through on her way to Lima and my decision to stay put here meant we had a couple of days to catch up.

Cheryl arrived on Saturday afternoon and we spent the night sitting on my new balcony, enjoying the mild Santiago evening, the view of the city and surrounding mountains, a delicious cheese platter, and a nice bottle of Marques de Concha Pinot Noir.

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We decided to stay in for dinner and followed up with a salad of fresh La Vega produce, and some more Chilean red, this time a peppery Cabernet Franc from the Colchagua Valley, a housewarming gift from Natacha.

We caught up and hatched plans for the remainder of Cheryl’s time here.  It was good to have someone to explore with and, after a sleep-in and breakfast on Sunday morning, we set off to discover Casablanca.

The Casablanca Valley is west of Santiago, on the road to Valparaiso, towards the ocean.  Like a lot of wine regions in Chile, instructions on how to arrive are usually based on the assumption that you have access to a vehicle, which isn’t always convenient when you plan to sample their product.  Still, I figured we could get to Casablanca on the bus that goes to Valparaiso, then find our way from there.  I called the winery to make a reservation for lunch and a tour, and they gave me clear instructions on where to get off the bus and assured me we’d be able to find a taxi there.

We took the metro to the main bus station, and bought a ticket for the next bus, leaving at 12.30pm.  Buses to Valpo are leaving all the time so we had no problems getting tickets.  We had been told the trip was 45-50 minutes, but the driver told us it would be just over an hour.  When I asked him about the difference, he shrugged and laughed and explained that the theory and the practice were two different things!  He had a fool-proof system for making sure he remembered to let us off in Casablanca – he wrote it on his hand!  He also told us the landmarks to look out for so that we knew when to get off, and we hoped he would actually stop, or at least slow down.

True to word, a little over an hour later, he stopped (bonus) and let us off the bus at a tiny bus stop on the side of the highway.  There was an overpass that obviously led into town but we’d been told we’d find a taxi at the stop.  We just didn’t see how!

Thankfully, another bus stopped and let some bus company staff off the bus, and we were able to ask them how we could get a cab.  One of them walked over to an old dilapidated car parked under a tree and, sure enough, it had a taxi sign in the window!  It was driven by an equally old dilapidated man not a day less than 80 who said he could take us to the winery for CLP2,500, a little over 5 bucks.

For a few minutes there, I didn’t think we were going anywhere as the car didn’t seem to want to start.  When it did start, we “took off” in a cloud of burning oil, down the emergency lane of the highway at about 30 kms per hour.  We turned into the town of Casablanca, and the driver pulled into a service station to put fuel in the car.  What?  We thought we’d never get there and were already late for our lunch reservation.

About 5 minutes later, we finally chugged up to the winery gates where we assured the driver we would happily walk the last hundred metres to the restaurant.

20130304-154029.jpgWe had chosen Casas del Bosque, and the setting was beautiful.  The restaurant has an outdoor, sand-floored, undercover terrace looking over green lawn towards umbrella-shaded beach chairs and, beyond, the vines.  We sat outside, and barely looked at the a la carte menu, deciding to go straight for the five-course degustation menu, each course accompanied by a taste of a different wine from their premium Gran Reserva range.

We started with prawns marinated in ginger and garlic, paired with a crisp sauvignon blanc with a punch of passionfruit on the nose.  You can tell the winemaker is a Kiwi!

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The next course was kingcrab with a mango salad, served with little melba toasts and paired with a buttery chardonnay.

The first of the main courses was a lovely tender piece of beef, resting on a bed of corn mash, a Chilean staple but a little sweet and overpowering for my liking.  It was paired with our favourite wine of the day, a Pinot Noir with a decent body which reminded me of the Mornington Peninsula.

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We had mutual agreement on the second main course too, which we both agreed was our favourite.  A risotto of lamb ragu served with a parmesan crisp and some merken spice, and paired with a deep and fruity shiraz, also a very nice wine.  Feed the Aussie girls lamb any day!

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We both nearly had a heart attack when the waiter told us that the dessert was dulce de leche!  After each having spent so much time in Argentina, we thought we’d put it behind us.  Thankfully, our waiter had made a mistake and the dessert was a chocolate brownie with dark chocolate icrecream, and a white chocolate mousse with a berry coulis, served with a late-harvest riesling.  I was too busy being relieved that it wasn’t dulce de leche, and didn’t think to ask for a non-chocolate option, so the dessert, though presented beautifully and probably a chocolate-lovers dream, went mostly uneaten.

20130304-154154.jpgAs we’d arrived late for lunch, we had missed our 3.30pm tour but neither us was at all bothered.  We decided on an additional glass of our favourite Pinot, and a relaxing spot on a shaded sofa to relax away the afternoon.  A complementary tractor tour of the vineyard came and went while we enjoyed each others company, the lovely wine and the beautiful location.

20130304-154200.jpgEventually, we thought it was about time that we made our way back to Santiago, and we had our lovely waiter call for a taxi.  We had time to buy a bottle of Pinot each in the wine store before a “normal” taxi pulled up to take us back to our highway-side bus stop where we were assured a bus would pull up for us on its way back from Valpo.

Over the next 15 minutes, about 10 buses flew past us, either waving to indicate they were full, or ignoring us altogether.  Some local girls turned up at the bus stop, and we checked our technique with them, and they confirmed we were doing the right thing and just had to wait for a bus to stop.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, a bus stopped, only to tell us that he had one seat, and one of us would have to sit up front on the stairs next to him.  We didn’t think twice, not wanting to be stranded on the side of the highway for any longer.

We paid the fare and I moved through the bus to the one spare seat, promising Cheryl I’d be back at the halfway mark to swap places with her.  That was before I fell asleep!  I woke up about 45 minutes into the trip, as we were entering the outskirts of Santiago!  I went to swap with Cheryl who, thankfully, had kept herself entertained practicing her spanish with our driver, Manuel.  Turns out, we were lucky to get the bus when we did because it was the last Sunday in February and the buses were full with everyone returning from their vacations on the coast!

It was a great day out, not short on adventure, and it was nice that I was able to discover this new frontier with a friend.  Now that I know the tips and the tricks for getting to Casablanca, and when NOT to try to get back, there are many more wineries down there that I would like to discover.

We had a quiet night in, nibbling at a little cheese platter and enjoying one of the beautiful bottles of Pinot we’d bought at the winery.

The next morning, we had a lie in until the bright morning sun drove us out of our beds, then I had the chance to show Cheryl some of my favourite Santiago places.  First, a tour through La Vega, Vega Chica, and Mercado Central.  Then I took her to a favourite coffee spot at Cafeteria Santiago, and a stroll through the centre of town.  We had lunch at BocaNariz, sharing some jamon bruschetta, and a main of peppers stuffed with lamb and served over amaranth.  Delicious as always!

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We had a bit more of a stroll through the beautiful Lastarria area, then bought an icecream from the best icecream store, Emporio La Rosa, and headed for Parque Forestal, where we sat on a bench and watched the world go by.

It wasn’t long before it was time to head home and for Cheryl to get ready for her trip to the airport.  An eventful weekend, but great to have the opportunity to explore new places with someone, and to share some of my favourites.  I look forward to more visitors and, besides, I still have that other lovely bottle of Pinot to share with someone!

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