Tirso de Molina

20140226-171017.jpgThis funny looking building with the strange roof in front of the river is Tirso de Molina, a “mini” market with a little bit of lots.

Closer to the city centre, I’m sure a lot of people get this far and think they’re at La Vega, not realising that they still have to cross the street to get to “La Vega Chica” and go another block further to even reach the entrance of the enormous “La Vega”.

Tirso de Molina also has a lot of the things that La Vega offers; fruit and vegetables, cheeses and cold meats, dried fruits and nuts, general produce stores, etc; but on a smaller scale, and generally a little more expensive.  It’s handy if you just need one or two things and can’t be bothered going the extra distance to La Vega.

20140226-170509.jpgUpstairs, it has a range of tacky clothing stalls, and lots of little restaurants, including a pretty decent Mexican and a Thai restaurant that I’ve heard good things about, as well as lots of traditional Chilean food.

It’s a good place for tourists or foreigners to experience “cheap ‘n’ cheerful” traditional food in a possibly more sanitary environment than La Vega proper.

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I like Tirso de Molina for the fresh fruit juice stands, where you can pick whichever combination of fresh fruit that you like to be blended up, right before your eyes.  Get in quick though to specify “no sugar” before they add half a cup or, worse still, that horrible artificial sweetener.

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So, whether as a quick alternative to its bigger neighbour, for a cheap bite to eat, or for a fresh juice, Tirso de Molina is one of the things I love about living in Santiago.

Lastarria

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20140223-211518.jpgThis historical neighbourhood is my favourite part of town and, after a lot of searching for an apartment, I’m happy to call it home.

It’s full of beautiful buildings, leafy little streets, restaurants, bars, cafes, and even has its own little arthouse cinema.  It’s close to Parque Forestal, and the metro, making it easy to get around.  It’s popular amongst tourists and locals alike, and it’s one of the things I love most about living in Santiago.

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fun foodie events

20140221-172922.jpgWhen I first arrived in Santiago, it didn’t really seem to have a big culinary scene. Certainly, after the wide range of “puertas cerradas”, restaurants, parrillas and great bars in Buenos Aires, Santiago’s line up paled by comparison.

But, after much research, more time to get to know the city, and advise from people who had been around a lot longer, more options started to bubble to the surface. And not just the range of restaurants to try out, but in particular, those events that take place outside the standard confines of a restaurant.
The many different iterations of “cena escondida” (hidden dinner) events.

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Creative chefs who either don’t have their own permanent space, or want to use it a little differently, and try something new, without a standard menu that only changes once every couple of months.

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There are Chilean chefs who want to honour traditional recipes with quality produce, or take quality local and produce something creative, sometimes testing the boundaries, based on what’s fresh and in season.  There are chefs that have come from abroad, putting their own creative spin on the wide range of available ingredients.  The common underlying factor is that they want the freedom to express themselves through their food, and produce a quality product which, for the consumers, is great news.

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Most of the events are based on shared tables, making it suitable for solo diners but, of course, it is always nice to go with someone with shared interests so finding some fellow foodie friends here was a big bonus!

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It’s not as easy to keep up with what’s going on in these circles as it is to walk past your local restaurant and see if they’re open.  Many a time a local has asked me “but, how do you know about these things?”.  It’s really a case of keeping “an ear to the ground”, and social media and word-of-mouth goes a long way.

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So, despite my initial reservations upon arriving in Santiago, I now find there is such a wide variety of events that it’s sometimes impossible to keep up and, for the budget and the waistline, I can’t get to all of them.  Still, it’s great to seek out something new and interesting, and treat ourselves once in a while, definitely something I love about living in Chile!

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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.

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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.

Valle de Colchagua – Viu Manent

20130212-122848.jpgValle de Colchagua lies about 3 hours south of Santiago, on the famous Ruta de Vino (wine trail). It hit my radar early on due to many recommendations and some great reds that I’d tasted that are coming out of this region. Early in February, I decided to take a few days out and explore the Valley.  A friendly neighbour from my apartment complex was travelling south, so I took advantage of a lift as far as San Fernando, then jumped on a bus to Santa Cruz, where I had booked a hostal for two nights.

 My hostal was close to town, very basic, but clean and with a lovely courtyard, and a free breakfast. Arriving mid-afternoon, I checked in, and immediately booked a wine tour at nearby Viu Manent, arranging for a taxi to pick me up, wait at the winery, and bring me back after the tour.

20130212-122854.jpgViu Manent is an historic winery set in beautiful Spanish ranch style buildings, some of which were damaged by the 2010 earthquake, and others which remained largely untouched and are beautifully retained and used today. I was given a one-on-one tour of the gallery, courtyard and events area, before being led across the grounds to see the restaurant and equestrian fields, and then boarding our very special form of transport for the rest of the tour, a horse-drawn carriage.

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Viu Manent has a big focus on horses, with their own equestrian club, providing horseriding and lessons, and regularly holding equestrian events and polo games. Two gorgeous chestnuts of their stable calmly pulled the carriage through the fields of vines whilst the guide explained the grapes, then delivered us to the production area. Here, I was handed a glass and had the opportunity to taste a Malbec directly from the stainless steel vats, experiencing the fruit pre-alcohol and pre-oak. The tour also gave us a view of the oenologists, both female, working away in their lab.

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Our trusty steeds then delivered us back to the main building, where I was taken into a beautifully appointed room for the tasting of five different wines, starting with a creamy 2011 Chardonnay with a toasty oak nose. Viu Manent has a range of wine called “Secreto”, where the main grape, being 85% of the blend, is listed on the bottle and the remaining 15% is a “secret”. Our next tastings were of the 2011 Secreto Pinot, which was light and full of plums and roses (as opposed to Guns n Roses!) on the nose, and the 2011 Secreto Carmenere, ruby in colour with a smoky nose and peppers and paprika in the mouth. A very smooth wine that had reportedly been award 90 points by wine magazine, Descorchado.

Next up was the 2011 San Carlos single vineyard Malbec, a purple velvet colour, with plum and red fruit notes followed by an acid finish. It was interesting to compare this wine with the wine we’d tasted from the vat, and be reminded of the original fruit notes, whilst noting the influence of its 16 months in oak and the fermentation process. This wine is still young and, with cellaring potential of up to 15 years, would certainly benefit from some more time in the bottle.

The final wine was the 2011 Viu Manent Gran Reserva Cabernet Savignon. Made from the best grapes selected across the vineyards, 80% of the wine has been treated to 12 months in french oak to produce a spicy nose and a plum jam taste with notes of vanilla. Again, a young wine with plenty of potential for those with patience.

After the tasting, I found my driver patiently waiting to drive me back to the hostal. After freshening up, I decided to take a walk around town and find somewhere for dinner. I headed to a restaurant called Motemei, located on the grounds of a small vineyard. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed, but I was able to look around the grounds and enjoy the changing light of the setting sun. I’ve since heard that the restaurant is relocating to Santiago in March so I will keep my eye out for them!

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I ended up eating a nice but unremarkable meal at Los Varietales restaurant in the ornate Santa Cruz Plaza Hotel, preceded by a “Chardonnay sour”, a local speciality based on the famous Pisco sour. Give me the original any day! After dinner, I walked the short two blocks back to my hostal and settled in for a good night’s sleep ahead of my second day in the valley.

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Santiago – friends and fiestas

Australia Day arrived, and I was excited because I had a BBQ to go to that night with my new horse riding friends.  Not a typical Aussie BBQ, but a Chilean asado and, what better way to spend Australia Day than outdoors with a group of friends and a few drinks around a BBQ?  In the meantime, I decided to check out the artisan market at Los Dominicos, which is at the end of the metro line.

20130212-121746.jpgWhen I arrived, there was a small Farmers’ Market set up on the promenade leading from the metro station to the church.  Handy, because I needed a few things for the BBQ that night.  There was a lot of colorful fresh fruit and vegetables, some interesting seafood, and delicious artisan cheeses.  The surrounding neighbourhoods are popular with Expats and there were a lot of foreigners shopping on the market, some just pointing and holding up fingers to indicate the desired quantity, and others trying out their various degrees of Spanish.

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20130212-121808.jpgLos Dominicos itself is a beautiful whitewashed colonial church, and the markets are located to the side of it.  The artisan markets are permanent installations and are opened every day, but some stallholders decide to take a day off here or there during the week and there’s a lot more activity on the weekends.  It’s a really pretty location, with bright coloured flowers popping against the white buildings with their terracotta roof tiles.

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It’s not your generic, mass-produced keyring and t-shirt kind of place, and amongst the range of jewellery, clothing, metalwork, ceramics, homewear and art, there’s bound to be something to suit everyone.  There’s also a couple of nice little cafés to sit at and eat lunch under the trees, a little art gallery with some quirky sculptures and artworks, and a bonsai garden where the caretaker encouraged me to hug a 400+ year old tree and soak up the benefits of its energy.  Overall, a very nice, cruisy Saturday afternoon.

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A quick stop in the food market to get my supplies and I headed home to make salad and guacamole for the evening’s asado at Antonio’s apartment.  Antonio lives in the beautiful downtown area of Lastarria, which is full of character and nice restaurants and bars.  He had secured the rooftop of his building for our asado, and we all pitched in to cart supplies from his apartment to the roof.  It was a beautiful night, and the view was amazing, particularly as the sun dipped and reflected off the surrounding mountains.

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Antonio had not entertained in this apartment before, but we are a resourceful group and we’d all brought along goodies to ensure there was plenty to eat and drink.  Antonio had bought a baby asado just for the occasion, and Fernando supplied an electric grill to cook the salchichas for the first course of choripan (snags in bread).  There was plenty of cheese, nibblies and salads, and the Colombian boys manned the newly christened grill and went about cooking the meat, which was delicious.  Antonio had even managed to organise a full moon, which had risen above the surrounding buildings and complemented the balmy night beautifully.  Natacha had prepared two different desserts, a rich chocolate specialty of Brazil that was a crowd pleaser, and a delicious apple tart that I loved.

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Once the food was out of the way, and the night progressed, we fired up the music and, this time, the Colombians led the charge with the salsa.  We took turns, switching partners and swinging around the rooftop to salsa music blaring from the sound deck.  It was an unplanned part of the evening and a lot of fun.  A great way to finish the night.

The following morning, feeling a little tired and sporting a salsa injury in the form of a blister under my big toe, I dragged myself out of bed to go and meet Dorothee for a recovery lunch.  We met at a metro station in Providencia and walked the short distance to La Jardin (The Garden), a “pop-up” restaurant.

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The entire place has been constructed using reclaimed materials, with a whole wall made out of old window frames, a canopy made from old clothes, vegetable beds made out of, well, beds, and a number of other inventive and creative fixtures and fittings.  It’s a temporary installation unfortunately as the land has been earmarked for development later in the year.

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We sat under the shade of a makeshift umbrella with an old cable spool for a table and ordered what anybody would for a decent recovery from the night before – pizza.  Unfortunately, the pizza arrived cold and, when we asked if they could heat it a little more, I think it met the same fate of being forgotten on a pass somewhere and, despite the 20 minute wait, still arrived tepid.  Although tasty, I couldn’t help but think how good it would have been hot and, although our waiter was pleasant and sympathetic, I don’t think I’ll go back.

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After lunch, we walked back towards Plaza Italia where Dorothee had to leave me to go and do some work.  I intended to jump on the Sunday Cultural Circuit bus, which is the price of a standard bus ticket and was established to encourage residents to explore the culture of their beautiful city.

20130212-122119.jpgI got distracted however, first by an open art exhibition, then by the temptation of an icecream from arguably the best gelato place in town, Emporio La Rosa.  They have a range of unique flavours, and I had Piña Thai (pineapple with ginger) and Lemon, Mint and Basil, which is my all-time favourite.  By that time, it was too late to think about getting on the bus, so I took my icecream to Parque Forestal to sit under a tree and enjoy the surroundings.  Another Sunday of people enjoying time with their friends, family and dogs in the beautiful outdoor spaces.

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There was a book fair in the park which I wandered through, then continued to wander aimlessly around the Bellas Artes area and the museum, before heading back through town.  By the time I arrived home, I had covered a lot of ground, experienced a bit more of Santiago, and thoroughly enjoyed the lazy afternoon that closed out a lovely weekend.

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