Restaurants & Bars 2

Santiago Report

estufarian | Jan 31, 2013 01:13 PM

The last ‘big’ report on Santiago was 4 years ago (and covered reviews up to 7 years ago)

I was only there for 2 nights, so can’t claim any great insight – except (surprisingly?) all 4 of our restaurants were also covered in that review. So at least they have longevity (but 2 of them have moved).

Having polled my friends, the general feedback was that the renowned Santiago market was, in fact, fairly ordinary. Nothing wrong with it (especially if on a budget) but not worth a detour (in Michelin parlance). So only having a couple of days I decided to concentrate on the Vitacura area – and that turned out to be a good decision (although it’s possible there are other areas I just didn’t discover).

In fact, the half-dozen blocks (between around 3400 and 4000) on Avenida Nueva Costanera, may be one of the highest concentrations of fine dining in the world (yes, I do mean world) although Google (and GoogleMaps) seems to deny the existence of several of them – so please check the websites carefully and search on the address, rather than the name!

I wanted to try ‘the best’ I could find and my research indicated Boragó and Sukalde were both doing exciting things, but it turned out that most reviews (NY Times included) had wrong opening times for BOTH restaurants and also opening information is NOT routinely included in websites (although the designers name is usually prominently featured!).

In Vitacura many places are closed Sundays and also for lunch – and as we were there on a Sunday, that necessitated a bit of juggling. Sadly it meant we had to choose between Boragó and Sukalde for our Monday evening meal - so more research. Finally, we chose Boragó as they had a ‘special’ tasting menu that had to be pre-ordered (at least 24 hours ahead) called “Naturalización Local” which is entirely local ingredients (mostly foraged) although the entire restaurant focusses on local ingredients.

Incidentally we did drop by Sukalde (only two doors away – despite Google having neither in the right place!) to take a peek and this will still be a choice on a future trip, although it is a bit more molecular in cuisine and is a bit more oriented towards buzz and bustle (e.g. loud music and more vibrant feel).

So how was Boragó – in a word FANTASTIC – In my top 3 meals of the last 10 years. I can’t speak for the regular menu (they also have a tasting menu that doesn’t have to be pre-ordered), but we seemed to have dishes that no other table had.

This is a ‘serious’ restaurant – the food is everything. The ambiance is unusual – the place is entirely black and white – no colour at all – table decorations were also simple black (no flowers). No music (at all, although other reviews mention soft jazz in the extreme background). Nothing to distract the diner from the food. Also the room had been ‘prepared’ by burning some herbs before the dining room opened – the slight smokiness was a bit unsettling at first, but soon dispersed. This ‘preparation’ (my guess is that it is done to ensure that all diners have the same environment as they approach the meal – replacing smoking, perfume, pollution etc.) and reminded me of Mugaritz in Spain. But even if this could be considered a gimmick, that was one of very few, none of which interfered with other diners (contrast, for example, Alinea in Chicago, where burning leaves and lavender pillows come out regularly, so not only do you get the aromatics when intended, but also when any nearby tables are served the same dish – getting burning leaves a half-dozen times spoils a meal for me).

On to the food itself. I certainly took pictures, but none of them seem to have been tagged correctly as they won’t upload (I’ll add later if I can successfully access these).
The details on the menu (they provided a copy including the wine pairings 14 courses, 12 wines) essentially just list the main ingredient. All ingredients were local (to Chile), although given its size, local may not be the best descriptor. But they ranged from the Atacama region down to Patagonia. Even the water served was rain forest collected (never touched the ground) although that struck me as being a gimmick.

So I’ll just mention some ‘memories’ – as this was a seasonal menu, your meal will probably differ, and also I like to leave a few surprises.

The ‘snails pichanga’ featured snails that had been fed for 3 days on specific herb(s) before being used in the dish.

The ‘forest tartare’ was studded with tiny shoots/leaves that had been collected from a seaside forest, ‘so that the saltiness was natural’!

The ‘chilean abalone’ (loco) was one of the finest seafoods I’ve ever encountered (although technically an orange/pink sea snail).

The conger eel was similarly spectacular.

Dishes were served by several different chefs, many of whom spoke excellent English, but clearly the chef encouraged those with limited English to also visit, presumably so they could also get practice dealing with customers. Most chefs also had International experience – some at the top restaurants in the world (e.g. in Spain and Denmark).

AND the wine pairings (all Chilean) were very impressive – although I used to buy Chilean wines extensively, the recent versions have been designed to get high ‘ratings’ – they are often 15% alcohol and (for me) are no longer food friendly. BUT the wines at Boragó were definitely chosen to go with the cuisine. I also bought a couple at Wain (a wine store) in the same stretch of blocks.

As mentioned above we didn’t get to eat at Sukalde, and on Sunday very little was open, but La Mar opened at 1:00pm for lunch. Another highly rated restaurant this serves (mainly) Peruvian-style sea-food – heavier on ceviches (for example). This is one of the places in the Astrid y Gaston culinary empire (most highly regarded) and, if this is a representative example, then those are also recommended.

Sunday lunch was more of a family affair, although I understand that doesn’t occur on regular days. Their on-line menu is inaccessible right now, but we particularly liked that most sections offered a ‘sample of 3 (or 4) different dishes. So we ordered a selection of 4 ceviches, all different spicings and textures, and similarly a seafood/potato selection (again 4 samples). And everything was superbly fresh and tasty although the presentations were a bit cartoony with MANY different colours being splashed randomly around the dishes. But a solid recommendation, and the best all-around seafood place.

The other lunch was at Puerto Fuy, a more traditional Chilean restaurant with fine-dining service, concentrating on seafood. This has been around for years and again is highly regarded, but based on the one meal we had, it lacked the excitement of the other places, although everything was very ‘correct’. Maybe stuck a little in the past. Service was exceptional there, but the food didn’t ‘zing’ as it did in the other places.

So that was all we had time for – the steak restaurant ‘Ox’ is also in that same stretch – but we didn’t have the time.

In summary it’s too bad that more Hounds haven’t reported on this very small stretch studded with great dining possibilities.

If you go, please add your comments.

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