Sunday, 20 January 2013

greatest hits: santiago style...

one activity a friend and i discovered in barcelona some years ago is to spend the last day of a vacation revisiting local spots we most enjoyed; a "greatest hits" of barcelona, if you will. with this in mind, i spent my last full day in santiago revisiting favourite spots from this and from previous trips.

first stop, a cortado grande at one of chile's iconic coffee shops, Cafe Caribe.along with Cafe Haiti and Cafe Curacao, Cafe Caribe is known as a cafe con piernas, which translates as "coffee with legs."   perhaps mentioned in previous blogs, Cafe Caribe a cafe con piernas is the chilean coffee answer to Hooters; wings and cleavage are replaced by espresso and legs. in all honesty, it is for the really good coffee at great prices that i make my daily visit; a little flirtation on the side is just the extra shot for the day.

from there, i make my way through the paseo ahumada pedestrian mall to La Vega, Santiago's massive market. every fresh ingredient you can think of is available here, and it is rated among the world's top marketplaces. for me, it is for a few sopaipillas piled high with spicy aji sauce and creamy salsa americana. a fresh-squeezed juice is the perfect way to wash down the spice, and on this trip i discovered the exotic chirimoya. although translated as "custard apple," the pink-skinned juicy chirimoya has a taste more similar to a cross of orange with lychee; in other words, it tastes like an alsatian gewurztraminer.

taking the safe and effecient metro, i make my to the breezy, tree-lined wealthy suburb of vitacura to visit what is among my most favoured wine shops in the world, Wain. here, 3 floors are filled with the best wines chile has to offer - and there are alot! not a bottle of gato negro or basic castillo del diablo is to be found, but you will see an array of boutique brands ranging from CDN$10 (that's moderately priced here!) to $100. don't forget to visit their chilean craft beer section, as well as an excellent selection of pisco, the famous brandy of chile and peru. weight and tax restrictions kept me in line, so i left with just 3 bottles: the Casas del Bosque Selecciones Pequenas Syrah, the Undurraga T.H.-series Carignan, and a Mistral Reserva 40 Pisco.

the afternoon heat really starts to kick in now, so it is time to take a break from the heat. two options are available: visit one of santiagos many museums, or indulge in an afternoon siesta. for me, there is nothing wrong with both. this time around, i took in the national museum (they strangely don't say much about pinochet), which is one of the many museums in santiago's wealth of colonial buildings. on my back to the hotel for a siesta, it is also worth stopping off for an ice cream. chileans love an afternoon scoop, so best to join in.  and while it may seem i am wasting the part of a great day, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with an afternoon siesta; i love siestas, so it should very well be part of my perfect day in santiago.

another reason for the siesta is that by north american or european standards, chileans are late diners; 8:30pm would be an "early-bird" special time. as with anywhere i go, deciding on where to go and what to have for dinner is a lengthy process. fortunately, i know of two great neighbourhoods within walking distance, and can this have a little here, a little there.

first stop is the Lastarrias district. named for the central, small street, Lastarrias is the latest in spot for hungry and thirsty santiaguinos. numerous trendy restaurants that could take on the best of europe or north america have sprung up, and my choice for the night is Bocanariz. innovative by chilean standards, bocanariz is santiago's first real wine bar, offering tapas meals to pair with a massive wine list, many of which are available by the glass. for my perfect day, i go for a ceviche of reineta (a "white fish" is the best i can do) with avocado and passionfruit, paired with a riesling from the san antonio valley. riesling is relatively unknown in chile, but the san antonio region shows much promise, producing a very australian-like riesling of lime cordial and mineral notes.

first course done, it is time to head on to the Plaza Bella Vista, a long standing centre for santiago nightlife. and although i am in chile, i can't help but head to the iconic peruvian restaurant, Berandarian for their skewered heart in spicy jus. i've never liked heart, but this plate revolutionised my opinion of heart and, more important, of peruvian cuisine.  naturally, i have a simple cab-sauv to go with the heart, but i certainly couldn't pass on a glass of pisco sour to start.

now past midnight, things are just starting to get going in santiago but, alas, it's an early start for me the next day so it is time to head home. my perfect day in santiago has reached its end, and another greatest hits album is complete. this is especially true when you throw in the randomness of  protesters disperesed by water cannons, and stray dogs that obey street signals better than pedestrians. all in the day's work of santiago.

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