A Delectable Feast in Santiago (aka the “Exploring Chile’s Viticulture & Spirits” Post)

What is Chilean cuisine? After spending a week in this South American country, I can answer in confidence: Seafood. Lamb. A riot of color, flavor and freshness. Seriously excellent wine, and Pisco, of course. 

Across the board, everything that we sipped and savored during our week in Chile trumps the Chilean wine that’s being imported (mass market) to the States. It’s readily obvious that Chilean winemakers are onto something great. While it’s difficult to cull from so many moments of excellence, here are a few highlights from my recent time in Santiago:

FIRST: “Alt Chile” luncheon & wine tasting at Ambrosia Restaurant in Vitacura.

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Cheese course and lamb sweetbreads at Ambrosia

Derek Mossman, founder of Garage Wine Co. and MOVI, the Chilean Movement of Independent Vintners, led our intrepid expedition into the depths of Chile’s New Wine Movement, six head-to-head match ups including a pair of Pais from Sauzal, in Chile’s famous Maule Valley wine region, a pair of Garnacha from Caliboro, a pair of Cab Francs from the Maule Secano and a pair of Malbecs, “con” (with) and “sin” (without) music.

Yes, that’s right: The Tartufo Malbec and El Perseguidor Malbec — two 2013 Malbec Centenarios from San Rosendo Bio Bio Valley — were identical in every way except for the fact that one of the wines had music playing into its barrel during maturation and the other did not. The verdict: The “vino con musica” is comparatively more complex for its relatively young age, and the “vino sin musica” decidedly needs more time to age, but will likely ultimately develop the same complexity. All of this, in theory, due to the gentle vibrations of sound waves, which kept the juice inside the barrel moving? A fascinating proposition.

It goes without saying that the food pairings from Ambrosia, named one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015, were exceptional. Pictured above: The cheese course and also lamb sweetbreads lightly crusted with cornmeal for that textural crunch, as well as a vegetal, spring puree and manjar, Chile’s version of dulce de leche, with a similar caramel-y complexity just less sweet.

Also, pictured below, Ambrosia’s mousse de foie, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes and one of the more heady tastes I’ve had in recent memory. In texture, richness and presentation, it reminded me of nothing so much as a foie riff on crème brûlée, replete with that brittle, quick-fired top layer that cracks at the insistence of a spoon, allowing entree to luscious decadence underneath.

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Ambrosia’s foie gras mousse — a favorite of Mick Jagger’s

NEXT: Wine and Pisco in the so very charming Barrio Lastarria.

Santiago’s historic Barrio Lastarria is a jewel-box sized neighborhood that makes up for its diminutive stature by winning at just about everything else. Wedged between Santa Lucía Hill — lovely grounds that mark the precise location where the city of Santiago was first founded in 1541 — and Parque Forestal — an expansive park that’s also home to two of the city’s marquee museums — Barrio Lastarria is the proverbial heart of the city’s historic core.

Fittingly, Bocanáriz & Vinobar and Chipe Libre, Républica Independiente del Pisco, two of the neighborhood’s most beloved establishments (that also happen to be neighbors), could be described as projects of the heart: love letters to Chilean wine, spirits and cuisine.

If the luxury of time is not on your side, it’s relatively doable to visit both establishments during a single visit to Barrio Lastarria, starting with wine flights and tapas at Bocanáriz before moving on to Pisco flights and cocktails and more shareable deliciousness at Chipe Libre. A word to the wise: Come hungry — and thirsty.

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The “Ocean to Mountain” Chilean wine flight at Bocanariz & Vinobar

For anyone with even an inkling of passion for or curiosity about wine, a visit to Bocanáriz presents an excellent opportunity to learn about Chilean viticulture as well as sample any number of varietals; in addition to an extensive list of exclusively Chilean wine flights, every wine available by the glass can also be ordered as a 2 oz. “taste.” From the food we we tried, the mixed seafood ceviche with avocado and passion fruit stands out in memory. Overall, everything was delicious.

Next door (literally), a darker, moodier interior creates an entirely different ambiance, one that lends itself to sipping high-proof flights of Chile’s national spirit, Pisco, day or night.

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Passion fruit Pisco Sour with fresh crab salad over hearts of palm panna cotta at Chipe Libre

I opted for a fruit-flavored Pisco Sour — dangerously delicious — as well as an order of centolla magallánica y panna cotta de palmitos con leche de tigre, mounds of fresh crab salad over hearts of palm panna cotta, and Chipe Libre’s take on “tiger’s milk,” the citrus-forward ceviche marinade that’s purported have hangover-curing properties. Hangover or lack thereof, yet another knock-out dish — yet again, Santiago continued to impress.

… Perhaps it was the preemptive leche de tigre, perhaps it was the anticipation of a new day, but I woke up energized and ready to go the next morning.

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Chinese and Japanese, Together Under One Roof? (aka the “No, Not Fusion… Something Else” Post)

“Hunan Delight Matsuya
Chinese & Japanese Cuisine”

One phone number, one address. And then there’s the matter of the handwritten sign that reads “FREE WINE” in the window.

What. I’ve been perplexed by this locals Upper East Side restaurant since I moved into the area.

The take-away menus make certain that it’s two restaurants — Hunan Delight, a Chinese restaurant, and Matsua Japanese cuisine — in one space. How can two such disparate cuisines — different ingredients, techniques, cultural histories — cohabit? How can this possibly work?

Well, except, it does. The food’s actually really good.

We came for the free wine, the Chinese food (after I found out Hunan Delight gets rave reviews online, to my surprise) and maybe a California roll. (It’s hard to mess up a roll made of crab stick, avocado and cucumber.)

What we discovered:

— Free wine offer is truly free: one glass of cheap, but crisp and very drinkable white wine, per person at dinner

— One of my new favorite Chinese dishes, called Green Jade Chicken ($11.95). Plump white meat pieces woked over high heat in “chef’s spicy sauce” (not really that spicy) along with matchstick-sized pieces of fresh ginger and string beans.

In the heat, the sauce caramelizes into a crisp, light glaze on the beans and chicken; the fresh ginger adds a welcome kick. This dish is the exact antithesis to the soggy, fatty, greasy Chinese food of styrofoam yore. It’s just lovely.

— And the sushi? You can find far worse sushi in supermarkets everywhere. Entranced by the platter of Dragon Rolls the sushi chef was putting up on the counter (see below) … so we ordered one.

It turned out to be a cooked roll (I still haven’t tried the raw sushi here) — shrimp tempura and cucumber on the inside, wrapped in eel and avocado on the outside.

— Doting, attentive service, of the sort you only get at a restaurant where the proprietors are that hands on, that involved, with everything.

There was a certain activity in the restaurant the night we were there, tables being reconfigured, the sushi chef turning out dragon rolls like nobody’s business, a party of young twenty-somethings turns up with a bottle of Johnny Walker.

Turns out, on this particular night the restaurant was hosting a friends and family Chinese New Year feast of epic proportions after the restaurant closed (11p). Being the last guests in the restaurant, and obviously geeking out about the Chinese New Year food, they kindly invited us to join … we didn’t, and in hindsight, wish we did. The food looked A-mazing and it was of epic proportions.

Still, this sit-down dinner for two totaled just $42.30 … also known in New York City as cheap.

Hunan Delight, a Chinese restaurant, and Matsuya Sushi, Japanese cuisine, share 1467 York Avenue, at 78th Street, 212-628-8161

Thursday: Rain, Rain Go Away (aka the “Myers of Keswick’s Magical Pies” Post)

Nothing shutters out an unseasonably cold and gloomy September day like a couple of pork pies and a couple glasses of red wine.

photo-17photo-18Make that, one “world famous” pork pie and one pie of the month, called “The Huntsman,” from Myers of Keswick, possibly (probably) my favorite British sundries shop in the city, and a bottle of “Ten Mile,” an ambitious blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane and Barbera grapes out of Napa Valley by Nine North Wine Co. (Retails for $12.99 at Sea Grape Wine Shop, one of my favorite bottle shops in the city.)

photo-19This is not a pairing I could have matched myself a year ago. The pork pie and I are new-ish friends, but when I fell, I fell hard and fast. What’s not to love about the dense, salty, sticky, savory, (fatty), ground pork blend baked into a staunch, buttery, golden-brown crust? Don’t be fooled by its petit size or crimped edges, these pork pies pack some serious heft.

photoOn the other hand, the pie of the month, “The Huntsman,” is light and (almost) lean — it reminds me of the sort of pie a woman with an appetite more delicate than mine might prefer. It’s “three layers of yummy-ness” consist of pork pie meat, roasted chicken and Paxo sage and onion stuffing all layered into a pastry cup and baked until the stuffing is fluffy and golden.

“Welcome to autumn!” the index card proclaims. Could be that someone else’s cheery perspective is rubbing off, or it could be the blissful state these pies have put me in, but I’m about ready to say: bring it … well, almost.

Wanna see the guts? Check out the pies’ innards after the jump: Continue reading “Thursday: Rain, Rain Go Away (aka the “Myers of Keswick’s Magical Pies” Post)”

The Portland, ME Edition: Rosemont Market & Bakery, Can I Please Take You Home Now?

It’s probably fair, Rosemont Market & Bakery, to say that you had me at hello.

photo-3photo-1First (chance) encounter: You were pointed out to me by my friend and host, who is also an infinitely knowledgeable all-things-Portland guide, as we walked past on our way to brunch up the street at The Front Room. We stopped; I had to go inside. I made a quick circle, noting the cheese case, the crates of local blueberries and the New England beer selection. I knew I would be back.

photo-4Second (intentional) encounter: Sure enough, I found my way back, all by myself, later that day. I came with the intention (guise?) of picking up a few some things to make a light crab salad with my prized Harbor Fish Market purchase — that sweet, sweet crabmeat from Wood’s Seafood (Bucksport, ME) — while my friend/host/infinitely knowledgeable guide went training for her triathlon. Instead, I fell head-over-heels for the price point and the boutique-ness of the wine nook, fawned some more over the fresh, locally-grown (and so cheap!) produce, and end up accidentally buying dinner:

photo-5$6, qt. of homemade gazpacho
$2 French baguette, baked in house
$1.49 head of locally-grown bibb lettuce
$0.99 bunch of fresh chives

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$12.99 giant bottle of La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Luberon Blanc (nothing fancy, a blend of Rhône varietals, but I’ve seen a 750 ml costs this much in New York, so on principle I had to buy the magnum)

It’s not really cooking, but my friend/guide /host’s exuberant roommate asked me what I did, so here’s the recipe: Doctor up the gazpacho with chopped green onion, fresh crab, a healthy drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and pepper. Ditto for the salad, except that I substituted a little Goddess Dressing (Kraft) for the olive oil. Serve with sliced, buttered and oven-toasted baguette points that make the kitchen smell oh-so-good. Pour wine heavily.

photo-7Third (spontaneous) encounter: Sure, I was thinking about you. But little did I know that I’d be back so soon. And then the roommate said, “Let’s walk up and get pastries from Rosemont!”It was said exuberantly.

Um, twist my arm. And this is how I discovered the Sandwich of Sunshine. Yes, literally, that’s what it’s called. The description on the (hand-written) index card goes on to read: “Local sun dried tomato goat cheese, Black Kettle Farm romaine, orange melon and a fruit salad of white peaches, watermelon, mango, basil and lemon yogurt” ($5.50). What? (Befuddlement.) No way. (Denial.) Wait a second … (Illumination breaking). Yes, yes, yes! (Discovery.)

photo-2Fourth (missed) encounter: I intended to stop by one last time on Sunday afternoon to pick up a souvenir, one of the large, plastic Rosemont-labeled spices (which are actually from some spice place in New Hampshire — the pickled fiddleheads would have meant having to check a bag).

I had been vacillating between the mulling spices, the pickling spices and the multi-colored rainbow sprinkles, because how long would it take me to get through 6 oz. of dried dill? (Which begs the question, why would it take me any less time to get through that giant container of sprinkles?)

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it back before Rosemont shuttered for the night. Sigh. This is not the first or the last time that I’ve wished I could pack something large and immoveable into my carry-on.

Dinner: Wine, Cheese, a Little NY Phil, and About 100 Thousand New Friends

By far, the largest communal picnic I’ve ever been at.

photo-2I’ve seen a lot of crowds, but this was a first. Nearly 100,000 New Yorkers and friends, all eating, drinking, laughing, managing to carve out a tiny plot of grass in which to hold court.

Our really impromptu picnic — well, my attendance was impromptu — consisted of a pair of cheeses and salumi from Murray’s Cheese Shop, some other crudities, a bottle of wine, and nearly 100,000 of our new, closest friends. (I keep repeating that number because really, it was amazing!)

photophoto-1My favorite of the night was the Asher Blue (right), a cow’s milk blue cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy of Georgia. As the story goes, the cheesemongers at Murray’s were so impressed by the prototype that they bought the entire inaugural batch.

I don’t blame them — this is a really, really interesting cheese. This blue is so young that it’s almost not blue. (Well, that’s not true, but it is such a baby!) You can see the mold is still mostly contained to pockets, and spreading outward, but that large sections of cheese remain a strightforward cow’s milk cheese, more or less. Check out this picture of a much more mature Asher Blue. What a difference! I, for one, was really enjoying the contrasts of the cheese. I’m going to be checking in on it at Murray’s while their supplies last, and see how perceptably it changes.

Dinner: A Wine Bar for Those with Appetites

When I saw that the food menu was buried at the back of a lengthy cocktail menu and wine list, I vaguely worried that Vero Panini & Wine Bar would turn out to be that type of place that overcharges for small portions and justifies its actions by calling them “tapas,” or “antipasti”: fingerling panini sandwiches, appetizer-sized salads, underwhelming charcuterie. Worse still, the food could be an afterthought entirely.

photoAnd then my antipasti plate ($14) arrived: Ultra-thin slices of proscuitto and salami virtually blanketed a generous bed of arugula and frisee salad; cubes of pecorino, tomato slices, pepperoncini bits, olives, small ribbons of roasted peppers were scattered everywhere; drizzled, dotted lines of aged balsamic vinegar zigzagged across the whole thing. This is no mere antipasti plate, but an antipasti salad of gargantuan proportions. Paired with one additional smallish appetizer, or maybe even just some extra bread (the plate comes with a container with about a dozen toast points) it’s easily enough for two.

photo(2)The panini my dining partner had was of an appropriate, sandwich size and won this giant compliment (paraphrase): “We had the most amazing paninis for lunch one day while we were touring wineries in Italy; our guide took us to a local little lunch spot. This is the closest thing I’ve had since — they make them exactly like this.”