Chile is a nation that stretches vertically across about two-thirds of the South American continent. The long coastal feature of this nation and diverse climate meant that this is a nation that has ample quality ingredients whether from the sea or the land. While the north of the country is mainly dry and arid, the centre is a fertile valley surrounded by the Andes mountain. Then the south brings to the table bounties of the deep sea and meat from exotic animals like the guanaco. One of the most famous dishes of Chile is the Caldillo de congrio or a conger eel broth, and it is made famous by the famed poet Pablo Nerudo who made an ode to this particular dish.
During my visit to Chile, I had lots of conger eel cooked in a variety of ways and tried other tasty local dishes. Instead of posting all of the tasty food, I shall instead highlight 2 of the memorable dining experiences in Santiago, starting with my steak dinner in this post, mainly because steak and seafood are some of the most popular dish when dining out!
Steak at Ox Restaurant
Ox Restaurant is located in the Vitacura neighbourhood along Nueva Costanera, which is a street housing several other restaurants. While the area is mainly a residential area, it is quite near when staying at the Grand Hyatt in Santiago and probably a few dollars in fare by Uber.
While I did not make any reservation, I do suggest people who want to dine here to make one. Chilean dinner hours starts usually from 8pm, though I did arrive earlier at 7pm, so I was good to be seated. The restaurant actually became crowded as I left indicating the popularity of this steak house amongst locals, many of whom were usually celebrating some special event, and they do dress up nicely here.
Service in the restaurant was like any top steakhouse in USA/Canada with a thick leather-bound menu with prices to match. I knew I wanted a steak for the main course (after all I am in a steakhouse, why bother with something else?) As a light eater, I struggled about ordering an appetizer. Though after getting recommendations, I settled on a broad bean salad dish which the server mentioned was a special dish in Chile. A wonderful bread basket was served with butter after ordering and condiment salts for the steak was also placed by the table. An amuse bouche containing a trio of snacks and dips for the bread was also served. It was really nice to get started on the meal since Chileans tend to have a late dinner.
After a short while, my appetizer was served and it was a substantial plate that is perhaps meant to be shared amongst diners. The presentation of the dishes were wonderful as my photos can attest to that. The broad bean salad or locally known as ensalada de habas is lightly seasoned which is how I like my salad and has a wrapping of prosciutto which gave most of the salty flavour to the dish. The addition of croutons around the side of the plates completes the dish and I thought it was an excellent appetizer even though if it was a simple dish.
For the steak, I decided to splurge a bit and ordered a flat iron wagyu. One of the reason was that the other cuts tend to be larger and usually much more than what my light appetite can handle. Given the ‘wagyu’ moniker, I cannot really say it meets my standard of it being a wagyu beef. First off, the cut was on the tougher side, and this could be due to it being a flat iron cut rather than a prime rib eye. The meat was also slightly fibrous and dry, especially towards the end. The meat was cooked perfectly though in my request for it being medium rare. A redeeming factor was the steak salts provided that enhanced the flavour to make the meat more palatable.
So while I think the restaurant manages to cook the meat perfectly, I was really hoping for something better based on the price I paid. Let’s just say I wouldn’t consider another steak meal in Chile unless it was cheap since the premium cuts doesn’t seem to justify its cost. Thus while the meal and everything else went well, it is not a restaurant I would recommend unless you are craving for some beef.
Seafood dinner at Aqui esta Coco
For my next special meal, it was for a dinner after a day of skiing. For this dinner, I was staying at the Sheraton which is located in the Providencia neighbourhood. After enquiring at the concierge for some hearty Chilean cuisine, I was given directions to the Aqui esta Coco restaurant which is located within walking distance. Basically I had to cross the river from the hotel and walk towards the Pedro de Valdivia metro station along La Concepcion street. The restaurant is an unmissable white colonial style building along the street and located about halfway between the metro station and the Sheraton.
It was full even though I arrived fairly late at around 8:30pm for dinner and there was only a spot on the bar counter. Reservations are highly recommended here as well considering its popularity amongst locals and tourists as there was a group of Japanese ladies seated behind me.
The menu at the restaurant mainly comprises of seafood dishes ranging from the Patagonian king crab to the Chilean conger eel. Though they did leave some space for some meat lovers. I would say the menu was very comprehensive and includes a wide variety of seafood that one would be spoilt for choice. For the winter specials, they even made renditions of their sea urchin dish which was made into a ceviche. I just could not resist ordering one for an appetizer.
With my orders taken, a piece of bread was given to me alongside a salsa dip with butter on the side. Salsa actually does go well with bread and something I truly enjoyed while dining out in Chile!
Considering I like sea urchin or commonly known as uni in Asia, the generous portion of sea urchin was pleasing when my appetizer was served. It was also the first time I had sea urchin in a ceviche format. I have had it in sashimi, sushi, cooked with risotto, and deep fried as a tempura, and loved it all. As a ceviche it somewhat masks the bitter aftertaste of lower grade unis though in this instance the sea urchin was really fresh and of good quality. There was 2 cabbage on the side of the bowl which I used as a scoop for the sea urchin gravy as well and I was also able to ask for more of them since there was no spoon provided. As a shared appetizer it made sense though I think it lacked some sort of thing to go along with it. Some tortilla chips might be great with the ceviche, though those cabbage pieces make up for it.
I had not yet finished my sea urchin appetizer before the main dish of conger eel stew was served. The broth covered up nearly the whole stone bowl on which the dish was served on. But there was also a good portion of fish underneath. The hot soup was just perfect for that comfort meal one looks for as an after-ski meal. While not a really fancy dish, it had a good flavour and the taste was just right, without being overly salty. The conger eel was also cooked just nice that the fillet stayed whole and had the right texture. Again the seafood ingredients the restaurant used was definitely fresh and it counted for something too!
I skipped dessert while dining at both restaurants since I did not have much of a good experience from my lunch at the vineyard restaurant and I was also overly stuffed with food. Furthermore I did not remember any dessert which really caught my attention in both restaurants. Finally, I need to point out that Aqui esta Coco has got to have one of the most impressive washrooms with a wooden sink made from a whole tree trunk, and it fit with the rest of the eclectic decor of the restaurant. Even if one does not go for the food, the ambience and decor of the restaurant is a reason to dine here!
Comparing the 2 dining venues, I would totally recommend Aqui esta Coco for that special meal in Santiago, Chile and I have to admit it was perhaps the most memorable meal I had during my visit in Chile.