Savouring Santiago

>> Friday, September 28, 2012

I didn’t quite know what to expect when we first decided to go to South America. Most people I know went to Peru for Machu Picchu or Rio in Brazil. So it was a bit more complicated to figure out our itinerary for our Chile and Argentina trip. Not so much that nobody travels there because that’s just purely not true, but more so because the countries are huge! I’m used to traveling to places like Europe or Asia where most of the time you cross borders if you drive or take the train for more than 5 hours. So you can see how perplexed I was when we found out that 5 hours on a plane will only take you half way through Chile.

Since I couldn’t ask for more time away from work, which is my usual number 1 strategy (has yet to work). I figured we’d just have to narrow down our trip and be a little less ambitious, plus now we have an excuse to go back (like we really needed one). We finally decided that our first destination in the South would be to the capital of Chile, Santiago. Known for a city where you can surf and snowboard all in one day, we were curious what we should focus on, but that really didn’t take long because the seafood and wine quickly took over.

After landing in Santiago following an excruciating 20+ hours of travel, we slowly meandered our way to our hotel. Lucky for us, our hotel was fairly central in the Providencia neighbourhood close to many restaurants, shopping and sights. We immediately listened to our stomachs and headed down to the famous Mercado Central which is very well known for their fresh seafood market. Inside it also houses many different small restaurants that serve fresh seafood and their menu changes regularly to reflect the catch of the day. We were able to try some succulent Chilean sea bass and sweet razor clams, all topped off with their famous Pisco Sour. If you’ve never had a pisco, it’s a completely different experience.

Made from grapes, pisco is a hard liquor drank mainly in the countries of Chile and Peru. It’s usually mixed with pineapple or mango juice, but can be found in a number of different styles. If you’re adventurous you can even have it straight (I do advise against this since the hubby took a while to recover from heartburn after it) or simply with coke or tonic. The feeling after drinking pisco is very similar to wine, a simple mellow buzz, we liked it so much we had to bring some home.

Another very famous drink that we were able to sample at the famous El Hoyo restaurant was the Terremoto, which literally translates to earthquake in Engligh. They call it this because when you’re done consuming the drink you walk around like you’re experiencing an earthquake on your shaky legs. We didn’t quite get that feeling but we did enjoy the terremotos themselves, made up of pisco, white wine and pineapple ice cream. You can also make it with just white wine and pineapple ice cream or substitute the pisco with another hard liquor.

This was definitely not the last of our great seafood experiences while in Santiago. We also ventured over to Patio Bellavista, which is a touristy area situated well within the college community. Just outside the patio area you can see many students gathered there for the cheap eats and beer. Inside the patio area however houses higher end restaurants and bars. We found an amazing Peruvian restaurant there that had the best ceviche I have ever eaten! Even when compared to the rest of the ceviche we tried throughout the country and trust me, we had a lot of ceviche (a foodie must!). It was perfectly balanced, not too sour or salty. It enhanced each piece of fish, scallop and other seafood they put in there. It was so good we had to go back twice. Email me if you’re looking for the restaurant and I can see if I can scrounge up the name…maybe even do a post later on.

We also managed to get out to visit the Undurraga vineyards which was a recommendation from a friend. He mentioned that the wine was one of his favourites when he lived in SA and you can’t find it here in Canada! I really didn’t need that much convincing to visit a vineyard, wine tasting anybody? I’m there! It was really interesting being able to compare this winery to some other we also visited later on in the trip in Mendoza. Undurraga is a mid sized vineyard producing wine that’s more locally consumed and within SA. They specialize in Carmenere, which is a grape that can only be found in Chile. It was also our favourite. A smooth velvety mid bodied wine, tasting of strawberries and chocolate made for a really great drinking wine and also paired nicely with some of the lighter fare we were enjoying during this portion of our trip. We liked the wine so much that we ended up almost going over our liquor limit on this one tour. I highly recommend doing a Chilean wine tour for those not overly familiar with their varietals.

Of course we couldn’t miss the sights in the city as well. The famous Cerro San Cristobal that leads up to the Virgen de la Immaculada (the virgin) which over looks the city and gives a great view of the entire Santiago area. Close to the hill is also La Chascona, which was home to the famous Nobel winning poet Pablo Neruda. He has three houses throughout Chile (we were fortunate enough to see them all, the best being the one in Isla Negra). When touring through his house, you see very odd relics and collections that the poet has spent numerous hours assembling. He really is a collector of everything.

Downtown Santiago also has amazing sights including the Plaza de Armas – the pedestrian area, the Catedral de Santiago, La Moneda – the courtyard of the Presidential house of Chile and much more. If you’re looking for something different Barrio Bellas Artes and Parque Forestal are places Chileans usually visit to enjoy street performers, which is best on Sundays. If you’re in the shopping mood, Parque Arauco is similar to a North American mall. Although we did notice a new shopping complex in the El Golf neighbourhood, which is where all the new high rise buildings are being built.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is there is no lack of activities in Santiago and if you ever stop to wonder what there is to do. Just walk around and you’ll find something that might just peak your interest. If you’re still struggling after that…stop in at a coffee shop, order a Café Cortado (similar to a cappuccino) slow down and just enjoy the view.


Restaurant Review: Candela Lounge

>> Tuesday, September 4, 2012

There has been a lot of construction around the mission area this summer., which has made it a bit difficult to maneuver around. However the construction is well worth it because with it brings news condo developments, upgraded roads and new eateries to a quickly expanding area. One of those restaurants being Candela Lounge. Opened by the owners of the highly successful Alloy Restaurant, Candela features international cuisine, where each dish takes a unique spin with fusion style perfect for this area of town.

Atmosphere: Moroccan inspired setting showcasing a large open bar in the middle of a cozy dining room.

Price Range: up to mid $10s

Food and Wine: I was lucky enough to have been asked to join them on a special media night to sample their amazing food and drinks. I was so excited to tell everybody about this new restaurant that I am actually blogging while on vacation - but how could I wait to share this amazing info?!

At the event we were presented with various hand selected dishes off the menu so we'd get a good understanding of the varieties of food featured at the restaurant. Based on a tapas style concept, their menu is broken down in to six categories, each representing a certain style of cooking or course. Here's a quick summary of each as laid out on the menu (although I could probably go on all day about certain items):

The first ceviche I sampled was the Tuna served with tomato, watermelon and lime. I really enjoyed the contrasting sweetness of the watermelon and the citrusy tomatoes, neither overpowering the delicate tuna. The second ceviche that night was the Scallop with avocado, jalapeño, cilantro and tomatillo. They're definitely more traditional Latin flavours.

The Swordfish had the perfect amount of charred flavour from the grill and was accompanied by salsa verde and caper berries, both adding different forms of acid to the dish. The Flank steak with an Argentinian flare consisted of chimichurri sauce and a creamy mayo to provide the much needed fat and creaminess to the lean steak. The meat itself was grilled a medium rare and only lightly seasoned so it didn't overpower the freshness of the ingredients.

Baked, braised, sautéed
One of the crowd favourites that evening would have had to be the Chicharron. You can't go wrong with this crispy pork belly served with edamame beans and sweet quince. A perfect bite in all regards. The Albondigas which were lamb and pork meatballs were a close second for many foodies, with machego cheese and a sweet tomato sauce. You can definitely taste the gamey lamb but the pork helped to mellow out the flavours and made the meatball more succulent. The last dish from this group was the Striped Bass with a Middle Eastern influence of saffron and israeli couscous. The bass was melt in your mouth flaky, while the couscous gave the dish the needed texture with just slight hints of saffron, which when overused can overwhelm the palate, but not in this case at all.

The Bok Choy was showcased from this category. It was served Asian style with soy, sesame, ginger and topped with a spicyThai chili. For those that are sensitive to spicy, be sure to remove the chili peppers! However, I preferred it with a spicy kick upping the usual soy sauce thats served at your local Chinese joint.

For those looking for just something to nibble on there is the quintessential Cheese & Meat Board featuring iberico ham which can be seen displayed through the kitchen window in the private dining room. Very famous in Spain and other Spanish influenced countries, it's perfect with a great glass of wine! For vegetarians there is the Tunisian Carrot Hummus. A spin on the traditional chickpea hummus. The carrot makes it sweeter and forms a less dense dip.

For those that don't have much of a sweet tooth the Yuzu Yogurt is for you. With roasted rhubarb over lightly tart yogurt and a ginger biscuit. It has just enough sweetness to round out the dinner, plus it's also a healthier option! For those looking for not only sweet but decadent, the Brownie is a perfect fit. It was so soft and moist that we couldn't even pick it up on the skewers and just had to dig in. Normally served with a pistachio gelato and creme anglaise, I can already imagine how the nuttiness of the pistachio would enhance the cocoa flavours.

Candela also features a special cocktail menu created by the owners themselves with drinks like the coconut Pura Vida and a rum based Cherry Sour. They also have a great selection of wine for those looking to pair their tapas with a bit of vino.

My Picks: Tuna Ceviche, Chicharron, Striped Bass

Overall: I am extremely glad that Candela decided to open on 4th. It's definitely going to be bringing a new vibe to the Mission area which is long overdue. The amazing food is really just a bonus to a great looking restaurant with the perfect atmosphere. Construction sometimes isn't all so bad!

Candela Lounge 
1919 4th Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 719-0049

Candela Lounge on Urbanspoon

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