By Renea Pope

[Outback Santiago]

[Outback Santiago]

As a North American living in Chile, I’m always torn when I see a new U.S.-based chain opening. On the one hand, I prefer to dine in local establishments and support small businesses. On the other, a taste of home sure is inviting when you’ve been away for months or years. When I saw Outback Steakhouse scheduled to open in the new Mall Vivo in Los Trapenses, I was a little disappointed that another chain restaurant had made it to Chile. I also knew I would go there to see if I could get that delicious fresh off the grill steak for which Outback is well known.

Since Outback Steakhouse has only been open a short time, I knew to set my expectations at a reasonable level. Having worked in restaurants for eight years, including on the opening crew of one, I know it takes time for a new business to work out the kinks. Walking in the door, I was quite impressed with the hospitality exhibited by the staff. Two hostesses greeted us and several waiters also bid us welcome as we made our way from the front door to the second floor table. The service was attentive and appropriate.

[Renea Pope]

[Renea Pope]

If you’ve never been to an Outback Steakhouse, allow me to share that they are known for a specific appetizer called “The Blooming Onion.” An entire onion is flayed to resemble a large flower blossom, drenched in a seasoned batter and deep fried. Served with a spicy, creamy dipping sauce at the center, the blooming onion is an Outback must-have. Ours was perfectly seasoned, even if slightly overcooked. About one-quarter of the onion was nearly burnt but since two people can’t eat a giant deep fried onion (or shouldn’t) anyway, we enjoyed the rest.

While I was craving the ribeye steak, it wasn’t available. In fact, our waiter had mentioned that a few items weren’t yet being served. No matter, we went with the strip steak instead. Although a leaner cut with less marbling to provide flavor, Outback has fantastic cuts so I thought any steak would be fine with me. Perhaps the cut was fine, but the preparation was not. This is where an otherwise lovely dinner out went south, so to speak. Our strip arrived lightly browned.  There were no grill marks, no sear. Based on the color alone, I guessed that the medium rare steak was going to be rare. Very rare. In fact, when I cut into it, the cook temperature would more accurately be described as “blue.” This is a term that suggests the core temperature is still cold, and indeed it was. After both my companion and I tasted the steak, we sent it back. I do not enjoy sending food back and do so rarely, but we really didn’t want to eat what was being served.

In very short order, like three to five minutes, the steak came back to us. Frankly, it didn’t look much different but the inside temperature was warmer. The coloring hadn’t changed, though, and I was pretty sure the steak had been put in a microwave or warming oven. We ate it reluctantly knowing that next up was “Chocolate Thunder From Down Under,” and we figured they couldn’t really mess up a premade brownie and vanilla ice cream.

After dinner was finished and we were waiting for the check that we had asked for three times, a manager came by to offer her apologies that the food hadn’t been quite right. She shared that the gas lines in the kitchen weren’t working properly. Hmm… I wonder how they cooked that steak then? Truth be told, I didn’t want to know so I didn’t ask.

Outback Steakhouse probably needs a few more weeks to master their craft. I would wait for their Zomato rating to come up a few points before trying it yourself. Meanwhile, if you’ve just got to have that steak, go to Cuerovaca in Vitacura. You won’t get a blooming onion, but you will get a perfectly cooked steak.

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