By Elizabeth TimmsThe inaugural Santiago Dining Week took place from March 2-15. Over 25 restaurants participated, offering three course lunch and/or dinner menus for CLP $12,000 and $18,000. Dining week (usually two weeks long) is an opportunity for restaurants to showcase their best dishes and for people to try new places at a reasonable price. Eight years ago, I was a frequent customer during the dining week in Los Angeles and ate at many restaurants that I might never have visited otherwise. These places were usually the creme de la creme of Los Angeles dining scene, and showcased their best dishes. I always had a valuable foodie experience.
Since this was Santiago’s first experience with Dining Week, I was prepared to cut them some slack if it wasn’t up to the same standard as some of the more established dining weeks of my Los Angeles memories. Even so, we were disappointed in quite a number of things regarding the event in Santiago.
When I first heard about Dining Week, I immediately went online to find out which restaurants were participating and what dishes to expect. Unfortunately, we had only heard of, or been to, a few of the selected restaurants. The menus all seemed very similar: Chilean meat and seafood dishes and none seemed particularly inventive or inspiring. We chose a few restaurants and hoped for the best. During the two weeks, my friends and I visited three of the participating restaurants: Brasserie Petanque in Bellavista, Castillo Forestal across from the Museo Bellas Artes, and Casa Luz in Barrio Italia.
Brasserie Petanque: (Bellavista)
Our first meal of dining week was also our most disappointing. Brasserie Petanque is a relatively new French restaurant on Calle Constitucion next door to a boutique hotel. It is a branch of the successful French restaurant with the same name in Buenos Aires. The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining and has extremely attractive French brasserie style décor, so we had high hopes. Our table of six was seated outside and the service was attentive. Unfortunately, the pleasant atmosphere and the service were the best part of our meal. The food was simply terrible. We were given a complimentary welcome drink but one member of our group chose a pisco sour, a standard drink on any menu in Chile. It was the worst pisco sour I have been served in Chile. Despite the name, this cocktail tasted as if the mixture had, indeed, soured. Something was definitely missing and we sent it back while we set about ordering our food. All dining week menus have three choices for appetizers, mains, and dessert. At Brasserie Petanque we tried all three appetizers and were disappointed by all. The salmon tartare, the platter of different pates, and the French onion soup all lacked flavor and quality ingredients. The soup, in particular, tasted like flavored water, which was sad considering we were dining in a French restaurant. For mains, our dishes were also sub-par. The beef bourguignon, which the restaurant is supposedly known for, tasted like a beef stew, but was definitely nothing special. My fish dish was supposed to have a butter sauce, but was instead covered with a poor- quality olive oil that I could barely eat. The dessert might have been the highlight. The creme brulee was presented as it should be, but the profiteroles were like two sugar biscuits stuffed with fruit sorbet. When we got the bill, we ended up paying way too much for a dinner (about 26,000 a person) for a meal that truly underwhelmed our expectations. We will not be back.
•Castillo Forestal (Bellas Artes)
Next up for our Dining Week adventure was Castillo Forestal, a restaurant that looks just like a castle on the edge of Parque Forestal, across from the Museo Bellas Artes. On Saturday night a group of six of us thought we’d try it out. Although we had made a reservation a few weeks before, the restaurant seated us in the open-aired back patio, rather than in the more formal indoor seating area of the castle. The area we sat in would have been better for lunch, so you could look out at the park from the patio’s sliding glass doors, but the ambiance was still pleasant enough. Heat lamps were in place to keep customers warm during the cool nights. The appetizers were pretty good. The French onion soup had much more flavor than Brasserie Petanque and my Mediterranean beef tartare was served with very tasty french fries. The dish was so large it could have been my main meal. The entrees were attractively presented, and even had vegetables alongside the meat. Most of our party ordered the fillet which was cooked correctly, for the most part, and served with a brightly colored wine reduction and root vegetables garnishing the top of the plate . My corvina was served in a bowl with a lovely fuschia beet sauce which I was pleased with since I love beets, although I was too full from my appetizer to enjoy it fully. Dessert was a little bit of a let down. Several of us ordered the Todo Chocolate; however, instead of being served a variety of chocolate desserts, we received three slices of the same chocolate hazelnut biscuit topped with gooey chocolate ganache and served with a scoop of chocolate ice cream. I was unsure why each guest needed three of the biscuits, because it was certainly too rich to eat. Also, Todo Chocolate, implies there will be a multitude of different chocolate desserts, and we only received two. Overall, it was a pleasant experience but nothing outstanding.
•Casa Luz (Barrio Italia)
The third restaurant we patronized during Dining Week was Casa Luz. I had been to this restaurant before, and had a very nice lunch on their cozy and beautifully decorated terraza. The patio, where our rather large group was seated on Saturday night has lots of foliage and brick so it feels like a mini oasis in the city. The group was pleased with the appetizers on the menu, including the delicious fennel, tuna, and avocado salad and the pan de tomate, which was not traditional, but still good. Everyone was happy with their mains: a crab ravioli, a sea bass dish, and a braised lamb. At the end of the meal, the restaurant did not have one of the listed items from the dessert menu, but the coffee and ice cream replacement was appreciated by all. Strangely, as my friend and I were trying to recall the names of the dishes we ordered, we could not find most of the Dining Week options on the regular Casa Luz menu, so we were a bit surprised. One would think a restaurant would showcase their best dishes during Dining Week so as to gain repeat customers. Over 12,000 Santiaguinos participated this year, which gave restaurants an opportunity to generate extensive future business by showcasing their best dishes, which only happened on rare occasions.
All in all, I hope the tradition of dining week in Santiago continues. For the event to compete with some of the more established Dining Weeks around the world, more quality restaurants need to participate next time. Dining Week should include the Best of the Best in the city, not just the establishments clamoring for more business. I also hope the restaurants that choose to participate next time use the event as it was designed: to show off their best dishes, put together inventive menus, and use quality ingredients to showcase true fine dining in Chile.