By Renea Bartlett PopeThe fifth annual Ñam Santiago “Festival Latioamericano de Cocina” wrapped a week’s worth of festivities across the city Sunday. For the Ñam Ruta Lastarria, the organization’s website touted specialized menus centered on the idea of memory. Wondering how participating restaurants in the Lastarria neighborhood would weave the theme throughout, I arrived with high expectations. I imagined a street level fair with a variety of booths featuring vendors of artisanal products and restaurants anchoring the event with tasting menus.
In truth, we found Ñam signs and posters scattered about, but no “event” to speak of. It was unclear how Ruta Lastarria was any different than a typical Saturday afternoon in Lastarria. Known for a dense concentration of hip restaurants within only a few blocks, we wandered around Lastarria asking advertised participants to see their featured Ñam menus, but in most cases received only typical lunch menus. In fact, much to our disappointment, three restaurants told us that they had not created a special menu for the event at all.Nonetheless, Lastarria doesn’t disappoint for lunch options (after 1:00pm). We enjoyed cocktails and a quick appetizer at CHPE Libre. With significant seating options, we elected the back patio to enjoy the sunny autumn day. Featuring primarily Chilean and Peruvian style fare, CHPE Libre is ideal for those who prefer regional seafood. In particular, their traditional reineta ceviche is one of the more popular cold appetizers. Additionally, I would recommend the grilled scallops for their taste, but know they aren’t actually grilled, but baked in the shell with cheese, peppers and caramelized onions. While I enjoyed a cold Guayacan beer, guests at the neighboring table were delighted with their flights of pisco. The pisco sampler is a menu mainstay, and allows a choice of three from several options. The staff presented a brief overview of how pisco is made and the distinctive features of each selection.
We followed appetizers with lunch at Bocanáriz. With a twenty-seven page wine menu, even the most discerning wine enthusiast should find something to his liking at this well-regarded Lastarria favorite. I elected a flight of sparkling white, rosé, and chardonnay wines. It was a refreshing choice that paired well with my entrée of rabbit and manchego puree. The bright profile of the crisp rosé balanced the bold intensity of the cheese. While the dish was good, it didn’t compare to the asado de tira, which can only be described as perfect. Three hours in the oven yielded a succulent, flavorful Sunday roast like mom would make. It was simply delicious and I was highly disappointed when the server could not provide a take away container. Since we were sampling a variety of dishes that day and couldn’t possibly eat everything put before us, I found it simply incomprehensible that the staff would not allow us to take the remainder of that lovely dish home to enjoy later (not to mention it was a waste of money to throw that out). We quizzed the waiter, but he was adamant that the commercial kitchen had no take away box, tinfoil, or plastic wrap. Really? Unbelievable. For that reason, I recommend that if you’re hopscotching through the neighborhood as we were, simply share a plate at Bocanáriz.
Given that it was a sunny autumn day, I finished the afternoon with Emporio La Rosa’s ice cream. I wasn’t alone with that idea, and noted that dozens of passersby had the artisanal cones in hand as well. While nearly a dozen all-natural flavors are available, I recommend the creamy chocolate araucano. It is a nearly perfect, smooth dark chocolate. Chocolate avellana, on the other hand, is a dense chocolate much like a frozen ganache and isn’t my first choice, although many were buying it. While I always prefer chocolate, if only the avellana is available, I suggest trying one of the other distinctively Chilean flavors such as chirimoya or maracuya.An afternoon in Lastarria is always enjoyable, but on this day I was unclear why exactly Ñam had created and advertised this special route. Perhaps the goal was simply to advertise local restaurants, but given the already high profile of the Lastarria neighborhood, this seemed an unnecessary allocation of time and resources for an event that is still gaining traction. For future events, I would suggest centralizing the weekend festival to one key area, such as the Cerro Santa Lucia side of this year’s Ñam festivities. Certainly, the featured restaurants should be expected to attend the premiere event and have their signature items on offer to the public.
Next year, put Ñam on your calendar and be sure to attend the festival. If you only have time for one day with Ñam, skip the “Ruta” and head straight to the main event. Stay tuned to ComoSur for another writer’s take on why the signature Ñam event at Cerro Santa Lucia demands your attention in 2016.