I’ve finally gotten to try a few restaurants (and also have found the apostrophe on this keyboard), so here goes.
One of my favorite features of an SATW convention is athe Dine Around, where attendees select or are assigned restaurants, which they visit in small, normal groups. My husband I were sent to one of a dozen restaurants in a Borderio, a sort-of mall with places to eat, drink and buy cigarettes (there is a dedicated Marlboro shop).
We were assigned to La Tabla, an Argentine-style steakhouse. This was odd because at our table for eight were two vegans and one non-red-meter eater. The decor is contemporary gaucho with red tile floors. Cowhides on one wall. Spurs and stuff hanging from the rafters. The waiters are costumed as for the pampas.
We were given a choice of two appetizers, carpaccio of beef or carpaccio of salmon. Both came sliced paper thin and arranged in circles on the plates. The beef was OK, but the salmon was drowned in so much lemon that all I could taste was the the citrus. Even the capers could not assert themseles. For the main course, we had a choice of beef or salmon. (The vegans were accommodated with a plate of pasta.) For a side dish, the waiter gave a choice of souffle potatoes or souffle potatoes. The steakwas a thick cut that was flavorful enough but not especially tender. The salmon was dipped in a batter, sprinkled with sesame seeds, overcooked and blanketed in a gravy that everyone agreed tasted like beef but we were told was soy. The side effect was to make the batter soggy. The souffle potatoes were wonderful — crisp hollows of French fry-size sticks. They actually presented us with the regular dessert menu, and the postres were all OK. The most interesting was a large apple pancake.
The disappointing salmon was vindicated the next night, but I have to go. I promise to describe it next time I have computer access and time to use it.
I have often said that like the army, the Society of American Travel Writers travels on its stomach. The 2006 convention is in Santiago, Chile, with a guarantee of huge meals. As with any conference, many meals are served to everyone (more than 500 of us) in a hotel function room. The Hyatt and Sheraton have made great efforts in serving some local specialties.
Among them have been various disappointing salmon preparations, outstanding fruit salads and a version of Pastel de Choclo. In Chile and elsewhere in southern South America, “choclo” (not mais or similar) is the word for corn. Pastel de Choclo, a casserole, is a summer specialty. Locals tell me that home cooks dice a couple of onions and saute them with chopped chopped garlic and salt. In another pan, they saute diced or ground beef. In yet another, they poach about four pieces of chicken in water. In an ovenproof clay pot, they combine the meat and sauteed vegetables. They top that with olives, raisins, slices of hard-boiled egg and finally the cooked chicken, which may be sliced or shredded. They shuck about 10 ears of corn and blend the kernels in a blender (with a little water “if necessary”). The corn mixture is spread on top and then sprinkled with sugar. They then bake it for about 20 minutes in at an oven setting that I could not discern, but I think must be moderate (350 to 375 degrees) until the sugar caramelizes. The hotel did it in quantity without the caramelized sugar. Other central Chilean specialties include cazuela, a soup of chicken, turkey, beef or pork with potatoes, pumpkin and green beans, also cooked in a clay pot. Empanadas filled with seasoned meat, poultry or seafood are ubiquitous, as is seaood in many forms.
More to come on restaurant meals.
For a while, my posts will be from Chile. So far, since leaving Colorado, I´ve had food placed in front of me on two airlines: cookies from breakfast on American to LAX and one medicore dinner, one lousy snack and one mediocre breakfast on the long haul from LAX to Santiago on LAN Chile. No surprise. I am at a travel writers´convention in Santiago, staying at the Hyatt, which put on a nice buffet breakfast for the morning arrivals. The fresh fruit was fabulous, and the croissants were as brittle and flaky as the ones I love in Paris. More about other food once I´ve had some.