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My last afternoon in Santiago. I’ve left my luggage at the hotel while I have one final meal at Akarana, a place Liz recommended for their oysters. Plus I thought I might finally be able to get a terremoto cocktail.

Well, that’s a mistake. When I order a terremoto from my waiter, Emiliano, he goes off and gets the owner of the restaurant. Who turns out to be a spunky little gal from New Zealand named Dell Taylor.

“We don’t make drinks like that here,” she says rather severely.


“Definitely not.”

What is it about this terremoto cocktail that so disgusts everyone? Is it the rot-gut wine, pipeño, that they use? Or the pineapple ice cream? I’ll tell you, I’ve been in at least twenty different restaurants and bars in Santiago and not a single place would make me a terremoto cocktail. So now I’m practically desperate for one. Just to see if it’s possibly as bad as you would think.

Although Dell won’t make me a terremoto, she offers to personally make me a pisco sour which she says is the best in all of Santiago. Well, as far as I’m concerned, that’s not saying much. I’ve yet to have one that comes even close to a poorly made margarita. But what the hell. It’s my last day here. Might as well have a pisco sour.

A few minutes later she’s back with my drink. And then she stands there, at my table, watching me take a sip.

“Well?” she says.

You know what? She’s right. This is the best damn pisco sour I’ve had. And I tell her so.

She looks smug. “What’d I tell you?” she says.

Then she sits down at my table and tells me how all the pisco sours in Santiago are crap because everyone uses some god awful mix at the bar. “Got to make it with fresh lemon juice. And a decent pisco. Doesn’t have to be the best pisco but it’s got to be fairly good, doesn’t it?”

I’m impressed enough with Dell’s pisco sour that I order a second, to go with my oysters on the half-shell and a dish of chargrilled marinated octopus, and then ask her for her recipe. For the drink. And here it is: The best damn pisco sour in Santiago.

Akarana Pisco Sour

In a cocktail shaker with four ice cubes, add:

–1 1/2 ounces of good pisco (she likes Aba)

–3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

–spoon full of sugar (taste drink for sweetness)

–“a knob of egg white” (about 1/3 of an egg white)

Shake it up good in the cocktail shaker, pour into a tall flute, and add a drop of Angostura bitters on the top. “Just a dot—no more.”


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If you missed yesterday’s installment, I was talking about this restaurant in Santiago, Doña Tina, that had recently been written up by Ms. Florence Fabricant (that name can’t be real) of the NY Times who wrote that if you want to sample “the hearty, rustic specialties that are considered true Chilean cooking, this sprawling place on the outskirts of the city is surely the best choice.”

So I decide to make a reservation and check it out and when I get there, I’m the lone diner. And they won’t serve me a terremoto so I order a bottle of wine, which is corked, at which point my waiter huffily disappears into the kitchen.

The empty dining room at Dona Tina.

The empty dining room at Dona Tina.

Well, a few minutes later a charming young woman comes out from the back and introduces herself as Karla. She tells me that her uncle, my waiter, had sent her out from the back where she had been doing her homework because she speaks English and he can’t figure out what my problem is.

“He says your wine tastes of dog?” she says.

“It’s corked,” I tell her. “You understand corked?”

She shakes her head. Rather than trying to explain the concept, I say, “It’s just no good.”

“No good?”

“No good,” I tell her. “Taste it.”

She takes a sip, shrugs. “Tastes like wine,” she says. Then adds, “I don’t like wine.”

But Karla goes off and gets me another bottle of wine and while she’s struggling to open it, she tells me that she is one of the “many, many grandchildren” of the owner, Doña Tina. The waiter is her uncle, the bartender is a cousin, her father is a cook. “It cuts down on the stealing,” she says, making a little joke.

When I ask Karla just how many grandchildren Doña Tina has, she shrugs and says, “Maybe 25, maybe 30—it’s hard to keep track.” Then she goes to the bar and comes back with a copy of her grandmother’s cookbook and on the back is a photo of Doña Tina surrounded by her many grandkids. I count 26 but Karla says, “At least five or six are missing.”

When I joke about her following in her grandmother’s footsteps, she says definitely not. “I want to be a civil engineer,” she says. Well, I say, with 25 or 30 cousins, surely the family business will continue.

“Yes, but without me, I hope,” says Karla.

I tell Karla I’m going to have that Chilean classic, pastel de choclo, an oven-baked stew made of diced meat, onion, and chili pepper covered by a sweet corn paste topped with sugar.

“No,” Karla says. “No pastel de choclo. Only in summer.” (Remember that it is mid-winter down here right now.)

“The humitas?” I say.

“No humitas.”

I give up. I tell Karla to just pick something for me. With her pen, she points at the sugerencia especial, the Doña Tina. “This is very good,” she says. “Costillar and arrollado. Have you had arrollado?”

I tell her I have not. She says, “Well, if you have been to Santiago and have not had the arrollado, you have not been to Santiago.”

That’s good enough for me.

When Karla brings the dish from the kitchen, it’s as meat-and-potatoes as you can get. The arrollado is pork that’s been marinated in red wine vinegar and a little garlic, rolled up and covered in a layer of fatty skin and poached. It looks about as appetizing as it sounds. Karla tells me that if you eat the white fat covering it’s called eating the panty. “But not everyone likes to eat the panty.” Including me.

The costillar, pork ribs roasted with cumin and oregano, is a little bit better, but anyone who has ever had some good Kansas City barbecue would immediately tell you that the Chileans need to learn about spice rubs.

The best thing on the plate, as far as I’m concerned, are the corn-colored pureed potatoes flavored with merken, the Mapuche spice of smoked chile peppers and coriander seeds. Frankly, I would have been perfectly happy to skip the costillar and arrollado, along with the panty, and just sup on a big bowl of the mashed potatoes with merken. If only I could have gotten a decent wine to go with it. Or a good terremoto.

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There was this article last month in the New York Times about a restaurant here in Santiago called Hosteria Doña Tina that said if you want to sample “the hearty, rustic specialties that are considered true Chilean cooking, this sprawling place on the outskirts of the city is surely the best choice.”

Well, here I am in Santiago searching for “true Chilean cooking” (as well as a good terremoto, which I still haven’t found) so of course I had to make my way out to Doña Tina for dinner. I mean, if Florence Fabricant of the NY Times says this is the place to sample Chilean cuisine, it must be good, right?

Photo by David Lansing

Photo by David Lansing

But before we head out to Doña Tina, I have to tell you how much I love the Ritz-Carlton (and, no, I don’t get anything for plugging them). They just always do things right. I just moved over there yesterday from the San Cristobal Tower and while that hotel was nice, the Ritz-Carlton is on a completely different level. I mean minutes after I’d checked in, Branko Karlezi, their director of public relations, calls me in my room to make sure everything is okay and see if I need anything.

“I just have a quick question for you,” I say. “Do I need to make a reservation for Doña Tina? And how long of a cab ride is it?”

Branko says, “What time would you like to dine?”

“About nine?” I venture.

“I will take care of it,” says Branko. “A house car will be ready for you at 8:30.”

I told him there was no need for that, that I’d be happy to grab a taxi. I was just wondering how long it would take me to get out there.

Well, that’s the problem, said Branko. “The restaurant is really out in the countryside and it can be difficult to find a taxi to take you that far out and even more difficult to find one to bring you back. So, please. We would be happy to provide you with a car and driver.”

Now that’s a hotel.

So anyway, my driver, Juan Carlos, picks me up at 8:30 and we drive and drive and drive until I’m sure I’m being kidnapped and taken to Peru. We go up windy hills and through heavy woods with nary a sign of any civilization until suddenly here we are: at Hosteria Doña Tina. As Ms. Florence Fabricant of the NY Times says, it’s a sprawling place. There are cavernous rooms to the left and a big open room with a fireplace in the middle to my right and more rooms beyond that.

However, there are no diners. Zero. Zilch. Just three guys sitting on stools behind the bar watching a soccer game. When I walk in they barely take their eyes off the TV. Finally, one guy comes over and asks what he can do for me. I tell him I’m Mr. Lansing and I have a reservation for nine.

He shrugs at this news and swings an arm over the dining room, telling me to sit wherever I want. So I take a seat near the fireplace just so, you know, it won’t feel so lonely.

A few minutes later the guy comes back with a menu and asks me if I’d like something to drink.

“A terremoto,” I tell him.

He shakes a finger at me. “No terremoto,” he says. “Pisco sour.” And without waiting for my response, he heads back to the bar and the soccer game.

The pisco sour he brings back is, quite simply, horrendous. Like a margarita made with really bad sweet and sour mix and cheap tequila. I take one sip, push it away, and ask him to bring me a glass of red wine instead.

“No,” he says. “No glass of wine.” They only sell bottles. So I order a bottle of carmenère, the signature Chilean wine that, until the late 1990s, was thought by the Chileans to be merlot. The guy opens the bottle of wine while looking over his shoulder at the TV in the bar and hurriedly fills my glass so high that it is impossible for me to pick it up without spilling all over the white tablecloth, so I lean over and take a sip from the glass while it’s still on the table.

It is—how do you say?—corked.

Huele como perro mojado,” I tell him. It smells like wet dog.

My Spanish, I admit, is horrible and my Chilean Spanish even worse so perhaps I did not say exactly what I meant to say. Always a dangerous thing when speaking in a foreign language about dogs and bad things. Which probably explains why the waiter turned his back on me and immediately disappeared into the kitchen.

To be continued…

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There are some things I just don’t get. Like meringue. Is there anything more insipid than lemon meringue pie? I don’t think so. Which explains why I wasn’t exactly giddy when Liz suggested we stop in at this little pasteleria across from Parque Forestal in Barrio Lastarria known for their merenguitos which are basically whipped egg whites and sugar baked into a puffy cookie.

Oh but these merenguitos, made by hand by the owner of Pasteleria Robymar, Maria Luisa Barbieri, are amazing Liz insisted. “They’re like marshmallows on the inside but with a crisp crust and the whole thing has this nutty flavor.”

See, this is why I don’t do dessert. A crispy, nutty-tasting marshmallow cookie? Big deal. Just give me a really good piece of chocolate instead.

But we go in and I meet Maria who is tall and thin (obviously she doesn’t eat her own pasteries) and quite charming. She’s been making merenguitos and pino, or meat, empanadas here for 45 years she tells me and never grows tired of the work. “The young girls I hire to help me make merenguitos can’t keep up with me,” she says. “Maybe I’m almost 80 but it doesn’t matter. Me, personally, I think I’m aging backwards because I feel twenty.”

Maria Luisa Barbieri and her merenguitos. Photo by David Lansing.

Maria Luisa Barbieri and her merenguitos. Photo by David Lansing.

Maria offers me a merenguito and just to be polite I take a tiny little bite and…oh my god! It’s the best thing ever. What Maria does is spread the meringue on a very thin cookie wafer and then tops it with another cookie wafer spread lightly with lúcuma and manjar which is a bit like Nutella but better. Lúcuma is a subtropical fruit, usually grown in the cool highlands of Peru and Chile. It’s got an orange-yellow flesh, kind of like a mango, and a very unique flavor that is difficult to describe. You just have to taste it. In Chile you’re most likely to come across it in ice cream where it is a more popular flavor than vanilla or chocolate.

Chileans also like to mix lúcuma paste with manjar which is like dulce de leche. The combination of lúcuma and manjar to a Chilean is like peanut butter and jelly to Americans. And put it on top of Maria Luisa Barbieri’s merenguito and you’ve got yourself one kick-ass cookie. Which is why I bought six more. Which Liz and I finished before we even got back to her apartment in Bellas Artes.

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As Liz and I were walking through the Mercado Central I told her how the concierge at my hotel said I couldn’t say I’d been to Santiago until I tried a terremoto, that elusive Chilean cocktail (I still haven’t had one). Then I asked her how she’d answer that question—If you’ve been to Santiago but you haven’t had a (blank), you haven’t been to Santiago.

“Oh a completo,” she said. “You definitely haven’t been to Santiago until you’ve had a Dominó completo.”

Okay, before I explain about completos and Dominó let me just say that the closest American comparison to both would be a Big Mac at McDonald’s, and I haven’t been inside a Mickey-D in over 20 years. Just not my thing (besides, I’ve always hated clowns and Ronald definitely creeps me out).

But the completo is not a hamburger. It’s a Chilean hot dog. Sort of. Actually, it’s a bun of mayo and mushed avocado piled on top of a sliver of weiner. Remember I said that Chileans think mayo is a food group? This may be the best proof of that theory. But, you know, I have this philosophy about travel which boils down to, Wherever you go, you have to eat the goat. And since Liz says that I haven’t been to Santiago until I’ve had a completo, the goat today is a Chilean hot dog at Dominó.

The hot dog doctors at Domino. Photos by David Lansing.

The hot dog doctors at Domino. Photos by David Lansing.

There must be two hundred Dominós in Santiago. Okay, maybe it just seems that way because everywhere you go, there they are. They’re meticulously clean (which is true for most fast-food joints in Santiago). And just as all the servers at Fuente Alemana are women, at Dominó they’re all men. Dressed in long white gowns with deep pockets in the front so that they look more like medical assistants than waiters (I think they should put stethoscopes around their necks).

So Liz and I go into a Dominó and order a completo. The waiter takes my order and, without turning around, yells over his shoulder to the cook, “Italiana, maestro.” Why Italiana? Because it has chopped tomato, avocado, and mayo on it—red, green, and white, the colors of the Italian flag (also the colors of the Mexican flag but I guess they figured it didn’t sound as much fun yelling, “Mexicana, maestro.”)

Liz with a completo (not healthy) and carrot juice (healthy!).

Liz with a completo (not healthy) and carrot juice (healthy!).

Anyway, the other thing that kills me about Dominó is that they have these wonderful milk drinks with mango or chestnuts and fresh squeezed juices, the most popular being a blend of orange and carrot juice which is just so healthy tasting that your blemishes seem to clear up after drinking a glass. So of course, Liz orders a completo, which will double her cholesterol level the minute she puts it in her hand, and a fresh-squeezed glass of orange and carrot juice to somehow do a negative ion thing in her body to reverse the 640 calories she’s about to eat so that somehow she’ll actually lose 5 pounds from eating the weiner. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

I take a bite of my completo. I’m sure there’s a hot dog in there somewhere, but I can’t see it and I don’t taste it. All I taste is a big mouthful of slippery avocado and sweet mayo. One bite and I’m done. (When I said you have to eat the goat I didn’t say you had to eat the whole goat.) But, hey, that orange/carrot juice is great. So great that I decide to get another (plus the roof of my mouth still feels coated in mayo fat). And while I am gone, a homeless lady steals my completo.

The perfect ending as far as I’m concerned.

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