Archive for April, 2007

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The Set Lunch

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

cimg5728-320.jpgI am a huge fan of the set lunch menu. If ever we come across one on our travels, especially if it is of the French variety, I insist on making an effort to give it a go. Nine times out of ten, it is a delicious lunch for a great value, usually three courses with a drink and maybe even a coffee thrown in at the end. If we´re lucky, two of us can get a big meal for under $20. Plus, I have a theory that these lunches are even more delicious if there is a crowd of people in the restaurant and a queue at the door.

Twice in recent weeks we have come across dreamy set menus. The first was in the antique-y, bohemian barrio of San Telmo in Buenos Aires. We were actually looking for some other restaurant with a set menu and happened across a cafe named something like ¨Via Via¨. Anyway, it was crammed full of suits but we managed to snag one of the tables and ordered “dos, por favor.” This one was only two courses: roasted quarter of a chicken, salad and rice with home-made ice cream for dessert. Simple enough menu for a late lunch but it was hot and tasty and left us full enough that we didn´t need to eat again that day.

For the past two days, we have eaten lunch at the same cafe in Valparaiso, Le Filou de Montpellier. cimg5729-320.jpgYesterday, it was a crepe filled with bechemel and cheese to start, then roasted chicken with this fantastic mushroom reduction sauce and then profiteroles with ice cream and chocolate sauce. It´s making my mouth water just to remember it. With wine, it was $22 dollars and there was a queue of people at the door waiting for our table. Hurrah! The meal today was a tarte of tomato, eggplant and camembert, slow-cooked beef in wine sauce with a gratin of potatoes and then Ile Flottant for dessert. No wine this time (thanks to a pisco-induced hangover today) but still, the best-value lunch menu I can remember having had. If we were staying here longer, I can almost guarantee that we´d be going back at least every other day. As it is, we´ll be going back tonight to Alegretto for – arguably – the best pizza I´ve ever had. We may not be eating classic comida Chilena, but I´m digging the food here.

Meat for Lunch

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

cimg5645-320.jpgIt’s no secret that the people of Argentina and Chile adore their meat. It is available everywhere, on every menu, in several different forms, served day and night, and almost always grilled to well done. I wouldn’t want to be an animal in South America as it’s only a matter of time before you end up on a menu.
At a grocery store in Mendoza on a Saturday, a riot* of people had gathered around a meat counter that was struggling to keep up with the orders being shouted to the back. Meat is serious business and a good butcher, we’re told, is highly coveted and his address is held close to the chest. In Argentina, I thought I had reached the limit of my carnivorous consumption, but I was dead wrong; that was just the beginning.

Today’s lunch in the pretty Bellavista neighbourhood of Santiago consisted almost entirely of meat. We ordered the parrilla special for 2 and what landed on our table would’ve easily served six. Imagine a 9×9” square casserole dish filled to heaping with 2 big, grilled pork chops, 1 large, grilled steak, 2 blood sausages, 1 spicy chorizo sausage, 2 huge, grilled chicken breasts, and 2 large, boiled potatoes. That was lunch. There was some thyme on the chicken, and there was a salt shaker on the table, but that was all the seasoning that appeared. Luckily, a stray dog sleeping the shade of the next table was only too happy to eat most of what remained on my plate while the waiter wasn’t looking.

*Speaking of riots, it turns out that there was some serious rioting in Santiago the day we arrived. It was the annual Day of The Young Commbatents riot/protest staged in memory of the 1985 student riots during which many students were killed. This year’s anniversary protest was aggravated, we’re told, by some discontent with recent public transportation changes. At any rate, our afternoon arrival at the bus station, metro ride and walk through part of the downtown area was entirely uneventful; we didn’t sense the slightest whiff of unease. When we arrived at our hostel, one of the guys staying there asked, “What are the streets like out there- is it madness?” Of course we didn’t know what he was talking about and it was then that the hostel worker said that yes, there were riots, and that perhaps we should stay in the hostel that evening. The next morning, the news showed this. Santiago makes two cities now that we have visited while riots were in progress and we didn’t even know it. (The other was Budapest in September.) Stupid foreigners.