Friday, March 31, 2017

Santiago and la Habana

The Andes from Providencia
 Another trip to Santiago and still lots of new and cool things to do. Everyone says the city is great except for the terrible pollution. I have been very lucky to be there on clearer days and in the picture above, you can actually see the ski village in the Andes.

Didn't make it to the Mercado Central but we did go to the big seafood wholesale market about half an hour from the Providencia neighbourhood.
Awesome fish and seafood market!
Shocking prices for seafood! Well, I wasn't surprised that salmon was about $5/lb but we got a kilogram of big white clams for $1.50! If I lived in Santiago, I would be eating seafood all the time. Probably better that I don't since my GF is allergic to shellfish.
Scallops gratinado and champagne. Why not?
Elizabeth worked her magic and after quite a bit of work cleaning, rinsing and prepping, we had scallops and mussels gratinados. White wine, garlic butter, parmesan cheese and toasted bread crumbs. And giant plates full.
And Mussels!
I also did a simple white wine, olive oil, onion and garlic clam steam that was quite tasty.

I try to be a low maintenance guest and don't expect people to spend hours driving me places ... but my hosts were kind enough to take me out into wine country. After a lot of research, we settled on a country estate and a very small vineyard.
The parking lot of the estate ... as far as we got.
The estate was lovely, from the outside, but after being told that we could come and visit, the idiot guard said there was a private function and we couldn't go in. We waited for 15 minutes as he called up from the gate trying to find out if we could just walk around the grounds (well before the event) and we finally said f*ck it and left.

We drove by many vineyards including the ginormous Concha y Toro installation ... but didn't stop. I wasn't interested in seeing big coaches and hordes of tourists. We finally ended up on a very small and deserted road and came up to a gate guarded by probably the oldest person working for G4S. He looked like he was 80 years old!

He checked us off a very short list and sent us up through the fields of grape vines and up to this beautiful estate. We parked and made our way up to the restaurant.
Lovely wine with our afternoon snack.
It only had about 10 tables and was about a third full. We were early for our tour and tasting so we decided to have a light snack washed down with a fantastic bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

We finished up and went to find our tour guide who happened to be hostess at the restaurant and cashier, I think. We stepped out and she walked us through to the vines and ... was surprised to see that our tour group was just us! She said that there were two other people but they would catch up a bit later.
Our awesome guide Salome
Our wonderful guide Salome told us about Haras de Pirque, where the owner combined his love of horses and wine to create a beautiful vineyard in the Maipo Valley. She told us about the grapes and the soil and how this lovely valley and rolling hills created a great micro-climate for producing outstanding grapes. Its true that wine only comes from beautiful places.

It was so peaceful and serene and quiet. Salome said she lived in the area and only did tours once a week but wished she could work there every day. The grape harvest was coming up in a few weeks so it would be all hands on deck and she, and everyone else in the valley, would be working.
Salome has taken quite of few of these shots.
We tasted the almost fully ripe grapes, cab sauvignon, carmenere, sauv blanc and they were tiny and very sweet. Then a tour of the plant and checked out the giant wooden barrels. The building was in the shape of a horseshoe and the fountain in the middle had a glass bottom ... that was the skylight for the underground cellar and tasting room.

We finally met up with the other two people just before heading to the tasting room. Lovely couple from Wyoming doing a wine tour of Chile and Argentina. She was a vegetarian chef/owner of Sweet Melissa's in Laramie. How cool is that? But too bad she is going to miss out on the seafood and beef in the area! That is why I believe strongly in being a flexitarian so you can enjoy everything life has to offer.
Inside the horseshoe and looking over the fountain.
 Salome set out some very lovely glasses and had us try four wines. The final one was a 10 year old cabernet sauvignon that had tremendous presence with its colour, bouquet and quite a refined flavour. She only poured about an ounce each and there was a ton left in the bottle so I asked if I could have a bit more and she said "no." Ha ha, no hard feelings, I had a lot of wine that day. And very charmingly, like the young Concha y Toro woman at the wine festival, Salome liked cigars! So I gave her a couple of nice Habanos that I was carrying around. And I also said I would come back with a bottle of Canadian ice wine since she had never tried that and was curious.
In the tasting room.
So meeting Salome was probably as interesting as visiting my first Chilean vineyard. It was wonderful to meet someone with such a passion for wines who was able to enjoy living and working in such a beautiful, tranquil, and isolated ... almost fairyland, full of positive energy. They were recently bought by Antinori, the giant Italian wine conglomerate but I think they are taking a light hand with their management.

Danny keeping me well supplied with good beer.
Such a short visit and on my last day, I walked up to Avenida Providencia and met up with Dany, Marisol and Mia. Dany is quite the Chilean gourmand and brought me to Tip y Tap for some traditional food.
Some of my favourite foods in the world, all on one plate.
I had this nice appetizer with grilled shrimps and veggies and smoked salmon. 
More raw meat! And chips.
Then steak tartar, french fries, and artesanal beer. Frickin yum!
Mia, my charming luncheon companion.
Also managed to grill some delicious rib eyes and various types of kimchee washed down by some kick ass wines. And then off on the red eye to Lima where they let me stay in the lounge for my eight hour layover rather "inviting" me to re-register  (i.e. pay money) after my four hour Star Alliance allowance ran out! Still, it was a long trip and I was relieved to get to Havana where a cold beer and a cigar was waiting for me.
Del Frente, before the lunching hipsters rush.
Just briefly, had a nice meal at El Frente but it is getting too crowded with American hipsters! Ate three times at Bella Ciao, once at Nero de Seppia. 
Not Tibetan monks but cold Canadians.
Went to Cocinero on one very cold night (which meant we could actually get into the place, frickin American hipsters ruining another place) and they kindly handed out orange fleece blankets so we could stand being there. Also went to 4You for some drinks where, if you can believe it, we ran into a crowd of about 12 wannabe hipsters from Buffalo, NY! Then it dawned on me ... spring break in Havana. Yikes.
Danny back at Meson de la Flota!

Great to see everyone back together.
  Highlight was seeing Danny Villalonga coming back from Ecuador to dance flamenco with Ana Rosa of Grupo Ecos! Haven't seen them dance together for about 7 years.
Flamenco a second night at Tablao under the Gran Teatro.
My last chance to see Grupo Ecos before their 6 month tour in Turkey.
Had many late nights and closed Fabrica de Arte at 3 am and then closed another bar in Miramar at 4:15 am. Huge line up as usual at FAC but some of our compatriots have VIP cards so no waiting, no cover and we could go out onto the terrace of the VIP bar and smoke cigars. Have to get me one of those.

Hmm, apparently we are the hipsters at FAC.

Notable new restaurant, the Buena Vista Curry Club. I haven't mentioned it before since they only had a soft opening with a partial menu. But they now have Vindaloos, Butter Chicken (which was very tasty), and Tikka Masala (of course) to go with all their roast meats. They brought two Tandoor ovens from India along with Vilmar, the Indian hotel trained chef. He makes great Naan bread. And the best part, the place is cigar friendly! I brought some kimchi making supplies for the chef and they gave me one of the owner's giant custom cigars and a Chai Rum for dessert. And the kicker is, they have a large live band playing on the mezzanine that is a bit too loud BUT they have the last remaining orchestra member of the Benny More Orchestra. That is amazing.

Delia waiting for the curry!
The week also saw the baptism of my best friend Delia's son Jose, now residing in Miami. 

Enjoying cigars and the terrace with Pedro.
So Pedro came down from Toronto and I got to meet Christy's lovely adopted daughter Ester who now live in Rome. Lester was also down from Toronto with his two great kids Diego and Isla and it was awesome getting together with everyone at Delia's house (where I lived for about 7 years). 

The lovely senoritas Ester and Isla.
And another old friend of the house saw Lester's FB post on his way from Bolivia that same day and came by to play dominoes. 

Wonderful to sit out on the terrace with many bottles of rum, big cigars, and the family playing dominoes!

Jose's lovely wife Arlin

First time in 20+ years I have seen any of this family in a church!

Everyone in their Sunday best.

The Priest's assistant was a bit casually dressed ... Miami Heat sweatshirt, shouldn't be a surprise!
So made it for the first five minutes of the baptism before I had to head for the airport but that was nice to see as well.

Then after some ridiculous travel days, a short two hour flight home to San Salvador.

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