We have been traveling for a while and have had our share of experiences. One of the most universal to human beings is eating, which crosses all demographics and cultures. For most that know us, I can be described as “trying anything once or twice” kind of guy while Molly, generally speaking, is the opposite. She has been known to turn down foods based on texture, look, smell and even perceptions. Our most memorable culinary experience, so far, occurred in Valparaiso, Chile under the most random of circumstances.
Our last day in Valparaiso, we continued our tradition of eating out the first and last day of anywhere we stayed. After perusing the web I picked dinner at Malandrino, the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor. There was one small problem with the plan… Malandrino is closed on Mondays. For “Plan B”, I chose the next highest rated restaurant in the same area of Cerro Concepcion : Bijoux RestoBar. It only had a hand full of reviews that were all nearly perfect and most importantly it was open on Mondays. We had our hostel call in a reservation for 20:00 (8 PM) and made our way to Viña del Mar (what some would call the nicer part of the greater Valparaiso area) for the last day of looking around.
Fast- forward 6 hours later, we were still walking along the waterfront on the way back to Valparaiso, our scheduled appointment with food lingering and our appetites ever increasing. We could have taken the bus or train back, but the walk was refreshing and we had nowhere better to go. Molly’s stomach insisted we arrive as soon as possible, as she put it, “they have to take us early”. Sure enough, we arrived 30 minutes early to a darkened street and searched for the restaurant, passing by several people lingering in a doorway. Having reached the end of the street, we realized we may have passed it already so we backtracked. It turns out the doorway with the lingering people WAS our restaurant, just then opening. I guess living in NYC for so long had spoiled us to how most places still operated. No big deal, we went to the corner and had a few drinks while we waited.
Arriving 30 minutes passed our scheduled reservation, we walked into a mostly empty restaurant (only one other couple was seated and almost done with their meal). Was this a bad omen? Had we chosen poorly? We would soon find out. The owner and chef, Sebastian, approached our table and explained how things worked at Bijoux. He had just come from Santiago (and the reason the restaurant opened at 20:00) where he had bought all the ingredients fresh for that night at the market. He further explained that there was no menu and his preparation for us would be based on the ingredients he just purchased and our tastes. He discussed specifically what we would want that night and our likes and dislikes.
I was open to anything and insisted that there was nothing I would not try at least once… or twice, but I wanted something that would showcase the flavors and tastes of Chile. Molly was a bit more selective about her options, but to her credit went with fish and old bread.
After our orders were placed, a new arrival came into the restaurant while the other couple left. Sebastian used the same personal attention and discussion as he had used on us with the new arrival, who wanted something meaty to eat that night. After her order was placed, we offered up an invitation to dine with us as we were the only patrons in the restaurant. Alice was her name and she was from London. We found out, that like ourselves, she had quit her modern life and was now traveling the world as well. Her mode of transport was a bicycle. She had successfully transversed Europe from Constanța to Spain and was now challenging Chile for a good cause: Unseen UK (a charity raising money for helping survivors of human trafficking).
In the midst of a really good conversation, our food started arriving. It just smelled and looked delicious, that sadly my pictures cannot do them justice. Sebastian returned and recommended some Chilean wine, which would be difficult to find in stores as they were of a limited batch and straight from the vineyard. The rest of the “food porn” pictures can be found here and here. As we began to eat, we asked if he could join us. Our solo dinner had turned into a dinner party of sorts, complete with the chef. He dove into his training (trained at the Culinary Academy in Valparaiso), where he had grown up (born in Sweden to Chilean parents) and the history of the restaurant (only officially open for 6 months). It was all very personal and cordial.
After a while of talking, back-and-worth, he offered us dessert and wine to complement the dessert. After finishing the desserts and serving them, a bit of chaos ensued when a fresh delivery occurred. Some fresh stone fish had been brought in and I was invited into the kitchen to take a look. How many times can one say one was invited into the kitchen, by the chef, to peruse, touch and play with the ingredients?? This was a first for me.
We returned to the table for some more wine and conversation, this time with the hostess and sous chef joining in. Sebastian showed (taste and touch) us the jaw of a stone fish, some blue corn and the fresh herbs that he would use normally. The atmosphere was lively and joyous as Sebastian and his sous chef posed for some photos. It is always hard to end a night especially when it is as enjoyable as this one, but unfortunately we had a 3 hour bus ride back to Santiago the next day.
We started the day making reservations to get food and then get some rest but we ended up staying more than five hours, going back to our hostel in the early morning hours, meeting some really interesting people and having the kind of experience that we will not soon forget. This is what life-off track is all about although we do occasionally have to pay the price for it in the morning, but it is all worth it.