Fresh on the heels of my Buenos Aires tasting menu experience, I had the chance to go for round two right here in Santiago. Sukalde has been on my radar for quite a while – I even had reservations but had to cancel when my partner in fine dining got sick. Luckily we were able to find another slot in our schedules to make our culinary dreams a reality.
The decoration did throw me for a bit of a loop. From the outside, looking into the bar area, things looked pretty modern. But inside it seemed more geared to the 50+ crowd. Of course, that’s the age group that can actually afford to eat here regularly, so it may just be a case of knowing your audience.
Sarah and I had come into the evening sure of one thing: six course tasting menu, baby. There is also a nine course tasting menu (which would have just been excessive) as well as a la carte options, but we never hesitated.
We took far longer perusing the drinks menu which offered both combinations – dry ice as an ingredient – and names – a Fucking Carrot, anyone? – neither of us had seen before. Sarah chose a tropical concoction with a haystack of lemon peel while I stuck to a twist on the classic Chilean pisco sour. Sukalde’s bar tender served up classic lemon, chancaca (similar to molasses) and calafate (a Patagonian berry) sours in oversized shot glasses.
Sukalde’s focus is on the unexpected, and our first bite reinforced this theme. What looked like a big pat of butter was in fact creamy hummus to go with the warm roll.
Our amuse bouche seemed made for girls’ night out with its pink theme. The salmon mousse was delicious on its own, and the combination with pickled fennel added a flavor I hadn’t had before.
The tasting menu started off with a Peruvian-inspired causa made of mashed potato with seafood. The use of beets to color the inside and squid ink for the outside gave the causa the appearance of a sushi roll packed with king crab, razor clams and cheese and drizzled with mayonnaise. I’m not really sure how the plantain chip tied in, to be honest, but it was definitely the best plantain chip I’ve had!
Starter number 2 may have been even better. This trio of shrimp featured shrimp fried two ways – one in a panko crust – on a tiny little mound of mashed potato. I had my doubts about the pear puree in the middle of the plate, but it turns out that pear and shrimp is a winning combination. I think for sheer taste, the panko shrimp was my favorite of the three, but the shrimp ceviche won the creativity award with its sprinkling of popcorn dust.
Caldillo de congrio is a dish so famous in Chile that Pablo Neruda dedicated an ode to it. In Sukalde’s version, that ode is written in its entirety on a thin potato vellum balanced on a large conger eel steak, and broth is added to the bowl at your table. The broth had a hearty flavor, and the conger eel was well cooked, but this was my least favorite dish of the night. It just didn’t jump out at me as much as the other courses.
Perhaps Sukalde was just preparing me for what was to come: the highlight of the meal. Asado de tira is a short rib cut that I usually see barbecued in Chile and Argentina, and it has a tendency to be overcooked. This version was fall-off-the-bone tender, bringing me back to my childhood kitchen and one of my mom’s specialties. The wine reduction sauce was perfection, and the spinach risotto made of mote, a husked wheat kernel, provided the feeling of comfort food while also introducing an unexpected element. A truly wonderful dish.
The first dessert course was whimsical. Called “the soap dish,” it combined a spiced cake with lavender mousse and honey foam to give the appearance of being ready to scrub up. The gels around the edge, reminiscent of bath time jelly stickers, added more to the presentation than they did to the taste, but they still gave a fun touch.
I consider myself a chocolate fan, but our last course did me in. Sukalde’s “textures of chocolate” was incredibly rich, with a chocolate mouse, chocolate mint ganache and chocolate panna cotta. With extra chocolate. I enjoyed each element, although I will admit that I didn’t manage to clean my plate.
Dinner at Sukalde doesn’t come cheap, and our tasting menu cost $35.000 (US$70). That price is similar to what we paid for lunch at Lapostolle winery, so of course I couldn’t help but compare the two. Lapostolle is easy to appreciate: the scenery is stunning, and your lunch is paired with incredible wine.
Sukalde is more for the true lover of gastronomy. If you’re just looking for a good meal in Santiago, save your pesos and go elsewhere. There’s plenty of good food in this city at lower prices. If, however, you want to not only enjoy your meal but be surprised by it and try combinations you wouldn’t never have imagined, head to Sukalde.
More in this series:
Saturday in Santiago