Sunday, July 22, 2012

Samsara restaurant review - Valparaiso

Brace yourselves for a collection of restaurant reviews, 'cause I'm in the mood to post about food today. And several of the places that L and I have been over the past several months deserve a mention, in hopes that I can save a few weary spice-deprived travelers some valuable time and grief by throwing in my two cents about where to stuff your face in Chile and Argentina.

Which brings me to my next post: Samsara, a Thai place nestled in the winding streets of the hill of Cerro Alegre in Valparaiso. Sure, it sounds expensive. It is. But is it worth it? Oh, yes.

Tip #1: Make a reservation at least a day in advance. If you forgot, make one in the afternoon as early as possible. The venue is very small, and if you don't have much time in Valparaiso, you may miss out.  Almirante Montt 427, Cerro Alegre., Valparaiso, Chile  Phone: (32) 2592492
Tip #2: You can take the bus to the bottom of the hill and hail a taxi there to bring you to the top. I believe it's called Plazuela Anibal Pinto.  It's walkable, but straight uphill and not very comfortable. Especially if you're dressed somewhat nicely.
So, the prices. It's expensive. But, the price for each entree does include a salad and a dessert. So keep that in mind when you are reviewing the menu and recovering from sticker shock (if you've lived in Chile or Argentina long enough, anyway). 

The service was great; our server was from France originally, and very friendly, efficient and sweet. We were really impressed by her. The only problem was that a few of their wines on their wine list were not in stock, and it took 3 tries to find a bottle that they had on hand. In the end, we decided on this carmenére (after a bottle of Torrontés or Sauvignon Blanc, I believe.. it's been a while). Some San Pellegrino to keep us sober-ish, and we were good to go.
Pad Thai
The food was delicious. I ordered the shrimp pad Thai (pictured right). Admittedly, it isn't the "pad thai" I am used to, as the sauce was more savory and less nutty or coconutty than usual. It did feature peanuts. But it was still really tasty and the vegetables were perfect.  L had the green curry, which he claimed was pretty "damn hot" and he cleaned his plate. A nice touch was the monkey design in paprika atop the rice plate that accompanied his dish.

The candlelight and atmosphere was very romantic without seeming stuffy or trying too hard. We really, really liked it.
Paprika Monkey!
All in all, we were very impressed with the food and service and absolutely loved the location and ambience in the place. If we ever find ourselves in Valparaiso again, this is on our list of must-do's again. 

Entremasas - empanadas in Viña del Mar

Ok, gente. You need to do yourselves a favor and go to one of the several locations for this empanada shop. Why? Because it's delicious, and they have so many different options for fillings, you will be paralyzed with indecision. There are 40 different empanadas to choose from. You will be rewarded with whatever you end up choosing.

Hi, I'm a delicious crab (jaiba) empanada!
We visited the one by the boardwalk on Seis Poniente ( 6 Poniente 235, Viña del Mar. Phone: 032-2979919)  and also their smaller location on 5 Norte (5 Norte 377, Viña del Mar. Phone: 032-2971821) . I recommend the first location, especially if you're with a large group. I haven't been to the third location in Reñaca.

Our favorites were the crab with cheese (Jaiba y queso), crab with cheese, spicy sauce and other stuff (ok, it's crab, creme, turmeric, hot pepper & cheese) (jaiba, crema cúrcuma, merquén y queso)  and the spicy chicken (picante de pollo). Also pretty baller is the shrimp with mushrooms, cilantro sauce & cheese (camarones con champiñones en salsa de cilantro con queso). Stick to the fried ones. The appetizers are also pretty good, with the fried calamari and selection of salsas being a favorite.

Beer is pretty cheap, and the hot sauce is actually spicy. The service is hit or miss (as with anywhere else outside of the USA, really) - but if you're looking for some delicious fried empanadas and seafood, look no further and stop at Entremasas.

New Year's in Valparaiso, Chile

I suck at posting. I was in the US for quite a while, and getting my fill of all things American and Texan distracted me from updating this thing. Mil disculpas.

I don't remember a whole lot from New Year's Eve in Valparaiso, but what I did remember is below, included in a list of a few pointers, for those who are thinking of spending New Year's Eve in Valpo in the future:

The scene at Plaza Sotomayor - safe, but crowded.
Toward the pier (between the buildings) it gets much, much worse.

1) DO go to Plaza Sotomayor but stay in the areas where they have the stages set up for the bands. They sell all kinds of alcohol (mostly beer) and food (italian sausage, chicken kebabs, etc). Bring cash, but not much. Don't bring anything with you that you wouldn't mind having stolen, or that's not attached to you. Normally I wouldn't wear a money belt, but I'd consider one for this night.

2) DO NOT stand on the pier just under where they shoot off the fireworks (in Plaza Sotomayor). The crowd is large, dense, and dangerous. Men were grabbing me and my boyfriend was right next to me. People were shoving their hands into his pockets, trying to pickpocket him. It's not worth it, and it was downright scary. If you insist on being this close, be warned.

Oh, we were ready.
3) BUY the cheap plastic champagne glasses and party favors, noisemakers, crazy sunglasses, masks, lucky yellow undies, and other fun stuff from the street merchants all around the city on the 2 days leading up to NYE. They are all pretty cheap and have some fun stuff that you won't mind losing/breaking/giving away.

4) MAKE DINNER RESERVATIONS IN ADVANCE. Especially at the popular places on the hills, that are booked up weeks in advance. Figure out where you want to eat and bite the bullet, and pay the ridiculous $$$ to do it. At least you'll have a plan, and you'll be out of the danger zone down below near the water (of partygoers, broken glass and mischief). We tried to get into Brighton (Website here) a day in advance, and it was already fully booked.

Valparaiso - one of the squares all dolled up for the holidays
5) Make sure you have a hostel or hotel booked far in advance. We stayed at our go-to place El Rincón del Marino, which we love because it's cheap and clean, and the owners are friendly. It's not the nicest place, but it's certainly pretty good for the price and in a location with easy access to transit and going to Viña del Mar/up the coast if you have done and seen most of Valparaiso.

6) Buy champagne and alcohol at the supermarket or liquor stores the day before or early that day. You'll want to bring your own with you if you do decide to brave the crowds and party in the street, and they begin to sell out of stuff pretty quickly the closer it gets to New Year's eve early evening.

7) If a random Chilean family offers to let you watch the fireworks from their ridiculously large picture windows on Paseo Gervasconi, for the fee of $40 per person without alcohol (and ask that you bring some to share with them), politely decline. It is tempting, but it ain't worth it. True story.

We did have a great time in Valparaiso, and the Chileans really know how to party. The fireworks are amazing and definitely the most elaborate displays I've ever seen, maybe. I'm not sure if it is the same or better than the Macy's 4th of July fireworks over NYC which I've also seen up close and personal... but they're pretty damn amazing.

Just be careful, watch your stuff, and make sure at least one person in your party is sober enough to get you home and out of trouble!