Monday, July 31, 2006

Chile: so much avocado

Santiago is a lovely town when you have a tour guide, and luckily, I do! Valentino´s cousin Juan Pedro has taken charge of me since my arrival here three days ago, and my intestines are much happier than they were in Peru.

Embarking on our gastronomical adventures yesterday we began the day with ¨cafe con piernas,¨or ¨coffee with legs.¨ These smoke-filled coffee bars in downtown Santiago are staffed by depressed-looking women wearing lots of makeup and shorter-than-short skintight dresses which would not be flattering even on a Hooters waitress. The coffee was expensive and tasted terrible, but it was an interesting slice of downtown Santiago to see. I prefer cheap little neighborhood cafes which serve up cafe con leche, or mugs of steamed milk with a little scoop of Nescafe instant coffee.

After taking the ¨huevos en el cielo¨or little rail pods up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, we had empanadas de pino, which are little steamed turnovers filled with chopped onions and spiced meat, a quarter of a hard-boiled egg, and a large black olive with a pit. The olives here are much larger and sharper-tasting than any I´ve had stateside, and then empanadas were lovely. Accompanying them was a refreshing drink of ¨Mote con huesillo,¨ which is a strange-looking and sweet concoction in which a large, whole, dried peach is boiled in water with wheat grains. The resulting juice is ladled into a glass with the whole peach and some wheat grains, served with a spoon.

Avocados are prevalent everywhere you look in Chile, and Santiaguenos are shocked when I tell them the price (around $3) for a Haas avocado in California. Here, you get 3 kilos of avocados for about 15 cents.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The bug that was bound to happen

While such fine San Francisco restaurants such as Fresca serve up Peruvian food that is muy authentico and also muy delicioso, I am doing all I can to stay away from Peruvian food here in Peru.

Arriving last week from Lima to Cusco required some acclimatization; for a person who has lived her whole life either at or below sea level, suddenly being at 3300 meters was a shock to the system. I did my best, hiking through Inca ruins and bartering for hairy alpaca jumpers in the marketplace, to play the part of the open-minded tourist.

However, when the tour guide I hired off the street took me to a mud hut in a tiny Quechua village for a really "authentic" Peruvian experience, I should have said no to the food. I tried a bite of ch´uño, which is a freeze-dried Andean potato. To be exact, the little brown potatoes are harvested and left in a cold field to rot. Once they have rotted, they are stomped on by the locals´feet (which are not pretty as nobody wears socks, EVER, no matter how cold it gets in the Andes). After being stomped flat and inside-out by cracked feet, they are left in the field again to freeze. Once "preserved" like this, the potatoes will keep in a mud attic for years. Wonder of wonders.

So I tasted the potato, which hadn´t had anything done to it except for being thrown into a bowl with some white rice. It tasted exactly like you think a rotten potato that has been stomped on by filthy feet and then been left to freeze in a field would taste: completely disgusting. I fed the rest of mine to a dog when no-one was looking, but the two polite bites I tood were enough to give me a raging bacterial infection. I languished for a couple of days with a resting heart rate of 170 and extremely low blood pressure, but when my fever reached 40 degrees (celsius), the kind woman at the hostal called a doctor who came to my bedside and immediately gave me a shot. He prescribed a ton of medication including a course of antibiotics that I´m sure weren´t approved by the FDA but made me completely better right away.

So much better, in fact, that I was able to leave for my 4-day trek to Macchu Pichu the next morning, although when on the second morning we were invited into a Quechua hut to see how people in the Andes have always lived, I politely declined the bit of boiled potato that was offered to me.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Inka Capital

Cusco is an amazing town. The ancient capital of the Inca empire, it has beautiful ruins that were built over by the Spanish in the 1500s. When earthquakes shake the town, the Spanish architecture falls down and the Inca stuff stays.
I´m suffering a bit from the altitude, I hiked around a ruin yesterday for several hours and then drank a couple of Pisco sours last night, BIG MISTAKE. All of the warnings your guidebooks give you to take it easy when you first arrive at a place very high in the mountains (Cusco is at 11,000 feet) are absolutely right. I plan to wander around aimlessly today and eat some fruit.
Tomorrow I´m taking an unofficial tour up into the mountains--a woman approached me on the street to give me a tour of the Temple of the Moon yesterday and I took her up on the offer. Thank goodness I did because it was the best tour I´ve ever had in my life. So tomorrow we are taking the bus for an hour upwards to have lunch with some of her Quechua friends. I´m really excited to spend the afternoon with a traditional Andean family.
I had a really good meal at someone´s home in Lima but will blog about it next time as I am dizzy from computer fumes. I better be a picture of strapping mountain health when I come down out of this place. Thin air makes me feel dopey.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Lima, Peru. Day 1.

Restaurant Girl won´t be getting the scoop on San Francisco restaurants for a few months (you´ll have to turn to The Tablehopper for your juice) as she´s travelled to South America to see how they do things there. So far, no restaurants have been examined, but what I can say is that the bus system in Lima, Peru, is hilarious! Random automobiles of all sizes zoom along the roads, sometimes four deep in a two lane street, honking, and with people hanging out of all windows. One of these people is the bus hawker, who yells out where the bus is going, pounds on the door if the driver should stop, and takes fares (which seem to be completely arbitrary amounts of money). The bus hawker swings himself all over the outside of the moving vehicle, and watching the grannies get a running start from the street and swing themselves up onto the floor of an ancient Mitsubishi van that´s painted all over the outside with things like the Tasmanian devil and sayings like ¨Read the Bible¨(in Spanish, of course), is much more fun than waiting tables for now.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Subscribe to Restaurant Girl

Restaurant Girl has finally gotten with the flow and added a couple of buttons so her loyal readership/gossipmongers can subscribe. Just click on the link at the top of the page, or the one at the side of the page above "Dish-Approved Links." No more will you have to wonder if Restaurant Girl's posted again!

This just in...

MECCA SF has sacked its chef Sergio Santiago and replaced him with a new chef/co-owner Randy Lewis . Lewis, a much-lauded Sonoma County transplant who most recently headed the kitchen at
Kendall Jackson , should bring a breath of fresh air to the restaurant which got dropped from three stars to one-and-a-half by San Francisco's almightily terrifying food critic Michael Bauer. The restaurant, which was bought by new owners last year after a ten-year run by the original queens, looks to be taking a decidedly different turn. The new owners want to make it a dining destination, in addition to a hipster bar scene with smokin'-hot employees of ambiguous sexuality. Restaurant Girl's inside source at Mecca says the new sous-chef is just as delicious-looking as Randy Lewis' food promises to be.

Too bad the entire kitchen staff walked out this afternoon--looks like the two new guys will be running the line alone, unless a cook reads this post and calls the restaurant, wanting to fill in!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Doing Shots During Service

Last Wednesday all of the servers were called into work at The Restaurant, although there wasn't even 40 reservations on the book. All of us looked confusedly at each other, dressed in our white shirts and ties, and wondered how we were going to make any money. Well, we weren't.

There was to be a winemaker dinner the next night, and the restaurant would be closed to the public and we'd be denigrated to the job title of caterers (although we'd still be making our regular wage: MINIMUM). Because it was a winemaker dinner, there were to be 34 wines poured before and during dinner. We were there to wash and polish all of the rented crystal stemware.

Although the servers had sadly been given a three- or four-table section each, two of us quickly gave our tables away and took off our ties. Sitting down on the banquettes to polish, polish, and gossip won out making maybe $50, and we knew we'd get to leave earlier if we gave away all of our tables. Teal was bitter because she'd been given the cocktail lounge for her section (after six months of working in The Restaurant she'd never had to take this section), and I was bitter because I'd had to cut a camping trip with Valentino a day short to come in on a day that I was only on-call to polish wineglasses.

So, what's a couple of girls to do? Run across the street during service and take shots, of course! We grabbed the only other girl who works in The Restaurant (the hostess) and sprinted out the back door with the excuse that we were going to smoke (which only Teal does). Across the street at our favorite watering hole it was happy hour and we perched on the barstools and ordered a couple of Red Stripes. Our friendly bartender made up a shakerful of something refreshing and kamikaze-like, pouring it into four rocks glasses. We all clinked cheers, pounded our beers, and rushed back across the street to the theme song from "Purple Rain."

Heading back into the building, we ran into the owner as he was coming out, leaving for the night. Luckily, Teal had a cigarette in hand. He wished us a lovely evening polishing glassware, hopped in his Mercedes, and sped away. Needless to say, our night was much improved. As we sat morosely buffing, the sommelier felt sorry for us and opened up a bottle of prosecco, with the explicit instructions not to share: the servers working on the floor would have to stay late and finish polishing, and they'd have their own bottle. Suckas.