For a different take on Latin America, as well as a free bottle of wine, the unexpected flavors of Chilean cuisine will make for an unforgettable Valentine's Day. This Saturday, Sabores Chilenos will treat any couple that comes in for dinner to a bottle of wine.
Although Chile shares a 4,000-kilometer border with Argentina, that nation's steak and Malbec wines have long outshone the subtle flavors of Chilean cuisine. However, with an equal amount of some of the richest coastline on Earth, internationally renowned agriculture, and a wine culture that's quickly gaining critical acclaim, Chile could become the next superstar of South American cuisine. Sabores Chilenos certainly isn't trying to become the next hot destination in Miami dining, but for those who want to move past the Cuban restaurants, the recent influx of taquerias, and the bevy of cevicherias that dot the city, Sweetwater is the farthest you'll need to travel.
For the past 20 years, owner Ingrid Encina has been serving the little-known flavors of Chile, a combination of Spanish, German, and even Italian influences, with techniques developed by Chile's natives, the Mapuche. A haven for expats looking for a taste of home, the restaurant is now an extremely rare destination in Miami for the specific dishes. Specials and availability rotate on an almost daily basis, but for those who love hearty meat-and-potatoes-style cooking, Sabores Chilenos won't disappoint.
While most of the clientele tends to be Chilean, the welcoming staff will make curious diners feel right at home. The dining room is small, with seating for about 30, though for anyone that's been to Chile, this means that 50 can fit comfortably. Glass cases full of pastries, candies, chocolates, and other Chilean treats surround the room, making it next to impossible to think about ordering from the savory menu. Sundays fill up quickly, especially if a major soccer game is on or famed footballer Alexis Sanchez is running the field for Manchester United.
A typical meal at the restaurant (or in Chile, for that matter) might begin with golden baked empanadas stuffed with pino -- a mix of ground beef, garlic, and onion -- and half a boiled egg. If you're looking for fried food, try the empanadas de queso with a side of Chilean pebre, a saucier take on Mexico's pico de gallo. For a taste of that famous produce, dig into an humita, a fresh corn tamale served in the husk, best accompanied by an ensalada chilena, made with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro and dressed with lemon juice and a dash of oil.
Before you order entrées, know that Chileans love to eat. Even the appetizer portions and accompanying salads aren't small. A trip to Sabores Chilenos is a voyage to the working-class countryside of Chile, where eating heartily is a staple of daily life.
For dinner, as it would be called everywhere outside Santiago, Chile's capital and main center of industrialized living, meat and fish remain the standards. Carne a la parrilla -- a hefty eight- to ten-ounce steak cooked to order and accompanied by golden-brown papas doradas -- is a signature dish. Those looking for a taste of Chile's coast should order the caldillo de congrio, made famous by Pablo Neruda's ode to the dish.
Perhaps the most revered item on the menu is the pastel de choclo, a dish not unfamiliar to Peru and Argentina but most famous (and most delicious) in Chile. A clay bowl is filled with the pino mixture you'll find in the empanadas, half a hard-boiled egg, and sometimes even a roasted chicken leg. This is topped with a corn pie, made thick by the corn's natural starches, which is then baked until firm. Much like the aforementioned humitas, pastel de choclo is best accompanied with an ensalada chilena, though you shouldn't be surprised if you see native clientele adding some sugar to heighten the corn's sweetness.
For dessert, you could go with a tall chilled glass of mote con huesillos, a sweet liquid of cooked wheat berries in a juice made with sugar, water, and dehydrated peaches. You'll either love it or hate it. There's also flan, leche asada, and plain old ice cream.
Whether or not you have room for dessert, no trip to Sabores Chilenos is complete without a trip to the adjacent market. After dinner, browse the deep selection of Chilean wines, many of which you won't find at local grocers. Pair those with Chilean chocolates or even an alfajor, a sweet sandwich made of dulce de leche mashed between two soft crackers, rolled in coconut.
Much like Miami food bears little resemblance to the cuisine of other American cities, Chilean cuisine is unique within South America. Sweetwater might not be the obvious choice for Valentine's Day dinner, but even if it's just for a bottle of free wine, the trip is worth it.
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