By the time we left Rancho Doña Maria to drive back to our hotel in Santiago I really didn’t want to think about more food, let alone eat it. We had already had a wonderful seafood breakfast at the Mercado Central and two huge and delicious lunches at El Meson de la Patagonia and at Rancho Doña Maria. The good news was that we were going to a restaurant that specializes in seafood and I can always make room for some good seafood. When the seafood is as wonderful as it turned out to be at Aqui Está Coco, a stylish and historic restaurant in the Providencia section of Santiago, making room is not an issue.
The name, Aqui Está Coco is a bit odd for a restaurant, but of course, it has a story, which we heard from Francisca Pacheco, the daughter of Jorge “Coco” Pacheco, the restaurant’s founder, owner and visionary. Francisca, now a partner in the restaurant along with her parents and her sister, was our dining companion and hostess for the evening. With strong family connections in the fishing industry, Coco Pacheco started a restaurant called “Coco Loco” with a partner in 1973 at the age of 23 during a time of crisis in Chile and built up a strong reputation for quality and great food only to find issues with his partner. Pacheco left and they kept the name. However, the restaurant’s reputation came from him, so when he set up a new place with the backing of his family he made sure that his customers knew where he was by announcing it in the name itself – “Coco is Here!” His mother was the main cook at first and Coco learned from her. When she died in 1981, he took over the kitchen completely. The restaurant continued to grow and prosper until 2008 when it was destroyed by a fire.In 2010 the restaurant, which had become a Santiago institution, re-opened as a “green” restaurant. Designed by the architect Gino Falcone, who also happened to be dining with us that evening, the new restaurant combined old and new in fabulous ways. From their website:
In addition, the restaurant serves sustainable, seasonal seafood from the Chilean seas. They do not serve the endangered Patagonian Toothfish (aka Chilean Sea Bass), but they do have tuna on the menu:
Forty percent of the materials used for the reconstruction were recycled, form the floor that was salvaged from an old gymnasium in Osorno, to the stairs that lead to the second floor that come from a bank La Unión, everything has a history that is reinvented.
Details like the placemats made out of salmon skin that eliminate the need for tablecloths and thus reduce the energy consumption and its effects on the Earth.
The wood comes from renewable forests, and the inside spaces meet acoustic, light and temperature standards based on international parameters that seek to ensure human well being with a minimal energy expenditure.
The sustainability of vulnerable economies, such as that of small scale farmers in la Araucanía, is reflected in the constant display of the quality of their products in our cooking.
Protect the remaining 4% worldwide, do not consume
Of course, the fun design, green sense and sustainability ethos would all be just window dressing if they didn’t serve great food, but if the food we had is any indication, they certainly do. They describe their food as “simple and honest” preferring “just the taste of the Pacific Ocean.” Francisca described their approach as “We don’t try to be something that we are not, we are a Chilean seafood restaurant, nothing more.”
Pisco is the national beverage of Chile and one which Aqui Está Coco takes special pride in. I got to try three different cocktails based on Pisco and not one was the classic Pisco Sour. The Camahueto with Pisco, fresh pineapple, basil and lemon (center of the photo) was perhaps my favorite of the three – tropical, refreshing and delicious. The others all excelled as well. The red Querida Mary was a version of a Bloody mary substituting Pisco for Vodka and adding the Chilean touches of dried peach and chile. The third, Refrescante de Otoño, combined Pisco with lemon and yellow chile and was also a superb cocktail.The first bites to hit our table were these meaty snow crab claws served with a bracingly delicious mixed seafood ceviche. Locos are similar to abalone and the word is translated as abalone, but they are not quite the same thing. Locos are naturally more tender than abalone. They are wildly popular in Chile and based on these, I understand why. This was a completely different ceviche than the one with the crab claws and was equally delicious. These were just getting me warmed up. I have rarely had more tender or tastier octopus than this preparation. The black olive sauce was a perfect complement to the thinly sliced cephalopod. Mussels in Chile are unlike any I have seen or eaten anywhere else. They are huge! The size of a small adult shoe, they are also quite meaty. These came with a flavorful pico de gallo.
The Chilean black-fringed osters that followed were small, but meaty, firm, briny and outstanding with nothing but a squeeze of lemon. If anything were to taste “of the Pacific” it would be these gorgeous bivalves. I could have eaten nothing more than these all night and would have been perfectly satisfied.
At this point we got up for a tour of the restaurant including the kitchen, where Francisca had a special treat in store for us – fresh sea urchin right from the shell. The restaurant’s chef, Enrique de Carpio, opened them for us himself. He searched four different urchin looking for a particularly special treat for us to try – small crabs – cangrejos – that are parasitic to the urchins. They are supposedly quite tasty, but unfortunately these specimens were too healthy and parasite free.
We enjoyed another visual treat in the kitchen – the preparation of a large king crab for service. The cook paring the crab down to manageable portions for an elegant service made it look so easy.We returned to our table downstairs in the intimate Cava to find that the king crab was destined for our table.
The crab was sweet, briny and wonderful. Rather than drawn butter as it would be partnered with in the United States, they use mayonnaise. Either way, it is a magnificent creature that makes for magnificent dining.Our final savory dish was more sea urchin. This was spread on toast and doused with pebre, a Chilean salsa. Somehow my appetite was still functioning.
Like locos are translated as abalone, this cooked fruit is translated as papaya, but it is quite different from what we know as papaya. These are actually an Andean fruit called carica, which I have, on occasion seen in the United States, imported from Chile. Served in a syrup, they are quite tasty and unique, most closely resembling canned peaches to my palate. That said, they most certainly are not canned peaches. They are reported to be extremely high in many desirable nutrients.
As if language differences can’t be confusing enough, the word tuna in Chile has nothing to do with the great fish. Instead it refers to the cactus fruit that we called prickly pear. It is a very popular seasonal fruit in Chile, but it isn’t one that has ever really been one of my favorites. As this fruit goes, it was good, but still not the highlight of my meal.
Lucuma is another fruit from the Andes, one I first had in Peru. The Suspiro or woman’s sigh is a traditional dessert of Lima, but was well suited for Santiago as well. It is a sweet dessert typically based on manjar blanco or dulce de leche. This one incorporated the flavor of lucuma and was quite tasty.This was a millefeuille cake flavored with manjar blanco. It was delicious, but by this time I was in total calorie and sugar overload. I could only manage a taste. Our final dessert was well named. Made with dark and white chocolates and bathed in a lovely citrus sauce this was delicious, yet I could still only manage a taste of this too.
I had already mentioned that Aqui Está coco specializes in Piscos. We were served this one, which spent twelve months in wood as a digestif at the end of this fabulous meal. Its service was much needed by me as I was fully sated.
It was a pity that I was, as we had just touched the surface of the briny delights available here. As much as my eyes would have liked to though, I could eat no more on this glorious day of dining, crowned by such wonderful treasures from the depths. No, this day of devilish dining was now closed. Yet, the night wasn’t over. There were still more glories of Chile to come….