Recently announced as Mejor Picada in Chile’s 2009 Culinary Guide, Picada Ana Maria was at the top of my list of restaurants to dine at in Santiago. What once started out as a picada (a simple eatery that serves basic, inexpensive meals) is now a full-blown restaurant. Outstanding reviews of juicy meats, flawlessly cooked fish, divine desserts and attentive staff are enough to lure anyone in. Nevertheless, my dining experience was anything but what these recent raving reviews hyped it up to be.
Photo by Sofia Carvajal
It was a sunny Sunday and the taxi pulled up to what looked like just a house. I questioned the taxi-driver but he insisted that this was the place. As I drew closer to the quaint looking house I noticed a small sign to the right of the door: “Picada Ana Maria.” The door was locked so I rung the bell. Nobody came. I rang it for a second time and this seemed to have worked as a suited man opened the door, with a half-arsed attempt at a smile. ‘Grrr….grr,’ was what I seemed to hear. Apparently it meant, “Buenos días señor y señorita. I will show you to your table,’ in grumpy language.
Despite this rude introduction, the restaurant itself was pleasant enough. A big open room with dark mahogany wooden tables spaciously positioned and traditional wooden beams stretched across the ceiling, created an antique feel. The high yellow painted walls were covered with guns, deer heads and other hunting memorabilia. Being the weekend, it was packed with Chilean families and a few couples scattered here or there. Lots of smiles, laughter and smoke--the quintessential Chilean ambiance.
I was ecstatic when I looked at the menu. It included an extensive list of meats, and being a Brit where roast dinner is a must on a Sunday afternoon, I was hoping to relive this experience, Chilean style of course. Pheasant (CP$10,600/US$18), deer, wild boar, duck (CP$9,000/US$16), pork, partridge, hare and rabbit were just a few from the selection. We then had a choice of a sauces, be it fine herbs (CP$1,700/US$3), tarragon, mushroom and garlic amongst others. Finally, we needed an accompaniment which could involve stir-fried vegetables, creamed spinach (CP$1,800/US$3) or corn, choice of potatoes (CP$1,800/US$3), salad or just simple rice.
With so many choices, help was definitely needed from the waiters, who finally noticed us after a good thirty minutes of waiting at our table. I chose deer and my partner chose ostrich. We asked him what sauce he recommended and he boldly stated, “None whatsoever. These meats are rich and tender just as they are.” We also asked for some vino tinto (red wine).
Our food arrived before our drinks were served, a little too quickly for my liking. I asked again for the wine and began tucking into my dish. My knife would barely cut through the meat as it was so dry and tough. The ostrich was identical. Both were certainly not oozing with juice and completely the opposite of tender. A sauce was definitely needed and fresher meat wouldn’t have hurt either. Ana Maria is supposed to specialize in cooking meats and for this I was very disappointed. Furthermore, the creamed spinach was soggy and bland, like eating a solid form of water. Nevertheless the spicy mashed potatoes were pureed perfectly with a subtle warmth from the chili.
I had to ask yet again for the wine and it finally appeared after our shockingly poor meal. We drank to make up for the failure in the kitchen and the turtle-like service, avoided desserts, complained, then drunkenly stumbled to the nearest empanada stand to fill our rumbling stomachs.
Besides the array of people one can watch, the assortment of things on the walls and the potato, in my opinion, there is no other reason to dine at ‘Picada Ana Maria.’ The menu fails to be the stated quintessential Chilean cuisine and is highly expensive, making me wonder what judge would have ever dubbed this place number one picada in Chile.
Then again, we could have just been unlucky.
Picada Ana Maria
Club Hípico 476
Hours: Mon-Sat 12pm-4pm and 7pm-midnight; Sun 12pm-4pm
Phone: 02 698 4064