April 22, 2008

My new favorite doughnut

Donuts are glorious treats, a cross-cultural ambassador of cuisine, if you will. Most cultures have some kind of sweet, fried dough, ranging from Taiwanese yo-tiao to Greek loukoumades to French beignets. If I could only have one kind of donut, it would absolutely be a maple bar. Soft and pillowy dough topped with a perfect maple frosting... simplicity in its best expression, and the king of donuts for me. Until now. More on that in a moment.

Earlier, I denigrated airplane food. I'm going to go in the opposite direction and share a surprisingly good meal I had at the airport in Puerto Natales. Keep in mind that this is a tiny airport. Like three gates, one restaurant. It's called "Restaurant." My hopes weren't high, but I wanted to use their wi-fi connection and power outlet, and we had 2 hours to kill before our flight to Puerto Montt, so we ordered some food. I went for the brochette of beef, which turned out to be some kabobs of really nicely grilled beef, hot dog (!!), onion and bell pepper. Again, the meat wasn't seasoned at all, but the quality of the beef came through. Seared nicely, tender, juicy, flavorful... way better than I was expecting.

We ended up that afternoon in Puerto Varas, where I had my first transformative food moment of the trip. We asked the folks at our hostel to point us to a good panaderia, and they sent us to Cafe Dane, a bakery and restaurant a block from the town square. They're rumored to have the best empanadas in town, but I was craving a sweet snack. Though she spoke no English, the proprietor kindly and patiently pointed us to a small shelf of buns, explaining that they were fried, and each one had a different filling. Hey, a donut... they called them Berlins! Crema (sounded good), marmalade (I was afraid it would be too sweet), and dulce de leche... bingo, I'll take the third one.

One bite of the pastry and I was in a different place... the kind of feeling you get when you stop caring about what's happening around you and you stop in your tracks and just stare at the thing you're eating, chewing slowly to extract every moment of the pleasure of flavor enveloping your senses. The dough was luxuriously soft, with only a deliciously faint hint of sweetness. Inside, the filling was straight up dulce de leche with walnuts... but not at all overly sweet. Instead, the rich flavor and texture of caramel was the most prominent. Basic flavors, but fashioned carefully to avoid what could otherwise be an overpowering amount of sweetness. The best "doughnut" I've ever had. I was still thinking about it when I woke up the next morning.

That evening, we had dinner at Las Buenas Brasas, a cozy little restaurant tucked away in one of the side streets in town. The meal started with a killer bowl of sopapillas (deep fried quick breads) that were both crispy and chewy (a bit reminiscent of the bhatura cholla at Vik's, but way smaller and slightly more dense). Next was an outstanding ceviche of shrimp, conger eel and salmon --remarkably fresh and seasoned simply to let the flavor of the seafood hold the spotlight. One of the best things we've eaten in Chile so far.

We also had salmon a la plancha and a chupe with fresh king crab, both of which were fine, but paled in comparison to the ceviche.

I feel like there's so much to eat, but so little time...

1 comment:

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