It is the morning after my lunch at Silvestre Bistro, and I am still excited. Everything wowed me at this tiny restaurant in Ñuñoa – from the eclectic vibe through to the passionate staff, a passion which is evident in the beautifully prepared dishes.
Located in Barrio Italia, right in the heart of Santiago´s ´healthy food´ neighborhood, lies this small restaurant that, from the outside, looks completely unassuming. However inside, it is a paradise of truly veg-tastic proportions. A produce-laden table greets us upon arrival, and the restaurant sprawls between a small inside eating area and a larger outside space which is elevated on wooden crates. The walls are covered in all manner of colorful paraphernalia, and we plop ourselves down on mismatched chairs beside an antique typewriter. Despite it being a cold Autumn day in Santiago, we are pleasantly warm outside (there are heaters) and, also despite being in a city, we are watched over by a plethora of greenery.
There is no regular menu at Silvestre, only a changing daily menu that offers lunch specials and more elaborately plated evening meals. The prices are not expensive but what you get has a value much, much higher than your regular run of the mill food stop, for Silvestre is a place that is doing things a little differently.
Silvestre in Spanish means wild, and this is a concept that lays at the heart of the Bistro (and what has got me so worked up). Each month food is foraged from around Chile, from the forests, beaches, hills – you name it – and the findings are what dictates the menu. The two masterminds at the head of this operation are Nestor Ayala, a self-taught cook known for developing a line of popular supermarket sausages, and Patricio Pichuante, a chef with 24 years of experience working in top restaurants in Italy. Together they are a magical combination, creating dishes that defy labels; the food is both complex and simple, using well-known and traditional ingredients in a way that highlights them but never overshadows them.
The day we visited, we opted for the Gnocci, the Tandoori Chicken and the Quiche, three of the four options (1 vegetarian that day). Service was prompt, and we received a juice of lemon, orange and ginger that was refreshing; I enjoyed it because I found myself drinking it because I was thirsty not because it was pumping me full of sugar, and so it lasted the whole meal.
The Gnocchi: In all honesty I don´t know the first thing about Italian cooking, but I really enjoyed this. That pesto though … que rico, rico, rico! I loved the unusual herbs on top (see below).
The Quiche: My son ate it all. The salad was delicious with a lovely dressing. What more can I say? The 3 year old approved!
The Chicken: This dish, to me, was one of the best I´ve had in a long time. There were really unusual flavor combinations and the quinoa/brown rice/millet was absolutely gorgeous.
Now for dessert.
There were two options that day and we opted for the carrot cake because I´m a bit of a fiend for carrot cake! I didn´t think anything would top my sister in-law´s version but I have to say, this one was pretty up there! The photo´s do not do it justice.
¨It has been hard to educate the producers not to throw things away that are a bit different, like manta ray or eel,¨ Nestor tells us, ¨and it is also hard to educate the people eating them. We forage for everything, like the seaweed we go to the beach to get, or around places like San Javier or Zapallar, and we also have all these plants [gestures to the wall behind us] that we use. We use fruit and vegetables that are in season, we buy locally and we use small providers.¨
The dinner menu is more elaborate, and Nestor shows us photos of plates with stunning presentation and lots of color.
Verdict: If I am to give stars, this would be 5/5. Everything about this place echoes what I believe in and what I love to eat. Best of all, my family all enjoyed it too!
Tip: Linger around the area of Barrio Italia because this is a neighborhood worth exploring. Right beside Silvestre is Padre Nuestro, where you can pop in to see a real artisan at work making shoes for men by hand and utilizing Chilean leather. If you are visiting Santiago for the first time or even if you live here, this is the place to buy your gifts and souvenirs as they 1) small businesses and 2) they are often made right there!
The Nitty Gritty
Address: Caupolicán 511, Ñuñoa. Metro Santa Isabel.
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