Pastuso, Melbourne

Over the last few months, I’ve had the privilege to get to know a fellow colleague from the United States, who has been working in Melbourne on a short-term secondment. Throughout the course of a recent long lunch at San Telmo, I learned that Naseer hadn’t had the opportunity to discover some of Melbourne’s new and exciting restaurants. With only a few days left before he was heading off home to Houston I thought we could both try something new and experience San Telmo’s sister restaurant, Pastuso.

Located in AC/DC Lane, Naseer and I arrived promptly at 7pm and were seated at a table for two near the open kitchen. The restaurant has an eclectic feel with one wall covered in vibrant neon colours and the remainder of the dining space finished with gold edging, marble topped tables, dark wooden furniture and panelling, industrial lights, concrete pylons and geometric tiles. With such an open space, the ambient noise level escalated considerably as more diners arrived.

After a very quick look at the menu, we decided to be adventurous and try the “Feed Me” chefs selection option for $59 per person. Naseer doesn’t drink alcohol but I thought I would complement the South American cuisine with the only Malbec available by the glass of from the famed Mendoza region. Being from the US, Naseer was looking for something familiar in the form of French fries, so we ordered some Yucas or Cassava Chips as an additional side dish.

Literally as soon as our order was taken, three starter dishes and the chips arrived simultaneously and engulfed our small table for two. The dishes were beautifully presented and looked delicious, but I couldn’t be certain whether it was the noise factor or one of our server’s extremely fast explanation of the dishes, however I had no idea of what had been deposited in front of us without looking back over the menu after the meal.

The El Choro Chalaco (Port Phillip Black Mussel, Chalaca Salsa served on a Seaweed Crisp) was delicious with a mix of textures and flavours, particularly with the fresh salsa being a standout on the palate. The next dish was the Ceviche Peruano (New Zealand Snapper with Caramelised Sweet Potato, Cancha, Leche De Tigre) was exceptional and tasted divine although Naseer wasn’t excited by cured fish which left a little bit more for me to enjoy. The beef skewers which was served in haste and a mumbled explanation, were relatively tasty but not all that memorable. Ironically the Cassava Chips which we ordered in addition to the Feed Me menu, was a standout in terms of flavor, texture and quantity and I couldn’t stop myself from devouring them. Mmmm … the ultimate comfort food!

Naseer and I made short work of the entrée dishes expecting a flurry of new plates to arrive momentarily, however after thirty minutes had lapsed without seeing our waitress, we were then left wondering whether was that all there was. As if by magic, she then miraculously appeared and cleared our plates for the next course.

The main course for the evening was the Pierna De Cordero (Slow Cooked Lamb Leg with Seco Sauce and Peruvian Rice) which I was secretly quite pleased about as it was the one dish on the menu that had caught my attention, and because I hoping to persuade Naseer on the virtues of beautiful, slow-cooked Australian lamb.

Served with the rusticity that accompanies Peruvian cuisine, the lamb had been cooked in a Cilindro Peruano (Peruvian Smoking Chamber) so it had a distinct but not obtrusive smoked flavor. The accompanying Seco sauce is made from coriander and beer, and was quite thick in texture and rather plentiful. I rather enjoyed this dish but I suspect that Naseer probably tolerated it on my behalf.

Our evening seemed to gather a bit of momentum and the third and final course arrived not long thereafter. We were treated to two desserts to share – Tres Leches (Traditional Latin American Sponge Cake soaked in three kinds of milk, served with Roasted Pineapple Ice Cream) and Un Clasico De Mazamorra Y Arroz Con Leche (Peruvian Style Rice Pudding, Purple Corn Gel, Poached Pineapple and Apples).

I gravitated to the sponge cake first and then immediately wished that I hadn’t. The outsides of the cake had been grilled in an effort to caramelise the exterior layer which unfortunately hadn’t worked as it ultimately left me with a sharp burnt or charred mouthfeel, something akin to a campfire. The parts of the cake that hadn’t touched the grill were moist and mild in taste but the saving grace was the roasted pineapple ice cream to soften the blow.

The rice pudding was delicious and silky smooth in texture and taste. It was served with a large piece of meringue that needed to be crushed up and served on top of the pudding but I enjoyed each element separately.

Our allotted two hours seemed to fly by after an intermittent start and the Feed Me menu certainly left me completely full and saved me from making hard decisions about what to order. I was excited that I got to experience somewhere new to eat with a friend who also enjoyed a memorable food adventure in Melbourne, however it was a little unfortunate that Pastuso didn’t quite live up to the hype.

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Uncorked Wine Tours – Cooking Workshop, Santiago Chile

It’s a privilege to be able to travel the world and experience different cultures, languages and cuisines. Whenever I have the opportunity, I indulge in my love of cooking and register for a cooking class so that I can continue to enjoy the memories and share my gourmet experiences with my family and friends. Connie and Jose from Uncorked Wine Tours also offer cooking workshops that help you to create authentic Chilean food at home, with each course matched with a premier wine from the key wine regions of Chile.

Two couples on their honeymoon from the US were my fellow cooking companions for the Saturday evening class, and we all became acquainted over a sample of delicious cheese marinated with oil and green peppers, served with toasted bread before our class commenced. The menu for the evening showcased authentic Chilean cuisine commencing with the renowned cocktail, Pisco Sour.

Although we made the Peruvian version with egg white and Angostura bitters, Connie expertly guided us through the preparation of the cocktail including the shaker technique to ensure that the drink had enough foam. So with a little trepidation, I mixed my drink and while it didn’t look too bad, I needed a bit more practice at using the cocktail shaker to achieve the fluffy foam appearance that a good Pisco needs.

Quietly sipping on our drinks, we then watched Connie demonstrate the preparation of a chanco en piedra, which is a version of Chilean salsa called pebre made from garlic, green chilli or peppers, tomatoes and salt flakes ground into a paste or sauce-like consistency in a mortar and pestle. It was delicious with toasted bread and cut through the acidity of the Pisco.

Next Connie made pebre which is typically served as an accompaniment and is made from finely chopped green pepper, coriander, tomatoes, white onion and olive oil. The pebre was going to be served later with our meat course.

I have been wanting to learn how to make ceviche for a long time and after a constant two week diet of ceviche at different restaurants in Santiago, I was eager to learn how to cut the raw fish properly so that I could have the confidence to prepare it at home. Connie was extremely gracious in letting me come to the class earlier than the starting time so that I could get some practice cutting the fish into small bite-size portions for the dish that we would be preparing in the class.

Whilst ceviche looks like a simple dish, there are a number of little things that you need to be cognisant of, so that the acidity of the lime juice does not overcook the fish. In teams, we all took up different tasks and positions to add quantities of fish, shrimps, salt, chillies, whilst someone else was constantly using their hands to ensure that mixture was evenly combined with the lime juice and ice cubes in the bowl. It was a bit of a delicate balancing act to ensure that we had the right quantities of salt and citrus and as we continued to mix the ice cubes to bring the fish and flavours together, resulting in a beautiful leche de tigre juice for the ceviche. With the hard work over, we enjoyed eating our ceviche with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc that Connie had selected for us to enjoy with the meal.

Every country has their own interpretation of a crème caramel and for Chile, it is Budin del Cielo. After using small amounts of palm sugar syrup to line a flan dish, we poured a mixture of condensed milk, eggs, milk and vanilla extract into the dish which is then placed in the oven in a water bath. When cooked, it is chilled in the fridge until ready to be served for the dessert course.

The next course on the menu was Empanadas de pino which is another staple of South American cuisine. Connie showed us how to make her preferred but simple version of the pastry with lard, flour, warm water and salt. Whilst on the stove, we prepared the onion and meat mixture with a combination of spices for the filling. Rolling out the pastry, we all got to work preparing our empanadas with the meat, a piece of boiled egg, black olives and raisins.

While the empanadas were cooking in the oven, our next task was to make the mixture for Chupe de jaiba which is a creamy seafood casserole or stew made with crab meat and shrimp, with a crust of gratinéed Parmesan cheese. Following the recipe that had been prepared for us, we created a delicious thick mixture which was then prepared into gratin dishes and decorated with crab claws and cheese, ready to go into the oven.

With all the hard work and preparation completed, it was time to indulge and enjoy the fruits of our labour. Connie selected a Max Reserva Carmenere to match the beautifully cooked meat empanadas and pebre. Then it was time to eat the deliciously creamy and cheesy Chupe de jaiba.

Everyone has just enough room for a dessert course, and with the Budin del cielo chilled, the flan was turned out onto plates to let the syrup run over the plate. Connie had prepared a few sauces and bowls of fresh blueberries, mint and strawberries and we had the opportunity to prepare and decorate our own plates, which brought out the artist in all of us.

Content but supremely full, it was time to say “Gracias!” and bid farewell to Connie, Jose and to Chile because it was time to fly back home to Australia and get a good night’s sleep on the plane trip home.