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Trip Report: Easter Island (VERY long!)

spigot Jan 7, 2007 02:33 AM

This is the first of three reports I'll be posting from a December 2006 trip to Easter Island, Santiago, and Peru (Cusco and Lima). While I was doing my planning, I got great recommendations from these boards – so as always, thanks everyone!

First, some general notes:

- There are no chains, and very few high-end restaurants, on Easter Island. Generally, the food is fresh and simple. Prices are relatively high, particularly for anything that needs to be brought in from the mainland, which is pretty much everything except fish ;-)

- Portions are big.

- The pre-dinner equivalent of bread and butter is tea biscuit (ubiquitous!) and a very mild salsa fresca. Sometimes you will get avocado or aioli also.

- Service charges are occasionally -rarely- included with the bill.

- The pisco sour is the lovely refreshing national drink of both Chile and Peru, and I drank, er, dozens. Supposedly made with fresh lemon/lime and egg white, I think mine were all from a mix. I liked 'em fine anyway.

The restaurants:

***** La Taverne du Pecheur ***** (Caleta de Pescadores, right by the caleta -cove- where the dive shops are). La Taverne is famously Rapa Nui's most expensive and high-calibre restaurant, run by a Rapanui woman and her French husband. FWIW, I was seriously underwhelmed - and I'm going to write a lot about this one, because the conventional wisdom is very high on the Taverne, and I was surprised to not enjoy it.

My first clue came when the next table was served a boat-shaped platter of paella: enough to feed 10, for two. I swear I loathe being given too much food - for me, it drains all the pleasure out of a meal and turns it into work.

We ordered tuna ceviche, king crab in aioli, steak with roquefort sauce and dorado. Both starters were main-sized, and the mains themselves were really, stupidly big: my dorado (grilled with head and skin on) was served with a big pile of mashed potatoes, a four-inch chunk of taro root, heap of sauteed greens, one very large carrot and a mound of mashed yams. My husband's sides were similarly absurd, plus his steak swam in about a cup of sauce.

Everything was good, but a) we'd expected great, and b) it was only sloppy-good - the steak was gristly, the crab abundant with cartilage, and the sides indifferently-prepared. Saved by fresh ingredients IMO.

We finished with espresso and tarte tatin with flaming calvados. Both were excellent.

On the whole - a good meal, but not great. For what we paid (where we were) it should've been a gem. And it wasn't. About 130 USD for two including two pisco sours and a half-bottle of wine. Not recommended.

***** Ha Kanini ***** Overlooking the cove. This place gave off bad signals, and I was dubious. Plastic bilingual menu; it was completely empty; Paul McCartney and Billy Ocean covers on the CD player. However - it was actually fine. I had a very good steak with frites and cheese sauce. (Thanks to the poster here who taught me 'crudo' will get you a rare steak in South America.) My husband had spaghetti bolognese, which was just about as dreadful as you'd expect. The service was pretty minimal. Not recommended, but not horrible if you're stuck.

***** Cafe Ra'a ***** Near the bottom of the main drag, near the post office. Overly-milky cappuccino, but it's practically the only cappuccino on the island so we took it and were grateful. Okay sandwiches, salads. Good breakfast. Contrary to what I've read elsewhere, it's open seven days a week (not closed Tuesdays). Opens at 10. Recommended for coffee/breakfast.

***** Empanadas Tia Berta ***** Look for the wood sign on the left as you walk up the main drag towards the gas station: it's about three quarters of the way up. FABULOUS empanadas made fresh to order. The pastry is light and fried to perfection, stuffed with cheese, tuna (big chunks of fresh white meat), seafood, "meat," or chopped hot dogs. They also serve some pretty good salads, french fries, and entrees such as lomo a lo pobre. You will be served by a theatrically-harried transvestite - depending on your mood this could be either fun or a bit of a trial.

Be forewarned there's another empanada (and dessert) shop a bit further up the same street; it serves baked empanadas that are twice as expensive: the tuna version is the colour and consistency of kitty litter. Stick to Berta's. Cheap and highly-recommended.

***** Merahi Ra'a ***** Down by the water, near La Taverne du Pecheur. We had lomo a lo pobre (steak with french fries, caramelized onions and fried eggs), and kari kari, a firm white island fish. Everything was hot and fresh, simply and perfectly prepared. Nice free apps too - the usual small tea-biscuit-type breads but with an extra-good salsa and also aioli. About 40 USD including two pisco sours. Highly recommended.

***** Aringa Ora ***** At the top of the main street, across from the gas station. This is a big expensive place with a good reputation. We ordered the house ceviche (tuna with papaya, avocado, ginger and garlic, with coconut milk), a large rape rape (like a lobster, served gratinee), and chicken a lo pobre (the fried eggs, the french fries). The ceviche was fabulous - lots of good flavour/texture/colour. Rape rape was a huge amount of delicious lobsterlike meat, surrounded by boring sides and covered in boring sauce. The chicken predictably outpaced our sad North American factory fowl. French fries were soft and under-cooked; eggs and onions were great.

We finished with cortado - Chilean espresso with a shot of steamed milk. Total of USD 150, with one bottle of wine. Highly recommended.

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