The drink is a shade between dust storm and tea, filtering down through puffy grains of husked wheat. A shadow rests at the center like a fallen sun: a sun-dried peach, fattened overnight in water steeped with cinnamon sticks, then simmered with chancaca, raw cane sugar.
This is mote con huesillo, Chile’s beloved half-drink, half-snack, considered central to the national character. (“More Chilean than mote con huesillo” is the saying.) At La Roja de Todos, a Chilean restaurant and bakery in Corona, Queens, it comes in a plastic cup, as if from a roadside motero (mote vendor), and tastes like a peach minus its voluptuousness, with an attenuated sweetness. You’re meant to eat the wheat, too, chewy with a hint of squeak, like tapioca pearls in bubble tea.
The restaurant’s name is in homage to the Chilean national soccer team, which is close to the heart of José Luis Norambuena, the owner. He comes from the port town of Valparaíso, Chile, about whose labyrinthine cobblestone streets the poet Pablo Neruda wrote, “life / always takes you / by surprise.”
Mr. Norambuena still keeps his day job, in construction, arriving at the restaurant at 4 p.m. to work into the night. When he took over the space — another Chilean restaurant — in November, there wasn’t time to change the décor. So the walls are still hung with ponchos and chupallas (cowboy hats) and painted red, and tables are set with blue or red cloths and white runners, colors honoring the Chilean flag.
Vania Isler, Mr. Norambuena’s daughter, patiently steers those unfamiliar with her native cuisine toward dishes “you can find only here.” Foremost among them: pastel de choclo, allied in spirit with shepherd’s pie, presented with an apocalyptic crust nearly as black as the pot it’s baked in.
The top layer is a charred purée of corn kernels gone creamy from simmering in milk, with hidden seams of sweet basil — the classic ingredients of humitas, Chilean tamales. Underneath is the filling you might find in a Chilean empanada: whole black olives and raisins, concatenations of salty and sweet; cuts of hard-boiled egg; and pino (beef seethed with onions), bolstered by chicken.
Ms. Isler advised sprinkling salt or sugar on top. “I like sugar,” she said, and set down not a bowl but a pitcher of it. It worked: a tattoo of crunch and a tempering of the char’s bitterness.
In Valparaíso, paila marina, a seafood soup, would brim over with the day’s catch. Here, the chefs, Alejandro Salgado and Emilio Macera, make do with a mix of frozen seafood, cramming as much of it as they can into the bowl: half-shelled mussels lined like shields along the rim; gaping clams strewn with little tentacles of squid and pink whorls of imitation crab; shrimp, strips of octopus and mild whitefish — pangasius, a kind of catfish farmed in Vietnam — lurking below. The broth is almost an afterthought, but clean and simple.
Gaspar Calderón, the baker, makes dense pan de amasado for chacarero, an oversize sandwich enclosing planes of steak cut thin but still resisting the teeth, and string beans with a bit of snap. Late in the day, the bread stiffens; a generous swab of mayonnaise corrects the balance.
Hot dog buns are homemade, too, and so large they dwarf their contents. You can barely see the hot dog under its ornaments: roughly smashed avocado, chopped tomato, a Pollocking of mayonnaise and the necessary, bracing sauerkraut.
Empanadas are equally grand in scale, with thick bumpy braids, and more doughy than flaky. One stuffed with seafood I found too concentrated, like the smell by the docks when the tide goes out. Better is one filled with pino, to which the kitchen sometimes adds merkén, a blend of smoked chile ground with salt, coriander and cumin — a legacy of the Mapuche people, among the last holdouts against the conquistadors.
Afterward, there are chilenitos con manjar, cousins to Argentine alfajores, with thin shortbreadlike biscuits slightly upturned at the edges and squeezed around dulce de leche. Sometimes Ms. Isler hands out free mantecados, cookies soft from lard, with powdered sugar that clings to the tongue.
Her parents left Valparaíso for New York City in 2001, when she was 7. She stayed behind, in her grandfather’s care, until she made the same journey nine years later.
For her, the kitchen smells like Chile. “When I close my eyes,” she said, “I think it is my grandfather cooking.”
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