Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A (restaurant) of one's own

In the past year I've consumed more grass-fed beef and Malbec than I'll probably be able to afford in the next five years' stateside food budget. Despite the lack of culinary diversity here in las pampas, there have been a few stand out meals.

One of the my favorite Buenos Aires experiences has been eating at the local puertas cerradas, or closed door restaurants. (Read this NYTimes piece, written coincidentally by my neighbor and friend, Ian, of Good Airs). These 'restaurants' are actually a few tables in a private home. One has to reserve in advance and is treated to an intimate dinner where the chef is your host, sommelier and sometimes, waiter. In a city where the solution to any culinary quandary is to grill it, bread it, or cover it in cheese and fry it (or sometimes all of the above), a little subtlety and a little art, please, is a welcome alternative.

One particularly memorable locale is Casa Felix. Felix specializes in pescatarian haute Latin American cuisine. The meal include 5 courses served on Felix and his wife Sanra's garden terrace, with an apertif in the herb garden. Some of the courses were refreshingly vegan (I like my steaks vuelta y vuelta, but every now and then vegan is a welcome alternative). The experience was the perfect counterpoint to typical porteno dining: light, varied, subtle, diverse. The highlight was a causa in a gorgeous deep green pesto-y herb sauce served with edible flowers from the garden, and the pea puree served with the fish main course almost trumped the protein. It takes a really amazingly-prepared flora to outshine the fauna, imho.

Casa Coupage, which to my surprise is right around the corner from my apartment (unmarked door, obvi.) , is another one to bookmark. The owners are sommeliers and the wine pairings were spot on. The boyfriend and I had a different glass for each course so we were able to try four different wines. A Mendozan pinot noir was surprisingly floral (violets!) and then gradually revealed chocolately/coffee notes. We also had a nice mineral-y sauvignon blanc, a big Cab (tannins!) and a spicy Merlot with our perfectly cooked filets.

Neighbor Ian (of the aforementioned NY Times review) has it right when he identifies the allure of the puerta cerrada. In a city of conspicuous dining where every restaurant has floor-to-roof windows and is guaranteed to serve a menu that is only a slight variation on 85% of the other city eateries, it's nice to retreat to someone's private home (it helps when that home is a really sweet Palermo Viejo mansion) for a custom dinner.

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