Consider the dining world of Buenos Aires. Renowned for incredible steak houses, waiters in white gloves serve top grilled sirloin (‘bife de chorizo’) to patrons with a flourish of pomp and ceremony. But outside, there’s street meat galore. A choripan vendor will hand you the most delicious chorizo sausage sandwich of your life, but without the epicurean frills of the steakhouse.
Another paradox is that life happens out in the open. Public displays include romance in parks to screaming matches in full view on side streets. Everyone knows everything, everyone sees everything. Strangely, there is also an undercurrent of things that happen quietly. Buenos Aires has secrets: underground societies, associations and restaurants that aren’t quite as obvious, but are worth scratching the surface to find. And some experiences are edible.
The closed door (‘puertas cerradas’) restaurants of Buenos Aires might be the best example of this paradox. Closed door restaurants are a blend between a traditional restaurant and a dinner party. It’s an underground yet infamous dining option, hotly pursued by travellers who want an authentic Buenos Aires experience. The Chef hosts a small group of guests in an intimate space for a specially prepared meal. Often hosted in the home of the Chef, patrons don’t even find out the exact location of the restaurant until securing a reservation.
I had the chance to dine at Casa Loyola, a puertas cerradas restaurant owned and run by Chef Claudia Faigon (right), located in the historic Recoletta neighbourhood in the heart of the city. A long communal table, candle light, a Turkish theme, and wine pairings greeted me at the secret location, along with a dozen other strangers whom I would soon call friends.
Chef Faigon put together a real treat for the menu. Turkish breads with a variety of spreads helped to whet our appetites; carrot and pumpkin puree spiced with cardamom, tzatziki and a lovely eggplant and tomato ragu along with a variety of delicate hand made breads.
Our second course was spanakopeta with a muscle, grape and dill rice that literally danced on my tongue! The Chef spent many years as an architect and her food showcases an eye for unusual combinations that work perfectly together.
We were treated to a main course of chicken and lentils stewed with dried fruits. The flavour of figs was the most prevalent, giving the dish a hint of sweetness. This was perfectly paired with a crisp and creamy coleslaw with pistachios.
It was a magical evening. The wine flowed. In true Argentina style, guests arrived sometime between 9 and 10pm, and dinner stretched in the the wee hours. Espresso and limoncello (homemade by the grandmother of a friend of the Chef, of course) brought us into the morning. This restaurant is fairly new on the food scene, and offers a sweet, honest, and intimate feel for foodies in Buenos Aires.
While the food in Argentina is not to be missed, the co-star of any visit is the wine. The Malbecs of the region are the usual suspects, but for some of the other treasures of Argentina, I’ve sought out the help of experts. Meet and Wine offers locals and expats alike a chance to visit local places where sommeliers share the secrets of the Argentine wine industry. They might help you to discover a Torrontes from Salta or a Pinot Noir from Patagonia.
At my first encounter with Meet and Wine, we were introduced to wines available only where they are produced, paired with cheeses. The lovely ladies who are responsible for Meet and Wine wanted to create opportunities for people from all over the world to get to know each other, and to kick start the conversations (literally and figuratively!) with wine. Brilliant. They meet at least once monthly. If you’re lucky enough to be in Buenos Aires when they are hosting an event, you’ll be introduced to a hip spot in the city, amazing wines, and most importantly, incredible people.
There’s so much to discover in Buenos Aires. The guidebooks list a lot of activities, but the real gems are hidden. Don’t be afraid to explore the secret societies of Buenos Aires.