Farang Correspondent goes behind closed doors.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Nothing like the new year to start a new (not very regular) feature eh? Mr. Kitchen Hand travelled a little bit for work in the last few months of 2010, and of course I made him put some of his free time to good use.

Without further ado, here is the Farang Correspondent’s* eyewitness account of Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires gets a lot of things right: elegant architecture, beautiful people, thumping nightlife and, of course, amazing food.  If BA had a decent wave on its doorstep, I’d almost consider moving.

Beyond the headlines of beef and, well, more beef, a secret world of fusion has emerged in a scene known locally as puertas cerradas (literally, closed door). These are appointment-only private restaurants, hosted in homes scattered across the city. The chefs work from their standard residential kitchen and you eat in their lounge rooms or courtyards - sometimes at an informal, communal table or in a more traditional restaurant layout with separate tables.

I was lucky enough to be invited to one last time I was in BA, but not (physically) well enough to enjoy the food on that occasion. When the bat-phone rang with another mission to Argentina, I knew I had to get back to La Cocina Discreta (literally, The Secret Kitchen). An email enquiry returned a booking confirmation and the address, which led myself and a couple of other travelling work colleagues to a stylish apartment in a small, older block, just a few streets from one of the Palermos (probably Soho).

Not your average Portena kitchen

Alejandro is a BA native (Porteño) and the chef, while his partner Alex hails from Mexico – she runs the front of house and the cellar. Along with an assistant, they run the place like a regular restaurant: printed menus, separate tables, full sets of cutlery, linens & glassware, great furniture, restrained lighting and good music to boot. They offer a set-price, 3 course menu, with options for everything except dessert, accompanied by a pretty serious wine list, dominated by Malbecs and Cab Savs from the Mendoza region.

Except it’s not a regular restaurant, because you’re in the lounge room of a cool apartment, with lovely hosts who keep dropping by the table to chat and surrounded by both locals and travellers – our neighbours were an older couple from Mexico City.

What's in your loungeroom?

Alright, I understand that Shaz runs a food blog around here, so I’ll get to the food: it was excellent.

Mushroom tart (Mr. Kitchen Hand apologises for the photos, it was very dark)

What? You want details? Sheesh, tough crowd. Okay, the entrée choices were a perfectly reasonable Caesar Salad (NB: you don’t travel to Argentina to order the salad) and a superb mushroom tart – the thinnest, most delicate pasty holding a creamy, yet earthy quiche-like filling, topped with a slice of crispy prosciutto-style cured meat. Wow.

We divided the three main choices between us. I took the obvious route and ordered the beef. Apart from being a great cut (possibly a loin?), expertly cooked, it was wrapped in a thin sheet of bacon and topped with a rich, coffee-based sauce. A big, powerful dish that stood toe-to-toe with the relatively complex malbec Alex had recommended.

The beef, with coffee

Malbecs from Mendoza

My dining companions thoroughly enjoyed their pasta (a home-made Agnolottis stuffed with ricotta and walnut) and the chicken (a smooth and smokey take on masala tandoori, with plump, oily rice). And I enjoyed the free-trade zone that broke out midway through the main course, giving me a chance to try the other dishes.

Masala chicken

Desert was a real surprise packet: a deconstructed Pavlova that was incredibly light and very restrained in terms of sweetness, with fruit (kiwi, blueberry, mandarin) that was fresh and zesty. I’m not much of a Pav guy (yes, I know that statement is un-Australian), but this really worked, coming off the back of the heroic beef dish.

But you can go to BA for pavlova

After the meal, Alejandro told us of his plans to take la cocina discreta on the road, combining his loves of photography, travel and food. So if you have a home you’d like to have turned into a fabulous part-time restaurant for a month or three, give him a call. Seriously.

It was still ridiculously early by Buenos Aires standards (a little past midnight) so Alex suggested we try a “closed door” bar just a couple of doors away. A knock on an unmarked door got us inside, and Alejandro’s card got us into the VIP room. Just a few more drinks got us to somewhere around 4 in the morning, without even trying.  By that stage, the damage was done, so we swung by a nightclub for a few more drinks and some dancing, before heading back to the hotel in time for breakfast, then (finally) some sleep.

Say kids, what time is it?

And that’s how they seem to roll in Buenos Aires: sleep all day, party all night. It’s fun to be a Porteña vampire.

Other interesting stuff Mr. Kitchen Hand liked in Buenos Aires :
Street art and graffiti tour with Graffitimundo
Shopping at San Telmo (particularly at La Confiture and Balthazar) and at Palermo.
Catching a Boca Juniors home game

The Farang Correspondent visited NYC a while back, and he is next headed to Austin, Texas, so if you have any travel recommendations, he’d love to hear them.

* Here’s a brainteaser for the weekend : Farang Correspondent is a mash-up of an Asian language and a TV show. Can you guess which ones? :)


3 hungry tummies said...

Haha what a wonderful post! very smart with the logo! I thought it looks familiar lol

grace said...

thanks for the exposé, shaz! 'farang' is a new term for me, but now i know what it means!

Kitchen Butterfly said...

How fantastic to make him your eyes............well done Kitchen H. My husband would do the job...of eating but little else :-)