The Argentine Experience

March 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Food, wine and instruction on all things porteño

Group shot at the Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

Dinner at the Argentine Experience is much more than its headline dish of exquisitely cooked fillet steak accompanied by free-flowing Malbec. It is more like an intensive crash course in Argentine culture, complete with empanada and alfajor making sessions.

From the Porteños’ fondness for expressing themselves with a wide range of hand gestures to the intricacies of the mate ritual, Argentine customs can be baffling (first-timer mate drinkers beware: NEVER use the bombilla (metal straw) to stir the yerba). For this reason the Argentine Experience is jointly hosted by an expat who understands how strange such idiosyncrasies first seem to outsiders and a local who offers an insider’s view.

Shaken, not stirred

The recipe for a Raspberry Blush cocktail at the Argentine Experience, Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

Arriving early for the optional pre-dinner wine cocktail mixology and aroma class, first up was a cocktail making workshop in which the secret ingredient in every ‘Malabeca’ or ‘Torrontea’ was wine. Setting the tone for an evening in which interaction was key, we were invited to don a bow tie and step behind to the bar to have a go at mixing ourselves. It’s safe to say the raspberry, gin and Malbec & Merlot based rose wine ‘Raspberry Blush’ cocktails I prepared were a hit. Less successful was my attempt to identify the 20 aromas commonly found in wine by smelling a condensed liquid essence of each one. Not as easy as it sounds.

Ready, steady… cook!

The Argentine Experience started life as a ‘closed doors restaurant’ in the apartment of founder Leon Lightman and even after the move in 2012 to more restaurant-like premises in Palermo Hollywood it has retained an intimate atmosphere. The new building is modern and light with a sleek downstairs bar area and an upstairs dining room, with two large chunky wooden dining tables and shelves of colorful mate gourds serving as decoration.

Making empanadas at the Argentine Experience in Palermo
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

The communal dining tables are the first clue that the Argentine Experience is very much a group effort. Socializing with your fellow guests is compulsory, and the first act of team bonding is to put on a checked apron and chefs hat, ready for action. Our first task was to prepare empanadas (the ubiquitous little savory pastry pies that are usually filled with minced beef). With bowls full of slow-cooked beef stew, onions cooked in Malbec, vegetarian ratatouille and cheese in front of us it was difficult to heed our host Richard’s advice not to overfill the empanadas. He showed us how to seal them and fold the pastry in the traditional way.

With our empanadas cooking in the oven, our next challenge was a creative one: the novelty empanada competition. Entries ranged from a recreation of Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ goal to a dinosaur, the winner being a graceful, meat and onion filled ballerina. The winner received a jar of homemade chimichurri sauce and eternal glory in the form of a place on the Argentine Experience empanada wall of fame.

Twenty-four hour steak-out

As the Malbec flowed freely and mini dishes of provoleta cheese and choripan were brought out, we exchanged travel stories and talked to our hosts about Argentinian football. Then, proceedings were brought to a hushed standstill as the evening’s star guest was introduced.

Delicious fillet steak at the Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

The steak, Richard explained, had been subject to an extensive screening process. Owner Leon had embarked on a six month pilgrimage across Argentina, tirelessly visiting cattle ranches in search of the perfect beef. The tenderness of the fillet steak we were to eat, he continued, was the result of a finely-honed 24 hour preparation process, involving leaving the meat uncovered in the fridge overnight before flash frying in a hot pan to seal the juices, then flipping it rapidly to ensure an even distribution of meaty juices. For this reason it could well be the most tender meat we had ever eaten, Richard concluded with a flourish, as drool ran from the corners of our mouths.

Naturally, such a steak deserved a serious wine to accompany it, so we would be served a deeper, more full-bodied Malbec. As we ate our main course, the intelligent conversation of earlier in the evening was replaced by a series of grunts and munching sounds. Nobody was disappointed with their steak.

Note: Fish and vegetarian options are also offered, and those who went for them on the night were very impressed with the quality of those dishes. 

Post dinner parlor games

Drinking mate at the Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

And so in a Malbec and steak induced state of bliss we were entertained by tutorials and practice sessions on Argentinian hand gestures, preparing mate and making alfajores (dulce de leche filled, chocolate covered biscuits).

Those of us for whom the bottomless wine had made everything a little hazy were reassured to learn that note-taking would not be necessary; an Argentine Experience aftercare email with all the essentials would arrive the next day. So there would be no excuse not to put our new cocktail-shaking, empanada-baking, alfajor-making, mate ritual-partaking and hand gesture mickey-taking skills into action. Try saying that after one too many glasses of Malbec!

For more on the Argentine Experience, check out Cara from Anuva Wine’s write up, this post by Tim Fitzgerald on the BBC travel blog, Not quite Nigella’s thoughts here and this post by Alison Westwood on the Getaway blog.

Location of the Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires

The Argentine Experience, Fitz Roy 2110 (between Soler and Guatemala), Palermo Hollywood

El Tejano – BBQ in Buenos Aires

February 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Could the best American BBQ be in Buenos Aires?

El Tejano

The smoked meat hit my taste buds, I dropped my utensils, sat back in my chair and smiled. This progression of events occurred several times last week at El Tejano (The Texan) in Palermo. An East-Texan expat who landed in Buenos Aires seven years ago, El Tejano is introducing Buenos Aires to BBQ in a way I’ve never seen in the United States.

I’m no Anthony Bourdain, but I am a BBQ foodie. I’ve eaten brisket and ribs in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Florida. You could say I like it.

Buenos Aires boasts of its world-renowned steaks. Steak grilled on the parrilla (large, brick grill) is a staple here. Meat is never cooked on anything but a grill.

Smoked meat is an untold story in Buenos Aires, largely because it doesn’t exist. No restaurant in the entire city uses a smoker to cook its meat. Tejano built his own smoker. Thus, when I heard about his private dinners, I quickly contacted him. My expectations were high. El Tejano guaranteed the dinner would be all-you-can-eat. Given that my group of five hadn’t seen BBQ all year, barely ate all day and didn’t stop talking about our dinner for the week before, I doubted if we would actually have as much as we wanted.

Puerta Cerrada in Buenos Aires

El Tejano

We arrived at a beautiful, private dining room in Palermo Soho. Puerta Cerrada – closed door – dinners are a tradition in Argentina. Although often held in someone’s home, El Tejano serves his clients in the Anuva Wines tasting room.

We started off with homemade guacamole, hot sauce and corn chips – all three tough finds here – to appease our hunger. Shortly after, Tejano brought out a black-jalapeño cornbread with dill and pickles. Sweet cornbread with a small, spicy kick. Once the freshly-made coleslaw and sweet tea came to our table, I knew the meat had to be next. Expectations peaked, glands salivated and five friends waited in anticipation for a taste of home.

El Tejano

When Tejano walked the brisket to our table on a huge cutting board, my face froze in half-smile, half-jaw-on-the-floor. It was huge. He cut through the black outside and unveiled a perfect, pink-ringed brisket. Slow, wispy smoke billowed out. It was so tender, when Tejano cut it, the slices crumpled into little pieces. Paired with a sweet, hint-of-cinnamon BBQ sauce, the 8-hour-smoked brisket had excellent texture, flavor and color. My first servings quickly turned into seconds and thirds. It was only the beginning.

El Tejano

If I had any regrets, it was sprinting too soon into this marathon. I thought when we finished with the brisket, Tejano had run out. But I was happily wrong, as our empty cutting board was exchanged for a new one with another slab of brisket. This time we only got through half of it.

After my third serving of mouth-watering, smoked brisket and second of coleslaw, Tejano served us the pork ribs. Juicy, soft and flavorful come to mind. Although the BBQ sauce paired well with the brisket, the pork ribs stood better on their own. To aide our meat binge, Tejano gave our table a corn-bean-jalapeño salad that helped compliment the BBQ.

El Tejano

To put an exclamation point on our dinner, a creative, third meat – Matambre – finished the meal. Stuffed with green apples, cinnamon and onions, the Matambre was also “injected,” with Coca-Cola to break down the fat deposits and offer the cut a sweet, meaty taste. Matambre – which basically means “kill hunger” – is a fairly typical meat cut (similar to flank steak) in Argentina, and that’s exactly why Tejano uses it. With some creative design and additions, Tejano presents Argentine meat in a whole new light.

A wonderful glass of Malbec completed the marathon to BBQ heaven. Through the food, we really learned about a veteran expat…

The Man Behind the Meat

El Tejano

While serving endless portions of BBQ, Tejano, or Larry, detailed how he smoked the meat, made the cornbread and decided what to pair the BBQ with. This wasn’t just a waiter telling us the specials at a restaurant. It was a man explaining his passion. His electric smile glows while he describes smoking the meat and all the details involved. We had no idea what a black jalapeño was until he educated us on the pepper’s varieties and why he experimented with this one on his cornbread. We learned that growing up in Austin, Tex., BBQ wasn’t something he learned about, it was inherited, passed down through his family.

Larry also provided snippets of his life here in Buenos Aires. He moved here seven years ago after literally flipping a coin. One side meant a move to Chile, the other to Argentina. It landed on Argentina. Larry began serving private dinners earlier last year, and is hoping to do much more. He sells his own homemade hot sauce and wants to to have it manufactured in Argentina soon. The idea of a BBQ food truck in Los Bosques—the parks in Palermo—also interests him. Larry grows his own peppers in a green house in Buenos Aires. When he talks about his plans, clear ideas percolate in Larry’s mind at all times. His conviction, energy and enthusiasm make his customers his biggest supporters.

It’s his story that puts his BBQ over any other I’ve ever eaten. The food on its own will keep me coming back, but such a unique expat tale will interest any visitor to Buenos Aires.

The personal attention and stories, accompanied by an exceptional dinner of such an iconic, American food genre, make El Tejano stand out among food innovators in Buenos Aires. We left the dinner hungry on only one question: what will he do next?

To reserve a dinner with El Tejano

Website: www.eltejanoba.com.ar/events

e-Mail: info@eltejanoba.com.ar

Note: As with all “closed door” restaurants, El Tejano will send the exact dinner location upon booking.

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