Fads and trends come and go. More often than not we willingly wave farewell to those ‘cool’ fashionable mistakes but on occasion there is one trend that we are glad to see stick; in Buenos Aires that would currently be the ‘puerta cerrada’ restaurants NOT those Spice Girl-esque platform sandal/booty things. Please, young ladies of Argentina… let them go!
Puerta cerrada means closed door, which is literally what these sought-after dining events are; a reservation only, paying dinner party in a chef’s private home or secret location (like Reserve!), advertised only by word of mouth and a bit of facebook action. You could have also heard of closed door restaurants described as supper clubs, underground restaurants or even guestaurants and if you haven’t heard of any of those terms then, no offense, but you must have been sleeping for the past ten years….these private eating establishment have been exploding all over the show; New York, London, here in the capital of Argentina and thank god for that! As a gringo living in Buenos Aires the typical Argentine steak and milanesa diet can get a bit overwhelming (boring); puerta cerradas are a breath of fresh air, finally exposing the Argentine palate to worldwide cuisine prepared by talented chefs (and sometimes not so talented!) from all corners of the world.
The newest fireball on the puerta cerrada scene is Liza Puglia, also known as NOLAchef from New Orleans, whose passion for feeding people with her perfectly spiced hometown inspired dishes, as well as her ‘Mexican Pop-Up Night‘, has already earned her has a strong following. The puerta cerrada ‘NOLA Buenos Aires’ officially opened their doors last Saturday night…and I was one of the lucky guests thanks to my darling friend and inspired pastry chef, Kelly Poindexter who invited me for an early birthday present.
We were greeted into the intimate softly-lit space with a glass of light refreshing sparkling wine, presented to us by Ticol, joint partner of NOLA and Liza’s Argentine wine savvy boyfriend. The elegant country décor and the New Orleans style jazz tunes playing out in the background set a tone of comfort and ease; with our glass in hand the conversation with the six other guests flowed easily before we were seated at the rustic table. Each course was introduced by Liza and paired with Ticol’s selection of Argentine wine to compliment the characteristics of the dishes…my kind of dining experience!
First up: a traditional Louisiana dish, gumbo. As soon as the word gumbo was mentioned, my fellow diners from the States automatically started to smack their lips with anticipation…I however, had no idea what gumbo was so was eternally grateful for the explanation. Gumbo is essentially a type of soup or stew made with either fish or meat; Liza prepared a rich gumbo bringing together the best of the two culinary worlds with crab stock, chorizo (for that hint of Argentina) and king prawns (for the New Orleans flavor) and of course her trademark touch of warming spiciness. From the moment it entered my mouth I hardly left time to breath…now I know why everyone get so excited about gumbo. The complexities of flavors and textures; the sweetness of the prawn versus the spice of the chorizo; the warm homemade bread to sop up the sauce. H-E-A-V-E-N. Just as I thought it couldn’t get any better Ticol brought out the wine: Tilia Torrontes by Bodega Esmeralda from Calchaqui Valley in Cafayate, Salta Argentina. At first I thought that the gumbo would be way too heavy for a typical light bodied Torrontes, but Bodega Esmeralda has done a great job of producing rich flavours that stand up nicely to the intensities of the gumbo. The high dancing acidity in the wine cut the hot aromatic spice of the stew, which was also mimicked beautifully by the Torrontes its sweet aromatic floral nose.
Next up, a palate cleanser salad of endive, hazelnut and green beans with a Creole mustard sauce. Even though I didn’t want to part with the exquisite lingering flavor of the gumbo, this was the perfect dish to allow us to appreciate the full diversity of the NOLA’s menu. The salad was light, fresh, delightfully crunchy and there was not one grated carrot in sight (an Argentine favorite in salads apparently. Yuk). The hazelnut added an extra layer or flavor component, which highlighted out a delightfully savory side to the otherwise fruity Opalo Syrah by Bodega Mauricio Lorca from Vista Flores in Mendoza, Argentina. Even though the youthful ripe red fruit worked well with the freshness of endives, I would have liked to try the Torrontes with this dish more as a lighter wine would have allowed the subtleties of the dish to shine.
Next to be placed in front of us; a slow roasted pork served on a base of creamy polenta (to represent Liza’s beloved grits), dressed in a chili jus. Pork is Liza’s ‘thing’ and after one bite you’ll know why… melt in your mouth goodness. Words cannot do it justice. The Argentina wine tasting for this one was a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon by Bodega Don Salvador, perfect full body for such weighty food. The pork calmed the gripping of the Cabernet Sauvignon’s very present tannins and emulated the peppery and smoky oak characteristics of the wine splendidly.
Finally, was a classic North American staple; pecan pie served with a dollop of whipped cream. The combination of the buttery pastry together with the sweet caramelized pecans left me wanting for nothing, totally satisfied and smiling like an idiot. Not an easy dessert to pair with wine but the sticky sweet botrytis effected Fond de Cave Tardive Chardonnay by Bodega Trapiche imitated of the caramels flavors superbly, and was able to hold its own against the weight of the dessert.
A truly excellent night, the wine, the food, the company and the hosts….Bravo! And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about gumbo since, so watch out if you have a crazy lady trying to sneak in next weekend NOLA! Better leave a portion for me outside the door!
Make your reseravtion for NOLA here!