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Friday
Jul222011

Fine wines and fab entrees in Mendoza

I have to admit to having been a little dishonest.

In the last week or so I have received several emails from friends and family sharing their experiences of Iguazú falls and asking me how I am enjoying Córdoba (very much, I would have thought that was obvious).

The internet connection is so slow here that each post I have written has taken at least four hours, at least three of those merely waiting for the photos to upload. As you might imagine this takes a significant chunk out of a day in a new place and as such I am rather behind; twelve towns and one border in fact.

Fortunately, several of these towns are forgettable which narrows down the catch up a little. Also, I am now in Bolivia where both the food and the internet connection are inferior to Argentina so I should have less to say while I am here. Nonetheless, there are still several important meals in Argentina to tell you about and I shall do my best to do so rápidamente, as they say here.

Mendoza was perhaps the Argentine highlight. I say “perhaps” because the best restaurant I visited was in Salta (more on that down the track) but Mendoza had the best food overall. If you ever visit Mendoza I highly recommend getting hold of a free copy of Wine Republic magazine which has great recommendations for places to eat and drink. Indeed every restaurant I ate in was listed in the edition I picked up and there were many more I would have liked to try given the time.

My first day in Mendoza was all blue skies and winter sun, warm enough to sit outside in a light sweater. Enticed by the promise of a leafy courtyard I went in search of Anna Bistro.

It turned into rather a lengthy search because the tourist map of Mendoza shows a small section of Godoy Cruz, which it turns out has many streets with the same name as central Mendoza. A 20 minute bus ride to the wrong end of the wrong Av. Juan B. Justo and a 30 minute walk later I discovered that this was not the Juan B. Justo I was after and had to get a cab back into town to the correct one.

Luckily it was worth the wait.

It is always the sign of a good menu when you have to ask the waitress for a few more minutes several times because there are that many good things to choose from. For me, it is also a good sign when almost every entree tickles my fancy. I am a big fan of entrees, I often end up ordering 3 in place of a starter and a main because it means I get to try more things; like doing a mini tasting.

This was the first time I had seen a carpaccio in Argentina and, given they are famous for their beef, what better place to order one? As expected the beef was melt in your mouth. The parmesan, rocket and caper combination is one of my favourites but here was an unexpected twist – the capers were fried. I would never have thought to do this but it really worked. The crisp capers contrasted beautifully with the soft and tender beef.

The crostón de provolone (literally provolone crostini but more like gourmet cheese on toast) was tasty but a little on the greasy side and the toast could have been crispier. The cheese was melted over sautéed carrots, courgettes and onion and layered with a slice of prosciutto which played the role of seasoning (read salty) along with the cheese.

I was tempted by the ceviche de salmón (at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious: salmon ceviche) but as I am heading to Perú – land of ceviche – I decided against and finished off with a plate of cheese and olives in the lovely courtyard. The cheeses were nothing special but they made a nice accompaniment to my first glass of Mendocian malbec in Mendoza.

Florentino came highly recommended by the lady at Trout and Wine tours so after my day exploring Lujan de Cuyo wineries (a day which warrants a post in itself) I went off in search of dinner there. It is a pity that I could only manage one entree in this place (the wine tour included a four course lunch) because there were plenty of other dishes that interested me.

After much deliberation I chose the calamaretis a la plancha con chorizo colorado, papas española y berros con vinagreta especiada (grilled baby squid with chorizo, Spanish potatoes and watercress with spiced vinaigrette). Chunks of salty, spicy chorizo with faultlessly tender squid and a warm but fresh salad of potatoes, green beans and watercress with a mildly spiced vinaigrette. I have had many chorizo and squid dishes that have been overly salty and heavy but the light and fresh flavours in the salad and the tangy dressing made for a perfectly balanced dish.

Later that evening after a few more wines I was a little peckish and managed to convince my new found friend from couchsurfing to accompany me for nibbles and more wine at Vinos, Olivas y Sabores. There were lots of share plates to choose from and, although nothing exceptional, it was bloody good fodder for a midnight feast.

The write up in Wine Republic on Farrah - Cocina de Autor intrigued me for its interesting take on classic Argentine dishes so I headed there for an early dinner on my last afternoon in sunny Mendoza. Once again I was taken by the entrees and ordered three.

Before my first dish arrived I was treated to an amuse bouche of sopa de zaballo y zanahoria (pumpkin and carrot soup). Now this may sound run of the mill but it has to be a pretty special soup for me to ask for the ingredients. The waiter wasn’t sure so the chef came out herself to speak with me personally, a nice touch. She told me that as well as all the usual stuff – onion, garlic, celery, stock – she adds white wine when processing the soup. She also roasted the pumpkin which would account for the rich, nutty flavour, heightened by the sprinkling of sesame seeds.

The oddly named "Chorizo 70/30" – a chorizo sausage with mozzarella, tomato and green peppers wrapped in filo pastry – was a bit of a letdown after such a fine start; the flavour was nice and lighter than expected because of the crisp peppers but the pastry was very soggy, a fatal flaw. Normally there would be two in a portion, but thankfully the waiter had allowed me to have one of these and a pastelito de carne instead so that I could try more things. The pastelito was like a mini shepherd’s pie with a pastry crust and mash on top. The beef had a seasoning similar to the standard filling for empanada with the addition of cinnamon. This was a bit odd but could have worked had there been less of it (it went down well with the syrah I was drinking though).

The tostón de mollejitas crocante (crispy sweetbread toast) with green apple, blue cheese and green leaves was the highlight. The dish was a perfect balance of textures and flavours: crisp sweetbreads, creamy and salty blue cheese, bitter leaves, fresh and tangy apple. The apple was the key, cutting through the rich flavours of the meat and cheese. My only complaint would be that the apple and toast could have been crisper.  

Because of the dim lighting, my photos really don’t do it justice, but The Vines Blog has a better photo of this dish, as well as some more of the restaurant interior.

Feeling warm and fuzzy (good food, wine and sunshine will do that to you) I decided to take a stroll up to Parque San Martín and on to the Cerro de la Gloria monument where I had heard there were some spectacular views of the city. I got a bit lost along the way and asked some police women for directions. It turns out that walking alone at that time in that part of town is “muy peligroso” (very dangerous) so I ended up being escorted back to town in a police car. They kept asking me if it was “la primera vez” (the first time); I don’t know how to say underage drinking in Spanish so I said “¡Sí!”

Anna Bistro – Av. Juan B. Justo 161, +54 (0) 261 425 1818

Florentino – Montevideo 675, +54 (0) 261 464 9077

Vinos, Olivas y Sabores - Aristides Villanueva 451, +54 (0) 261 420 2020

Farrah – Paso de los Andes 1006 (cnr  Julio A. Roca), +54 (0) 261 423 9981

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Reader Comments (5)

Wow fried capers, that is a new one . I also fancy trying the carrot soup - I love carrot and coriander soup, and also carrot and orange soup, something I first came across half a lifetime ago in California.I will try Mendoza carrot soup and report back.

July 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMa

Hi Ma, yes the capers were great, such a novel idea and it really worked. The soup also had pumpkin in it. Will be interested to see if it compares. x

July 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterVix

Toston de mollejitas, did you say? I think I might get that tattooed on my belly or maybe over my heart so they'll know what caused my cardiac arrest.

July 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

Hello Vicky! Do you remember your Mum's college friend from Boston?? That's me. Al is staying here and showed me how to comment on your brilliant blog. Love it! The photos make me salivate. More later. Enjoy your amazing adventure. Sally

July 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSally

Hi Jonny, thanks for your comment. Yes, I know, heart attack on a plate, but it did taste fantastic!

Hi Sally, thanks for the comment. I am glad you have enjoyed the blog. I hope you had a nice time with Mama.

August 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterVix

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