Three months in five countries that included about 200 meals eaten in restaurants, cafes, street carts, etc. so far this year. That’s probably more than most people dine out in a year! Since everyone always asks what my favorite dish was, here are the top nine. Why nine? Because each of these provided not only great food, but great memories, realizations, insight into cultures and lasting memories.
Rooftop Asado | Buenos Aires, Argentina
I’ve been a fan of the asado style for as long as I can remember. As a young boy growing up in the family butcher shop, we had an amazing regular customer named Osvaldo who is Argentinean and ended up moving to Tahoe after he competed in the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley. He has been around pretty much my entire life and used to tell me of asados and the gaucho way of cooking before I could even see over a butcher’s block. Fast forward 30 or so years and I find myself in Argentina with a grill smoking away and Santiago cooking an asado on my apartment patio with 20 or so new friends I’ll be traveling the world with. In hindsight, it was a great start to this new chapter of my life as it brought these distant memories tied to my first career of butchering into the present as I write a new chapter. The meal itself was amazing, and the conversation and camaraderie even more so. I shared this as one of my first posts this year.
Niño Gordo | Buenos Aires, Argentina
After telling Santi, the gent who cooked asado for us, that I was tired of seeing nothing but steaks and meat without much variety he got us a couple of seats at Niño Gordo. They serve a modern style of Asian and Argentinean fusion and really step up the atmosphere and presentation from many restaurants I found in the area. Grabbing a meal with Santi was a pleasure, and each dish that came out was better than the last with the highlight being mollejas (sweetbreads) grilled and tossed in a miso glaze which made for an umami bomb with a touch of spice and that lovely creamy texture perfectly cooked sweetbreads have.
Proper | Buenos Aires, Argentina
Yes, again with Santi, who is truly the most in the know guy around Palermo’s food scene that could possibly exist. My friend Amy was visiting from back home as well so we wanted to get in a nice meal with a small group. Proper is a new up and comer, but they seriously have it together. The space is inside an old automotive shop and behind a door with no sign. Yet, it was full within 20 minutes of us sitting down on a Tuesday which is always a good sign! A menu of small plates for sharing included some middle eastern flavors and updated Argentinean staples. The star of the show was the off menu rib eye, served as a tomahawk and enveloped in a compound butter that perfectly kicked up the flavor and juiciness. They tend to cook their meats a little over our tastes in Argentina, but this steak was ordered medium rare with warm red center and they absolutely nailed it.
Peron Peron | Buenos Aires, Argentina
I’ll let you guess who put this dinner together… About 20 of us gathered at this politically charged restaurant for a set menu from the chef Gonzalo near the end of our time in Buenos Aires. I had eaten here previously and enjoyed the comfort food feel of the menu, then dining with the chef sealed the deal. Gonzalo cooks food that his grandma would make for dinner guests. Equal parts tasty and classic, all served with humility and gratitude. His asian style glazed beef ribs are a perfect union of old meets new and the sheer size bubbles up images of Fred Flinstone. Peron Peron and the chef/owner Gonzalo really delighted my palate and my mind. I went more in depth in this post.
Dinner with Luciano and Gaby | Córdoba, Argentina
Before landing in Córdoba I was put in touch with a chef to work together on his new restaurant. Then within a few days of arriving I found myself in his mother’s backyard as he was grilling up a storm for another dinner with the RY crew. Chef Luciano is a character for sure, and a blast to watch cook. His style is well aligned with mine in that good ingredients with some simple seasoning and a good fire are all it takes to make a great meal. We all chowed down with our hands as we stood around a table full of food. Grease dripping and sauce covering our fingers we must have looked like ravenous vagabonds who hadn’t eaten in days, the food was gone in minutes. I later got to cook alongside Luciano for a preview night at his restaurant Nordico and we’ve kept in touch since. Step back a bit to read more about the lessons I learned from the Viking Chef.
Siete Fuegos | Uco Valley, Argentina
Years of anticipation led me to book a table at Siete Fuegos, hire a car for the three hour round trip drive and talk a few friends into joining. I’m not sure there’s another dining room in the world that rivals that of Siete Fuegos. Face into the room and it’s all modern and elegant design backlit by the raging fires they cook on, turn around and you’re watching the sun set into the Andes Mountains as the light first reflects orange and then fades to purple across the vineyards and pond. The food itself is elegant considering it’s all cooked over open flame, but the experience is about so much more. Food cooked as gauchos have done for centuries, paired with the best of the best wines grown within a few dozen miles and effortless service under the towering mountain range all add up to memories that may never fade. More photos and the full story in this post.
El Papagayo | Córdoba, Argentina
Córdoba isn’t really known for it’s food scene, yet there are a handful of standout places bucking that trend. El Papagayo is right there at the top of them serving a set menu of very modern and well curated dishes. The restaurant itself is narrow enough that I could nearly touch both walls, but tall enough that table in the loft we were sat at gave us a view over the whole operation. One dish after another delighted with a good balance of delicateness and technique that stands out in the college town. The menu allows for a few choices along the way, so of course we shared just about everything they create. The coup de gras is the pumpkin affogato dessert that features a mousse from the area’s staple squash perfectly paired with ice cream, espresso and one of the best biscotti I’ve had.
Maido | Lima, Peru
The heavy influence of Japanese and Chinese immigrants in Lima show through in the food at nearly every turn. Maido delighted me in their nods to Peruvian food within the resolute boundaries of Japanese cuisine throughout a menu full of sushi, nigiri, braised and roasted dishes. White streaked toro was presented at the perfect temperature to allow the fat to melt on your tongue and the piece to almost dissolve into a never ending flow of umami flavor. A dessert ceviche garnished with frozen tangerine and gelled lime had every texture imaginable on a plate. All of this served with precision in a private dining room from an army of servers that knew our needs before we did. I shared a full set of photos and the story a few weeks ago.
Osso | La Molina, Peru
I’m not sure I had ever seen a “butcher’s table” offered up in a restaurant before, but knew that it needed a visit when I did. An adventure of a drive across Lima at rush hour was a tall request for the group I gathered but they were happily sat at the huge maple table in the back room of a butcher shop and presented with the first glimpse at what we may be eating. Between surprise bites and multiple plates for some courses we ate around 15-16 different dishes each featuring a specific cut or preparation of world class beef and pork. The earlier course of beef tartare prepared table side and eaten with our fingers set the tone for a primal meal guaranteed to end in meat sweats… A dry aged New York strip steak was cooked directly in the coals and finished with just a touch of Peruvian salt offered melt in your mouth tenderness and a funk that made one friend ask “why does it taste like blue cheese?” The later course of a whole roasted pig’s head served as tacos still makes my mouth water. There’s really no better match of a restaurant to my style and history as a butcher and chef. Read more about the meal and my revelations from it here.