Argentine reminiscing and a kale salad

Look out, New York City!

We’re back from our adventures in South America.

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I wish I could say I’m completely relaxed and at ease with the world but something about coming back to snow, slush, freezing temperatures and the realities of a desk job has the the effect of making vacation seem extremely far away.

Oh sunny BA, how I miss you.

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It was a fantastic trip and we fell in love with Buenos Aires’ whimsical architecture, abundant green space, trendy restaurants and speakeasy bars.

And Mendoza…there are really no words but I’ll find some. Touching down among the Andes was the first moment we truly felt like we were worlds away from home. We visited 6 vineyards in 2 days (and yes, that is A LOT of wine) and each one was more spectacular, grape vines stretching out against a backdrop of blue sky and snowcapped mountains.

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There was a small-ish hitch in the form of a stomach bug I contracted on our second night in Mendoza and still haven’t quite kicked. Let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than being a food blogger who can’t eat. It pains me, literally and emotionally.

But not to worry, my boyfriend ate moooooore than enough steak for the both of us (I think the final tally was 12 steaks in 9 days?)

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I didn’t take as many food pics as usual because a) I wasn’t really eating and b) I was trying not to be “that” American but I’ll share some highlights in a later post. Right now I can’t wait to talk about the best meal I ever had, on our very first night in Buenos Aires.

7 course tasting with wine pairing at iLatina

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If you go to Buenos Aires at any point in the future, please please please go here. It’s what they call a “closed restaurant” meaning it’s in an old house and you need to buzz at the gate to get in.

The place itself was beautiful, the food was amazing and the service…I’ve never had better. We did the wine pairing but started with cocktails. Mine was my literal dream come true, a combination of mezcal, campari and grapefruit.

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The whole menu is grounded in the cuisine of Mexican and Central and South America. It was technically 7 courses but ended up being more like 9. First they brought out shots (non-alcoholic) of agua fresca with melon and a bread basket with at least 7 different kinds of bread, each inspired by a different grain or ingredient from a different country – think cocoa bread, coconut bread, banana bread, etc.

Then the actual first course came, a little carimañola topped with shredded lamb. Carimañolas are Panamian fried dough made of yucca root, and it reminded me of a tamale. It came with a coconut-lime sauce that was the best thing I have ever tasted. This is barely an exaggeration.

Next up was Peruvian Nikkei ceviche with smoked shrimp and caramelized octopus also in a to-die-for leche de tigre sauce, which is the citrus marinade they use to cure the ceviche. I’ve just started eating octopus and it’s quickly growing on me.

Course three was fish in encocado, an Ecuadorian tomato-coconut sauce that was also astoundingly delicious. After this they brought us a palate cleanser which was a dollop of sorbet on ceramic spoon that came with its own ceramic spoon rest. Everything here was art, from the serving dishes, to the arrangement of the food to the attention paid by the waiters.

Seriously – the little candle on our table burned out twice and each time our waiter replaced it, the second time noting somewhat sheepishly, “It’s worth it.” as if to say, “Yes I know this is a somewhat insignificant gesture but it adds up.”

After that we had course four, quail with achiote which is a spice blend, and Oaxacan molé. At this point, I was amazed at my ability to continue to intake food but I persevered through course five, a stunning braised pork in Colombian coffee and sugarcane reduction that melted in your mouth.

Finally we moved onto course six, Ecuadorian truffle with sea salt and olive oil. I know it seems weird to combine olive oil and truffle but it was a totally perfect flavor combination that just works, probably because the smoothness of the olive oil balances out the slight chalkiness of chocolate truffle. Also because of the quality of the olive oil, which tasted like it had just been pressed from the vine. I can’t wait to try this at home.

If you’re still counting – or reading – we had one last course, sweet potato sorbet with goat cheese and hibiscus merengue. Once again it was a surprising combination and once again, completely delicious. The meal ended with the “ceremonial coffee service,” yielding phenomenal Colombian coffee. My Starbucks blend will never taste the same after this.

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The whole meal took four hours which felt sinfully luxurious compared to the pace of NYC dining. (We came to find out that even 1 or 2 course dinners in Argentina take much longer than they would in the US and this impatient New Yorker had to be reminded to take a chill pill and enjoy it.)

All I have to say is NYC…the bar for dining has just been raised.

Andddd with that, here’s a kale salad to start off our New Year, New Us diets 🙂

Kale salad with pecorino and slivered almonds
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

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Note: I made this without the pecorino and it’s still good, for all my vegan/lactose intolerant friends! Also, the original recipe calls for walnuts but I subbed almonds.

1/2 cup slivered almonds or other nut of your choice
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup panko or coarse bread crumbs
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
Salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch tuscan kale, also known as lacinato
2 ounces pecorino cheese, grated or ground in a food processor
Juice of half a lemon
Black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste

Add almonds to a small pan set over medium heat. Toast, tossing frequently, until browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Next, in a small saucepan over low heat, simmer white wine vinegar, water and raisins for 5 minutes, until raisins are plump and soft. Set aside in liquid.

In the same pan that you toasted the almonds, add the bread crumbs, garlic, 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt and toast until golden. Set aside.

Last but not least, slice your kale. I’ve adapted Deb’s method: trim the leaves away from the center stalk with a knife (slicing length-wise). Then stack them, roll them into a long tube and slice them crosswise into ribbons.

To assemble the salad, combine kale, pecorino, nuts and raisins in a large bowl, leaving any vinegar from the raisins behind.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice and toss until all the kale ribbons are coated. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper if needed.

 

 

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