Ituzaingo

Saturday started out slowly as the back to back to back to uh, well a lot of late nights began to take its toll on my body. Still, this was my last full day/night in Argentina so I wasn’t about to spend it in my small hotel room. Besides, there was wine to purchase.

After a surprisingly good meal of boneless chicken with a fresh herb sauce and puffed potatoes, I headed back to Vines of Mendoza. Ezekiel was there again to assist. I took out $1100 pesos and said “Now let’s get some wine with this.” I ended up getting both some of the wines I had at the tasting as well as a couple of others to round out a half of a case. I also got another very good reserve Malbec which they couldn’t ship but that I’d transport in my suitcase. A very nice haul indeed.

My initial choice for my final dinner was at Casa Mun, run by a chef who normally has a puerta cerrada in Buenos Aires but is temporarily in Mendoza for a few weeks. Unfortunately, I had received an email a few days ago saying that due to a medical emergency the dinner had been canceled. I had asked them what they suggested for a replacement and they recommended another puerta cerrada called Ituzaingo.

The weather had turned much cooler and though over a mile away, I thought it would be nice to walk to dinner. I ended up on a large street called Las Heras, which had tons of shops and parrilas on it. This seemed to be more of the working class scene, and it was nice being able to see another side of the city. I finally arrived at the address – on Ituzaigno Street natch – with a large wooden door and a long string. I pulled the string and heard barking. I wasn’t exactly sure if I was at the right place but just then the door opened, making it clear that it was.

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The hostess ushered me inside and showed me to my table in what looked like the living room of a nice artist loft. There was a couple sitting on one of the couches, and I was given a small glass of wine as a greeting. This was soon followed by a delicious bruschetta of egg, tomatoes and herbs.

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There was some nice jazz softly playing in the background and the room was full of art pieces. There didn’t appear to be any menu or options so I assumed that it must be a tasting menu. I was enjoying the onda when the door burst open. A very jovial man carrying two large bags of ice entered along with his barking dog, Tete. This was Gonzalo, the owner and head chef.

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He put down the ice and told me to join him by the couch. Another plate arrived, this time some smoked salmon with avocado, and he explained that the salmon was from the very south of Argentina. He then sat down with a Coca Cola, due to him having to work, and started to talk about the concept of his place. This was his actual home and he believed that socializing is just as important as the food. By now, another couple had joined the group, who looked vaguely familiar to me.

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The next bite was a take on the classic proveletta, which in this case had been inverted so that the cheese was inside the dough vs. on the outside. He had us go around the room and introduce ourselves. The couple from Norway had just returned from trying to summit Aconcagua and unfortunately had to turn away 50 meters from the summit due to bad weather. Gonzalo left to take care of dinner and we all had a nice chat getting to know each other. It was around this time that the other couple and I realized where we knew each other. All three of us had been at the same sports bar, Sugar, to watch one of the NFL playoff games and even crazier, they had also initially been planning to go to Casa Mun that night.

We were enjoying our chat so much that we decided to join as a single table, which they set up for us outside. There was a large private party on the other side of the courtyard and Tete was happily circling us. Peter turned out to be a pretty serious wine collector and with Gonzalo, picked out 3 bottles of reds for us to have with our dinner.

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Now basically a progressive dinner party, we enjoyed swapping stories about our respective trips so far and enjoyed the first bottle of red, which was quickly followed by the second. Gonzalo reappeared to tell us about our next round of appetizers. These were 2 different styles of that most iconic image of Argentine cuisine – the empanada. One was from the Tucman region and was filled with smoked trout and the other was a more traditional take with chicken. The trout was a standout to me. Tete continued to hang around our table, looking up at us with big sad eyes.

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Finally, it was time for the main course, which of course, was beef – two large tenderloins in my case due my garlic thang served with a delicious Malbec mushroom sauce. The 3nd wine, suggested by Gonzalo, turned out to work great with the juicy steaks, and we toasted again our newfound friendship. Having had so many meals (while fantastic ones) by myself, it was a nice and welcome change of pace to be in a group again.

Peter declared that we should get a 4th bottle and while tempting, I knew that if I went for that, I would be in a world of hurt the next day. I graciously declined but the remaining four went for it anyway. Our final course soon appeared, consisting of 3 different desserts. The first was pumpkin which had been dried in a very specific way in the sun, then boiled in a sugar water solution. It was a very unusual couple of bites, with the sugar and spice of the pumpkin adding punch with the chewy texture. The second bite was spaghetti squash (Argentina is the largest producer of spaghetti squash in the world) in a taco like shell. The squash had once again been enhanced by sugar, this time melted brown sugar.

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The final dessert was the Argentine staple, dulce de leche mousse. While delicious, I could feel my stomach start to rebel so I only took a few small scoops. Peter and Ture enjoyed it so much they were given a second version with banana soon after. It was now about 3 hours into the dinner and the females of our group were starting to get tired. The rest of us though were still ready to carry on so we decided to meet up for drinks after Peter and Ture dropped off their wives at their respective hotels.

I suggested we try the Aristides area where I had been on Thursday since that was the main drag of bars. We took the short cab ride to the densely populated street. There were hundreds of people filling the various bars, both inside and out. Peter volunteered to do recon at one of the main bars, which wanted a cover to go inside and was also the site of my ill-advised Negroni that past Thursday. I got the vibe the crowd was a bit young for our tastes, and Peter soon reemerged confirming that. We finally ended up at a cool spot called G2, where I was able to snag us a prime outdoor table.

Ever the instigator, Peter insisted at the very least I share a beer with him. I thought that wouldn’t push things too far so we ordered a large bottle of a local stout. It wasn’t that great but better than the usual lager nonsense. Ture had a rum and Coke, and we all relaxed, taking in the scene around us. At the table next to us was a friendly couple. Antonio was like something out of a movie – short, stocky with a bald head and a booming voice, speaking broken English. He seemed to really like the phrase “COME ONNN!” which he said repeatedly. Peter ended up buying them another bottle of wine and I chatted with Gladys, who only spoke Spanish so there were the usual breakdowns in communication.

It was now past four, and we collectively agreed to pack it in for the night. We said goodbye to Antonio and Gladys, whom of course were just getting started, and I made sure Ture made it back to the hotel. I crawled into bed at 5AM, dreading the long day/night/morning ahead but at least I could have a final meal and hopefully relax a bit before I began the long journey home.

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