So it's not technically in Buenos Aires; but, at the request of a few people, I'm going post some of my experiences from Mendoza ... the wine country of Argentina. Plus, this fits in nicely with the existing chronology of this thread. I flew to Mendoza about 4 weeks ago, where among sampling some really delicious Argentine wines, I had the most succulent, juicy, and delicious steak of my life.
The first place we visited was:Azafrán
Sarmiento 765, Mendoza
The restaurant itself is located inside the Park Hyatt Mendoza. I'm generally pretty turned off by hotel restaurants, and I was hesitant to go here at first even despite reading very positive feedback; but, the fact that this is a hotel restaurant makes no difference with food quality or authenticity. In addition, the restaurant boasts a 300 bottle cellar, making it a nice starting point for our first night in wine country. The space is very open and is shared, somewhat, with the lobby of the hotel. While the restaurant is segmented off to the side, lobby noise does travel to the table. Despite the wooden tables, checkered floors, bowls of fruit and dried vegetables that decorate the restaurant, it still feels like eating in the lobby of a hotel. But, that doesn't really matter once the food hits the table.
The bread is served hot and is baked on the property. We started with a simple greens salad (gotta eat any sort of vegetable when it's available down here) and empanadas asadas. The empanadas were piping hot (I nearly burnt my tongue); but, once they cooled, were light and delightfully not greasy.
We decided to pair our main courses (everyone ordered meat) with a Saint Felicien 2005 Malbec from Catena Zapata vineyards, as per the recommendation of the sommelier. The wine was really dark and reminded me of fresh blueberries with a little bit of vanilla. It was a really nice start introduction to Argentine wines.
Now, for the main courses. My friends ordered the lamb (medium), goat stew, and angus rib eye (medium-rare). I didn't try the goat stew (I really wasn't in the mood for goat) but I did try the lamb and rib eye. Both were a little over-cooked for my tastes ... personally, I like my meat rare, edging on the side of raw. None of the steaks were marinated and or any nonsense like that. The ribeye especially, had a really round flavor that made me very envious ... that is, until, I had a bite of my steak.
I ordered the bife de lomo (also ribeye ... not sure why this was labeled differently on the menu) rare and, frankly, it was the most tender, flavorful, juicy steak I have ever eaten. It topped my experiences at Peter Luger, Striphouse, and BLT Steak -- ok fine, BLT Steak shouldn't be in that list. But you get the idea. Wow. I was silent for most of the meal after that steak came, mostly because I was so engaged in the incredible flavors; but, partly because I was hoping no one would ask for a taste! I guess that's another benefit of going out with a table of girls -- you get to try everyone else's food but rarely will one of them ask for a taste of yours!
All in all, this restaurant is very highly recommended and, despite having only gone to two restaurants in Mendoza, I would return to Azafrán anytime in hopes of getting another bife de lomo quite like the one I had experienced.
Our second day in Mendoza was our first day of truly sampling Mendoza wines. We visited four different vineyards.Alta Vista Winery
Alzaga 3972, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza
Our first stop was Alta Vista, where we tried several varieties from 2005, one of which that stood out particularly was a light and crisp 2005 Rosé which had hints of grapefruit. This wine was incredibly light which went well at 9am in pretty cold weather.Catena Zapata
Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Our next stop was Catena Zapata, the vineyard that, coincidentally, produced the 2005 Saint Felicien we'd had the night before at Azafrán. I was really tempted to bring a bottle of this back with me to BA; but, I was afraid it would break. The Catena Zapata winery was definitely the most visually impressive -- the main entrance was reminiscent of a Mayan temple with a spectacular view of the Andes.Ruca Malen
Ruta Nacional Nro 7 km 1059. Agrelo. Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
We had a 5-course paired lunch at Ruca Malen which was the highlight of the day.
The first course was a Yauquén Chardonnay-Semillón 2006 (70% Chardonnay, 30% Semillón). We were told it was the youngest wine the winery produces. It was indeed young; but also fruity and fresh with no oak aging. Very easy to drink. This was paired with bruschetta that had thin slices of eggplant, ricotta cheese and lemon zest on top. This particular pairing highlighted the freshness of this wine which went nicely with the acidity from the ricotta and the citrous flavor from he lemon zest.
Next up was the Yaquén Malbec - Cabernet Sauvignon 2006lend of 50% from each grape. This also belongs to the youngest line the winery produces. 50% of the wine was in contact with oak. It was a red wine with violet-like hues. It had a complex nose and a soft and light mouth with strong fruity notes. This was paired with a small tartelette made of grilled onions, pumpkin, and cheese. The wine highlighted the sweet notes of the onions and pumpkin.
The third course started with a Ruca Malen Merlot 2004 which was, indeed, 100% Merlot.
It was aged for 12 months in oak barrels (80% aged in French barrels, 20% in American). It was then aged for 12 months more in the bottle before release. It was a red wine with violet hues. The aroma was reminiscent of cherries, strawberries, and plums with some vanilla and chocolate notes. For eating, we had lentil ragout with creme fraîche ... the cream was reminiscent of the malolactic fermentation and the earthy flavors that accompany the tannins of the malbec.
Just before our meat course, we got to try a bit of the Ruca Malen Malbec 2004 (85% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot). This is Ruca Malen's middle-line commercial brand, aged for 12 months in oak barrels. And again, 12 months more of bottle aging before release. It was a red with some violet hues. The aroma is reminiscent of red fruits like cherries, strawberries, and plums. Again, with some vanilla and chocolate notes.
For our fourth course, we had a Kinien Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 which was 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec. This one was aged 15 months in new oak barrels, and a final 15 months in the bottle before release. It had a rich ruby red color with spicy scents and a delicate pepper touch mixed among plums, berries, and cherries. A little smoky with vanilla and chocolate character. This was paired with roast beef tenderloin, black pepper butter, olive oil and roasted peppers. This pairing seemed pretty self-explanatory! Mmm.
For dessert, our fifth course, we had Quinoa bread, roasted apple cake with hesperidina and caramel sauce. No dessert wine today.
After being stuffed, we still had one more vineyard to check out. Save the best for last, I suppose:Achával Ferrer Winery
Calle Cobos 2601, Pedriel (5509), Mendoza
Here, my favorite wine of the day, was the Achavel Ferrer Quimera 2002. It was a Malbec blend that really tasted like blackberries. Very dark coloring, very smooth.
Somehow, despite all the eating and drinking, we had a little room left at the end of the day and decided to try an Italian restaurant known for making all pastas in house:Francesco
Chile 1268, Mendoza
What an aesthetically beautiful restaurant. Rather than eating in a large room, the restaurant was segmented off into smaller rooms which, combined with the natural woods, large shuttered windows, and comfortable living-room chairs, almost felt like eating in a nice country house. There was a bit of coldness, though, from the white walls and marble floor ... but nothing too bad, just enough to remind you that this was indeed a restaurant. The lighting was also very bright -- no candlelight here!
I started this meal at the hands of our waiter who recommended the empanada special of the day. This was a mistake. The dish was less like empanada, and more like an egg white omelet with tomato sauce as can be seen in the picture. Then again, what was I doing ordering an empanada in an Italian-esque restaurant? But still, as my friend says, a menu should not be a minefield and there should be no such thing as ordering wrong. My main was the pasta special of the day: Cappelletti san martino y Oreccheitte. This was a little better; but, still nothing spectacular. The pasta albeit fresh, was way over cooked. The tomato sauce, which I'd previously experienced with my essence of empanada, was a little bland ... undersalted, I think.
Dessert was pretty standard and consisted of dulce de leche and vanilla ice cream. I wanted something sweet.
All in all, pretty mediocre ... we should have gone back to Azafrán!
Mendoza was a fantastic weekend trip and, to anyone spending more than 2 weeks in Buenos Aires, would be a nice getaway.
Edited by ajgnet, 29 August 2007 - 03:35 PM.