Dan Perlman is one of the most prolific Anglophone food blogger in Buenos Aires, whose tips and recommendations we frequently profited from when we stayed in the capital. Readers of his blog also know that this transplanted New Yorker is not just a food writer but also a cooking instructor and chef, operating a puerta cerrada (closed-door restaurant) in his home, churning 5 course gourmets dinners out of his kitchen almost every weekend.
While closed-door restaurants are not easily found in the US and Europe (probably due to space limitations and health regulations), they are part and parcel of B.A’s gastronomic fabric, with more than a dozen active puerta cerradas serving anything from Korean to vegetarian cuisine. At Casa Saltshaker, aka Dan’s place, menu themes take whimsical turns from celebrating the theft of Mona Lisa to the 100th birthday of famous or semi-famous people. For our dinner, we were treated to a pseudo-Mexican dinner inspired by Mexican comedian Cantinflas, most famous amongst non-Hispanic audiences as Passepartout, Phileas Fogg’s resourceful and comical valet in the original Around The World in 80 Days movie.
We started with ceviche, the fish and shrimp lightly cured by lime. More interesting was the accompanying pair of purees, a bright yellow and lightly sweeten corn mush (perhaps to take the place of tamales and corn tortillas), as well as a pale brown cashew puree, with chipotle adding heat and smoke. So addictive was the puree that I spread the leftovers over extra bread and ate it all up.
What is a Mexican meal without guacamole and salsa? At Casa Saltshaker, the avocado was mixed with sweet notes of vanilla and white chocolate, then filled into a mini pastry shell. The avocado pie is then topped with roasted cherry tomatoes and some crab salad, the natural sweetness of the crab complementing the creamy, almost flan like consistency of the avocado. A light appetizer, though too much like a dessert for me, with the sweet notes overpowering the spices. Props for creativity, though in the end, I think I prefer to eat my guac straight up.
If I complained about the lack of heat in the previous dish, I got paid back in spades with the soup, a fiery concoction of jalapenos, onions and tomatoes rendered down to a brick-red liquid, more sauce than soup. The surprise was a perfectly poached egg slipped into the soup, the yolk thickening the soup further as it breaks and oozes out of its white case. The mozzarella and chives reminded me of french onion soup, another ultra-thick, hyper comforting dish in a bowl. I could eat this dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The night hit another high with the meat dish, a plate of beef ribs that had been slowly braised in stout and then brushed with a sweet, spicy glaze before a trip under the broiler and then the plate. The meat was unsurprisingly melt-in-your-mouth tender and flavorful from the long braise in spice-infused beer, while the fried leeks and corn polenta kept it from being too heavy.
Dessert was deceptively simple and healthy, a slice of fluffy banana cake with peanut butter cream, almost breakfast-like if not for the addition of a quenelle of chocolate-cinnamon mousse. You could however argue for its relatively healthfulness, seeing that the base for the mousse not cream but avocado. Viva Mexico!
The food is only one aspect for eating in a private kitchen. The other is the communal aspect of sharing your table and conversation with strangers, since there is only 1 oversized dining table dominating Dan’s well-appointed dining room. There were no Argentinian diners the night we were there, but we shared our meal with 3 other pairs from the US and Europe, with conversation topics that traversed from the safe (travels) to taboo (politics). And with Dan and his friend Allan to pitch in with their opinions, we had a blast. Don’t believe me? Try it out yourself then. You’ll never know what you’ll be eating and who you’ll be eating with, and that’s half the fun!
(Address given only after reservations have been made).