I learned about closed-door dinners from reading reviews of restaurant in Mendoza and Buenos Aries on TripAdvisor. I have found TripAdvisor to be surprisingly helpful when looking for good places to eat in foreign countries. Closed-door restaurants are traditionally someone running a small restaurant out of their home or apartment. Typically, these places only do dinner a few nights a week, and they only have a single seating that starts around 9pm for around four to eight people. The meal is a five to seven course tasting menu with wine pairings. My love of tasting menus and my inability to speak Spanish made these dinners a perfect fit for me. Ordering off a menu entirely in Spanish is fairly challenging and often a little embarrassing. I often find myself picking dishes at random and hoping for the best. I’ve had mixed results.
At closed-door dinners, I didn’t have to worry about anything because all of the decisions had already been made for me. I eat virtually everything so I’m happy to try whatever the chef brings out. I ended up doing a total of four of these dinners during my time in Argentina. I did one in Mednoza and three in Buenos Aries. I found it interesting how different each experience was. Two of the dinners were actually in the chef’s apartment. The other two dinners were in more traditional restaurant spaces, and they had more than just one large table. The ones in more traditional restaurant spaces didn’t have any signage out front, and you had to make a reservation in advance to be able to get in. Both of the restaurant spaces also started in the apartments of the chefs and owners, but they grew too large and needed to expand. In many ways these places still had the feeling of being in someone’s home. They were very small compared to most traditional restaurants, and the owners still played a large role in your dining experience. Below is a breakdown of my experiences at the four closed-door dinners I attended. These meals were some of the top highlights of my trip. If you are into good food and wine, I’d definitely recommend that you try to make a closed-door dinner or two part of your trip through Argentina.
Los Chocos (Mendoza, Argentina): $AR365 for five courses and wine pairings
Where there is good wine, there will be good food. Los Chocos is listed as the #7 restaurant in Mendoza on TripAdvisor so it was one of the first places I came across when researching places to eat in Mendoza. Los Chocos was also the first closed-door restaurant I came across while searching places to eat on the trip. As I read the reviews for Los Chocos people were comparing it to other closed-door experiences that they had in Argentina. I learned that closed-door restaurants are a growing trend throughout Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Los Chocos is a closed-door restaurant in the truest sense because you are eating dinner in the apartment of your hosts Martin and Martin. The Martins usually do dinners in their home that last from 9pm to around 1am three or four nights a week. Dining with a small group in the home of the chef is a dining experience that is different in many ways from eating in a traditional restaurant. The chef Martin (I’ll call the other Martin server Martin) came out with each course and explained the dish and how it fit into local and Argentine culinary traditions. I really enjoyed being able to ask chef Martin questions about his cooking techniques for the different dishes. I recently started making my own stocks for braising so it was nice to be able to ask the chef about his approach to making his red wine braised short ribs.
There was a total of six of us at our dinner. My girlfriend wasn’t able to go on this trip so I was traveling with one of my friends from NYC. He had met a couple of Canadian girls in Peru who happened to be in Mendoza the night we had this dinner scheduled so they joined us last-minute. There was a young couple from LA who had also made a reservation for dinner that night. The six of us got along well, and we were able to maintain good conversation throughout the evening. We had a five course meal with exquisite wine pairings. Server Martin made sure that no one’s glass was empty at any point during the four hours we were in their home. I’m not going to spend an excessive amount of time breaking down the meal dish by dish, but I will say that is was a wonderful home cooked meal that was certainly worth every penny. However, the real selling point for Los Chocos is the wine pairings. All of the wines were premium wines from small Mendocinian Bodegas. The wines I had at Los Chocos were easily the best wines I drank while in Mendoza. Chef Martin did a fantastic job pairing the wines with the food, which isn’t an easy task. We learned at the end of the meal that chef Martin is a sommelier whose day job is teaching sommelier classes at a local university. If you are looking to sample some of Mendoza’s finest wines paired with an excellent home cooked meal, Los Chocos is a must try during your time in Mendoza.
Casa Coupage (Buenos Aires, Argentina): $AR490 for a six course meal and seven wine pairings
Casa Coupage started in the home of the owners as a private wine club. As the wine club grew in popularity, they started to provide meals with the wine tastings. As Casa Coupage kept growing, they needed to move to a larger location so the business wasn’t so intermixed with their personal lives. If you weren’t looking for it, you would walk right by Casa Coupage without even knowing it. The entrance is completely unmarked and the only way to find the place is by using the address they give you after you make your reservation. From the outside it felt like we were ringing the bell to someone’s home; however, once the door opened we knew we were in the right place. Casa Coupage is a small restaurant made up of nine tables. Our gracious host was co-owner and head sommelier, Santiago. Santiago immediately made us feel welcome even though we were clearly underdressed and out-of-place. I originally made the reservation for my friend Matt and I, but we ended up getting three more people from our hostel to join us. I think it is safe to say that Casa Coupage doesn’t draw a large percent of its clientele from hostels. I had looked at a lot of restaurants and I guess I had gotten the prices a little confused. I had told everyone that the meal was $250AR for the tasting menu and the wine pairings. When we sat down Santiago hand us menus. I immediately knew I was in trouble because I didn’t even think there were supposed to be menus. I quickly looked at the prices and found out the tasting menu was $AR310 and then you could do a three, five, or seven glass wine pairing with the tasting menu that you paid for separately. I turned bright red because I know a lot of travelers are on tight budgets, and I had clearly given everyone bad information. However, Casa Coupage does have an a la carte menu as well so it was possible to eat and drink there for around $AR250 if you want. To my delight everyone at the table ordered the most expensive things on the menu-the tasting menu and the seven wine pairings for an additional $AR180. Santiago assured us that if we ordered the seven glass wine pairings, he would be happy to keep our glasses full as long as we would like. We came to drink and that is exactly what we did. However, the world-class Argentine wines we were drinking were a huge step up from the piss-water beer we had been drinking throughout South America.
I’m really glad that we ended up brining a group with us to Casa Coupage. It was a little too romantic of a setting for just by buddy Matt and I have dinner. Casa Coupage does not sit people together at the same table so we had a nice big table to ourselves. There was only one other table in the whole restaurant so we got a lot of attention from Santiago. He seemed to enjoy our youthful exuberance which was great because we were certainly both youthful and exuberant that night. Instead of doing a different glass of wine with each course, Santiago recommended that we do two glasses of wine at the same time for every two courses. He said that he likes to do this because it allows you to compare how different wines pair with the same plate of food. He also gave us multiple options for each glass of wine. For example, the first wine pairing was two glasses of white wine but we had four different bottles of white wine we could choose from. The wine pairings at Casa Coupage were even better than the wine pairings at Los Chocos, which made my meal at Casa Coupage my favorite wine experience of the trip. The tasting menu was fantastic and certainly worth the money, but it was the wine pairings that I remember the best. It was nice that Casa Coupage gave you the option of steak or fish for the meat course. Additionally, they have an a la crate menu so picky eaters should do well here as well.
At the beginning of our meal Santiago explained to us that he always tastes all of the wines when he opens a new bottle to make sure the wine hasn’t turned. As he was opening a bottle of unique malbec and smelling the cork, I asked him “what are you looking for when you smell the cork?” His reply was “this is what I’m checking for” as he handed me the cork. Apparently the cork on this bottle had gone bad and caused the bottle to turn; however, I never would have known this if he didn’t tell me. He opened up another bottle of the exact same wine and poured a tasting glass of wine that had turned and the one that was still good. First we each smelled the two different corks. When you were comparing the corks side by side, it was obvious that the one from the wine that had turned had a much stronger smell. If I had just tasted the wine that had turned on its own, I would have thought the wine was fine but not that great. After tasting the wines side by side, it was obvious which one the good one was. Santiago could have easily served us the wine that had turned and none of us would have said anything about it because it wasn’t that obvious that it had turned. You could only really tell when you compared the wine directly to another bottle of the same wine. Santiago’s honesty and willingness to educate us were greatly appreciated. He said that often sommeliers are not honest in these situations and try to pass off bad wine on guests by having them do the tasting themselves. Since we had already had a fair bit of wine at that point, I’m sure that he could have easily passed that bad bottle off on us if he wanted. Instead he proved to be a good friend and a great host. As you can see in the pictures he even allowed us to add stamps to their collection of stamps on the wall and take some ridiculous pictures on their awesome blue couch in the lobby. We arrived at Casa Coupage around 9pm and didn’t leave until around 2am. This was easily one of my favorite nights of the trip. If you enjoy great wine and food I’d definitely recommend Casa Coupage if you find yourself in Buenos Aires. However, I have to note that our 8am ferry ride to Uruguay the next day was a little rough.
Casa SaltShaker (Buenos Aries, Argentina): AR$240 for a five course meal with wine pairings
We had a nice meal at Casa SaltShaker; however, it was definitely my least favorite meal of our four closed-door dinners. Casa SaltShaker is run by Dan Perlman and his cabana boy Henry. I found Dan to be very uptight from the moment I introduced myself to him. I had read that Dan moved to Buenos Aries from New York City. So when I met him, I let him know my friend and I were from NYC and that I had read he was from NYC as well. He quickly replied “No, I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan” and awkwardly left it at that. I found this to be very strange because it came out later in the night that he had lived and worked in NYC for many years and he did move to Argentina from NYC. Most normal people would have replied to my initial question letting me know that he did live in NYC for a while. This initial interaction obviously isn’t that big of a deal, but I use it to exemplify the social awkwardness of our host. Henry, Dan’s live-in partner, didn’t speak any english, but I actually found him to be quite amusing. Henry served us as Dan prepared the food. Henry was very friendly for someone who didn’t speak the common language, and I noticed that he made a lot of eye contact with me throughout the night. I was thoroughly amused to hear that all of the guys at the dinner said the same thing after we left their apartment.
If you are an uptight and boring person, I think you might really like dinner at Casa SaltShaker. I brought my buddy Matt who I was traveling with and two of the people from the hostel we brought with us to Casa Coupage a couple of nights before. There were two other couples at the dinner, which made a total of eight people. One of the couples was a younger couple from Australia who had recently moved to Buenos Aries. The other couple was a pair of weirdos from Oakland, CA. It was easy to tell they were a little strange as soon as we met them, but it became abundantly clear they were out there when they were quick to tell our host that they met through internet dating. The fact that they met through internet wasn’t strange, but when they went on to proclaim that “Everyone in America meets through internet dating. We don’t know any couples that didn’t meet through the internet.” it became obvious that they were fairly out of touch with reality. I also thought it was strange that they lived in Oakland but hated the city of San Francisco. This couple got along really well with our host while the rest of us found him to be smug and uptight.
The food and wine at Casa SaltShaker didn’t stack up to the meals we had at our other closed-door dinners. It was a nice meal, but nothing really stood out. At our first two closed-door dinners our hosts keep our wine glasses full at all times; however, at Casa SaltShaker they served fairly small glasses of wine and they didn’t refill anyone’s glass for any of the courses. Six of the eight of us were young and there to drink so we were definitely disappointed to see they were stingy with the wine. After the last course was served, our host came out and stood awkwardly by our table. He was friendly and happy to give advice about eating and drinking in Buenos Aries, but we all agreed that we felt like he was rushing us out as soon as we finished eating. All and all it was a nice experience, but I’m glad it wasn’t my first closed-door dinner because it might have turned me off closed-door dinners in general. I wouldn’t recommend Casa SaltShaker to younger people looking to do some drinking and get a little rowdy. We weren’t the typical clients at any of the closed-door dinners went to, but this was the only dinner were I felt out-of-place and maybe even a little unwelcome. This might have simply been because all of our other hosts were so welcoming, and we were able to connect with them on a personal level. I feel bad writing a negative review of Casa SaltShaker because I typically like to focus on writing about thing I enjoyed, but it was one of our closed-door dinners so I felt obligated to included it in this post. It should also point out that Casa SaltShaker was by far the cheapest dinner we did which does help to explain the lower quality of wine and lack of refills. The four of us and the Australian couple decided to head out for drinks after the dinner at The Buller Brewing Company which is a short walk from Casa SaltShaker. I’d definitely recommend checking out The Buller Brewing Company if you are looking for a place with good beer in Buenos Aries. It was a nice change from the piss-water beer that is Quilmes.
Treintasillas (Buenos Aries, Argentina): AR$150 for a four course meal (NO WINE PAIRINGS)
We ate at Treintasillas on the last night of our trip. Originally there were supposed to be five of us going to dinner; however, two people backed out at the last-minute so it ended up being myself, my buddy Matt, and our new friend Mark who came with us to Casa Coupage and Casa SaltShaker. Treintasillas has no signage out front, but it is set up like a traditional restaurant inside. There are around five small tables in the main dining area of the restaurant. We walked in around 9pm, and we were the first people to arrive. We were greeted by the owner and chef, Ezequiel. He wasn’t as out going as our other hosts, but he was certainly a nice guy who made us feel welcome. In true Argentine style, the restaurant was full by 10pm. When they say people like to eat late in Argentina, they aren’t kidding. The atmosphere at Trientasillas was a little more laid back than Casa Coupage and the clientele was younger and more lively; however, Santiago at Casa Coupage was so welcoming that I felt equally comfortable at both places.
Treintasillas only did a four course tasting menu, but the courses-particularly the meat course-where much larger than the courses at our other meals. I thoroughly enjoyed the food here, and I thought it was a great deal for the price. They did not offer wine pairings with the meal, but they did have a nice wine list. This actually worked out well for us because the three of us were set on doing some hard-drinking since it was the last night of our trip. We ordered a bottle of wine with each course. We decided that we wanted to do a cab franc with the braised lamb course. We asked Ezequiel which one he would recommend. He pointed to the most expensive bottle on the list and said “this is the best cab franc in Argentina.” Without any further hesitation we said in unison “we’ll take it.” The wine held up to the owner’s bold claim and we all agreed it was one of our favorites that we had on the whole trip. I noticed that every other table in the restaurant only ordered a single bottle of wine to go with their entire meal. Ezequiel must have been impressed by and/or grateful for our heavy drinking because he sent out a bottle of sparkling wine on the house to go with our dessert course. By the time we finished our dessert we had downed four bottles of wine between the three of us. So we did the obvious thing and ordered another bottle of sparking wine to help us “digest” our meal. We were the first people to arrive at the restaurant, and we were the last ones to leave. From what I can remember, we enjoyed our meal at Treintasillas and I would highly recommend the restaurant to anyone.