Hands-on dining in Buenos Aires
The Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires serves guests a gourmet three-course meal with an interactive twist. (Tim Fitzgerald)
Argentines take great pride in their food. Besides wanting to know if you are for Boca or River (arch rivals on the Argentine football scene), the most common questions a traveller might encounter include: "Have you eaten a steak yet"? "What’s your favourite empanada flavour?" "Have you tried malbec?" "Do you know what mate is?"
A trip to The Argentine Experience will make answering these questions a breeze.
What started out as a closed-door restaurant in a small apartment in 2011 has evolved into a 28-seat restaurant and bar in the nightlife hotspot of Palermo Hollywood. The three-hour "interactive dining experience" is a gourmet three-course meal with a twist – guests prepare some of the dishes themselves while learning about Argentine culture and cuisine.
Led by two English-speaking hosts, one foreign and one local to provide different perspectives, guests convene in the ground-level lounge and bar where they enjoy a Malabeca cocktail (malbec, pisco and apple juice) and mingle with the other diners. Once seated at the upstairs dining area, where the walls are adorned with mate gourds, participants are taught to fill and wrap their own empanadas (pastries) with pre-prepared gourmet ingredients of their choosing, including red wine-marinated beef stew or caramelised onions and cheese.
While waiting for the empanadas to cook, local favourites such as provoleta (grilled provolone cheese with herbs and spices), Argentine-style pork chorizo, and homemade chimichurri (Argentine salsa made with onion, garlic, olive oil, oregano, paprika, basil and olive oil) are served.
Empanada making and eating is followed by a main course of thick cut fillet steak, mashed potato and roasted vegetables. Argentina has one of the highest consumptions of beef in the world, and the owner of The Argentine Experience, Englishman Leon Lightman, travelled for six months through the country, visiting cattle ranches to find the best sources of grass-fed beef. On his trip he also learned the trick of leaving the steaks uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours to allow the outside of the meat to harden, locking in 100% of the flavour and resulting in the juciest steak possible.
After the main course, guests assemble their own alfajores, traditional Argentine desserts that consist of two biscuits joined by dulce de leche, covered with chocolate fondant and coated with coconut shavings. The feast is concluded with a lesson how to formally prepare, serve and drink mate, a traditional tea made from the dried leaves of yerba mate, a species of holly native to subtropical South America.
Throughout the meal, guests are served glasses of malbec from Argentina’s famous Mendoza wine region, while the hosts share anecdotes about Argentine history, cuisine and culture.
The cost is $85 per person and reservations can be made online.
Tim Fitzgerald is the Buenos Aires Localite for BBC Travel. He also writes gringoinbuenosaires.com.