International cuisine in Buenos Aires’ puertas cerradas
The pair is currently on a four-month food tour through the US, but both were present to host and cook the last dinners of the season in mid-May. The evening began on the back patio, with a burrito, a lemon verbena caipirinha cocktail (reminiscent of the traditional Brazilian drink) and Patagonian cheese wrapped in chayote leaves. Once the guests were seated, Diego served a tasty, comforting meal, starting with a vegetarian, autumnal version of the traditional Argentine stew locro, an exotic mushroom empanada, frozen grape granita intermezzo and a main course of calamari shepherd’s pie. Many of the ingredients for the dishes came from the couple’s garden. Casa Felix will resume serving dinner Thursday through Saturday when the couple returns this autumn.
When Sunae opened Cocina Sunae in Colegiales in 2005, there were three, maybe four, restaurants in the city serving up the sweet, salty, savoury and spicy flavours of South Asian food, and only one place, in her opinion, was serving a decent curry. Six years later, she is serving dishes like shrimp sautéed in a spicy tamarind sauce, pork shoulder braised in a garlic-vinegar sauce, and red curry chicken with coconut milk, grapes, cherry tomatoes and bamboo. The Thai tea flavoured chocolate ganache is complemented with orange slices, a ginger cookie and a scoop of homemade green tea ice cream, a flavour rarely found in the city’s local heladerías.
As Cocina Sunae has grown, so has the city’s interest in ethnic food, Sunae said. In addition to taking reservations at Cocina Sunae Thursday through Saturday, she has catering gigs throughout the week, appears on local cooking shows from time to time and has had her recipes, like one for Thai-style garlic prawns and another for pansit guisado, a Filipino noodle dish, published in a few Spanish-language Argentinean publications.
Sunae believes an increased interest in ethnic food could lead to an increased awareness of other cultures. “This is my way of educating people,” Sunae said. The chef often shares the cultural and historical context of the dishes she serves, as do Mun, Perlman and Felix.
Kim considers Perlman a mentor in owning and operating a puerta cerrada, though their menus diverge. At Perlman’s Casa Saltshaker, an international group of visitors gathered for a festive Cinco de Mayo dinner of jalapeño poppers, vegetarian pozole with cracked white rice, sautéed calamari and ocas (potato-like Andean tubers) in a roasted cashew and chipotle sauce. The main course of pork spareribs were marinated in a nutty Chatino mole. The meal ended with a slice of margarita cheesecake, which smelled and tasted exactly like a margarita-turned-cheesecake should: salty, zesty, creamy and sweet, with a kick of tequila.
“There are certainly more and more Argentine chefs who are being very creative and bringing in elements of fusion and such, although they still tend to have a base of the Argentine cuisine, which makes it familiar to locals even if they bring in other elements to it,” Perlman said. “We’ve clearly, I think, gone further than that.”