The souvenirs we bring back from travels tend to be objects or apparel that will remind us of our explorations when we catch sight of them in our living room or office. On my visit to Buenos Aires, I came looking to return with one thing that would far outlast a knick-knack or T-shirt. I wanted to learn how to make great Argentinian steak, the decadent gem so tasty it made my dining companion from Vancouver cry with bliss.
Pablo Barman obliged my desire for knowledge. The chef offers cooking courses on four subjects, including an outstanding three-hour experience where he teaches how to prepare and grill the red meat.
In Argentina, the steak is placed over (or sometimes under) a wood flame. Barman also stokes the fire with a touch of alcohol to keep it burning. Before the cooking begins, he treats the beef tenderloin — the most expensive cut in the country — with a generous amount of salt as well as covers it with black pepper and herbs. The key touch is a cotton cloth that he soaks in red wine — Malbec, of course — and which cradles the tenderloin. He wraps the beef tightly in the cloth and then places it on the hot wood. After about 20 minutes, the cloth is seared stiff. Cutting it open reveals the meat: glazed with care, dotted with pepper flakes on the edges, pungent with an aroma that tempts you to turn into a caveman and snare it with your hands to devour right there.
The flavour is as mesmerizing as the scent. Why can’t all steak taste this good? you will wonder.
Barman’s classes are held at the same private residence where he and his business partner, sommelier Ivana Pinar, stage intimate dinners for up to 20 guests on weekend nights. The seven-course dinners at Paladar Buenos Aires feature wine pairings and an insight into Argentina’s culinary culture.
While I will no doubt be a better preparer of steak thanks to Barman’s lesson, I have no delusions that I will ever be able to recreate the flavors of the finest steak restaurants in Buenos Aires. It’s one of the main reasons why I know I will return again and again to this intense, exciting city that grills beef better than anywhere else.
Here are the five Buenos Aires steak restaurants I tried on my visit that should be on your list.
Nuestro Secreto (Our Secret) at Four Seasons, Buenos Aires — Perfectly spiced, melt-in-your-mouth tenderloin is what you get when you dine at this small restaurant inside one of the city’s finest hotels. It was at this restaurant where my dining partner — a devoted steak lover — had tears in her eyes because of the exquisiteness of the flavor.
Don Julio — Possibly the most publicized parrilla (grill restaurant) in Buenos Aires, Don Julio delivers a wine-and-steak experience that is quintessentially Argentinian. The service by smartly dressed waiters is impeccable, down to the table-side portioning of the meat. You can also take a look at the available cuts before you decide which ones the chefs should grill for you. As a bonus, Don Julio is in Palermo, away from the tourist attractions and in the center of the city’s energetic nightlife scene, in case you want to work off your dinner on the dance floor.
Le Grill — You should try the steak experience at this restaurant in Puerto Madero for both the taste and the knowledge you’ll gain. Three grilled tenderloin steaks are served, each about eight ounces. One is cooked in the traditional Argentinian method, similar to Barman’s recipe. The second is a 45-day dry-aged steak and the third is dry-aged for 100 days. The latter is the best and may leave you ordering a second serving.
El Mirasol — It is here where I fell in love with Argentinian steak seven years ago. El Mirasol, which has been operating since 1967, has two locations in desirable neighbourhoods — the original spot in Recoleta next door to the Four Seasons and one in Puerto Madero, the renovated warehouse and port district that’s a hallmark of urban planning. You’ll have a choice of cuts of steak, as well as other grilled items to indulge in.
Featured Picture: Argentinian beef tenderloin is one of the great foods in the world. Visitors to Buenos Aires will have opportunities to taste and cook it. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for VacayNetwork.com)