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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mendoza, Keeps You Coming Back!

Last weekend we took our first repeat trip in Argentina, and which location was great enough to return to?
Mendoza. It's calm. It's relaxed. It's a great location to enjoy for an adult weekend of eating well, having fun with friends and visiting bodegas.

We returned to Mendoza a little over two years since our first trip, this time we arrived with our friends Chris and Mary.  Our friend and tour guide, Javier Inzaurraga (info@plazaitalia.net) arranged all of our bodega tours and graciously drove us around for two days.  Last time, we stayed at the B&B Plaza Italia, which is how we met Javier, but this time we opted for a more standard hotel accommodation, which worked out great for a quiet weekend away from the kids.

Thats right.  The kids stayed at home.  I have to say though, I think Gretchen thoroughly enjoyed her weekend with our beloved nanny, Candy.

Back to Mendoza.
We asked Javier to choose some of his favorite boutique wineries, along with a few requests from our last visit to Mendoza.  The first place we visited was Vistalba, a beautiful bodega with plenty of unique touches.  Vistalba wines are, perhaps, not as well known as the winemaker's brother's wines, which are produced under the name "Pulenta".  We are particular fans of Pulenta wines, they are affordable and of great quality.  The Vistalba wines have three lines, which they refer to as A, B and C if they are produced from the grapes from the Vistalba vineyards, or Tomero Gran Reserva, Tomero Reserva or Tomero if they are produced from the grapes grown in Uca Valley, an area of Mendoza provence approximately 2 hours from the city.
A few months before our visit, someone in the Altavista family had a wedding inside the bodega. As part of the wedding decorations, they covered all of the hanging lights with a wreath of dried grape clusters, making one of the coolest chandeliers I have ever seen. The light given off by these decorations was dimmed and shadowed which made for a very cool effect in the wine cellar.

In the tasting room there was also an exposed wall of earth to demonstrate where the vines are planted and how the soil remains so cool. This was a great place for a photo shoot.
The winery was impressive, though we were not floored by the wines provided during the tasting. It was disappointing that the tasting was exclusively from the "C" level wines.
Very picturesque indeed
Our second stop on day one was Mendel, another winery where we had no previous experience with the facility or the wines. This bodega had an interesting back story, the original vineyard was owned by a Spanish family that came to Argentina in the early 1900s and planted the vines.  Somewhere along the way, the winery was abandoned and left empty for over 20 years, until the current owners purchased the land and made it functional again.

The current owners have kept the original vines and building, which makes for a great looking bodega.  I love the old-world feel, and the fact that the vines are almost 100 years old.  It was a fun winery to tour, and Mariela, our host, was incredibly nice and knowledgable.

After the tour, our tasting started with a "vertical" tasting.  This is an interesting way to taste wines because instead of comparing varietals, it compares one wine through two or more vintages. For us, this was the Mendel Malbec 2010 compared to the 2011. The unanimous opinion was that the 2010 was the superior wine.

Our next stop was lunch, which involved a 5-course pairing at Melipal (the word Melipal is a South American Indian term for the star constellation the Southern Cross, which is a constellation I am quite fond of).  The lunch was quite good, and we enjoyed the wines, especially the Malbec Rosé.  We were told that the chef is the same at Ruca Malen (which we visited the next day for lunch) though we still felt that the lunch there was a bit better.

Our last stop of the day was Achaval Ferrer, a repeat from our trip in 2010.  This winery is beautiful and the day was warm enough to enjoy the tasting outside.  We still really liked the wines, though the prices still seemed a bit steep compared to the rest of the bodegas we visited.  That being said, we purchased their Dolce, a dessert wine that is sweet, but not overly so, and reasonably priced.

This was a nice way to end day one.  We returned to the hotel and the girls headed to the spa while the boys lost some dinero in the casino.

For dinner, we took Javier's recommendation and ate at Florentino (Montevideo 675, Mendoza City) which was casual, fun and delicious.  I specifically enjoyed the mushroom appetizer, though everything we had was delicious.  We also were able to order one of the Mendel wines that was left off of our tasting, one called the Lunta, which was probably our favorite of everything the offered.  It, ironically, was also the cheapest.

So, Mendoza didn't disappoint.  We had a full first day, and though there was plenty of indulgence, we had a great night's sleep and were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the following day.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Dada Bistrot

Dada (San Martin 941: 4314-4787, Retiro) is old school in more ways than one. This little "bistro" has only a dozen tables, a handful of bar stools, no host and instead of reservations they give you a window of time - which they may or may not adhere to. Despite, or rather because of this, the super-casual atmosphere was exactly what we were looking for last Saturday night after seeing El Hombre Araña (better known as Spiderman). Once again, Time Out was instrumental in guiding us to this restaurant, because even though Dada has been recommended to us by multiple people, we never seem to remember it when we're thinking of a new place to go. We certainly weren't the only ones that relied on the magazine for a Dada recommendation, here the bartender is actually posing with a copy of Time Out for another patron's photo.

This is one of the first real bars we've been to since moving here. The bartenders are quick, ready to refill your drink and actually interact with the people sitting at their bar. Our "reservation" was at 11:00pm, and though we waited for awhile after that time came and went, we were well tended to and were even asked if we wanted to order at the bar instead of waiting for a table. This is second nature to most places in the US, but rarely, if ever happens at restaurants in BsAs. I ordered a caipiroska (which was delicious) and Jon had a beer, which was served to him in a wine glass - we are still missing out on draft beer. The only draft they offered was Quilmes, which is like asking for an agua con gas. 

Since we had some time to get hungry while we waited, it was nice that menu features and specials were written out on chalkboards around the restaurant. The bar features Ruca Malen wines, which is a great quality choice, though somehow not what I was expecting for this more rustic-style place. Dada continued to surprise me with the best hummus and pita chips appetizer I've had in Argentina (I should note that I've only had this dish a handful of times, not a popular offering in local restaurants) - such a strange collection of items, but somehow it works.

I ordered a steak salad as my main dish, while Jon had the lomo. Both dishes were delicious, and we had devoured them before I had a chance to take any photos. The food was far more elegant than you would originally expect when looking at the bar, but it's one of the many surprises we had at Dada.

I will say that as the night went on, service got more and more scarce. We asked for our check two or three times before finally receiving it at 1:30am (!!). Considering the food, wine, drinks and bar service were all great, something had to give.

All in all, a great spot that we will return to for future casual nights out.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy 4th of July Turkey Fry to You!

Last year we celebrated the birth of America by frying a turkey and having a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with friends.  The presence of a turkey fryer was, perhaps, the best mistake that movers have ever made - as our friends requested that their turkey fryer be sent to storage and it was accidentally added to their household goods.  Through this mistake was born a tradition that we thoroughly enjoy, it includes frying a turkey for the 4th of July, and then playing Rock Band for the rest of the night.  It is now my preferred method for wishing the USA a Happy Birthday.

In addition to the amazing food that everyone contributed to the event, I made use of my Bakerella Cake Pops cook book and made some little Toms of my own. (Quick note: Calling a turkey Tom, is this an American thing? I asked around the table and no one else had every heard of the generic turkey name Tom.  Maybe I made it up...) Thank you to the numerous people who served as candy-sherpas for me and brought most of the cake pop supplies from the US. Another reason why our country is great.

Here is the event, in photos:

The delicious pavita prepared for the fryer.  This year's turkey was 10 pounds, the largest I could find in the city. Luckily, our gracious hosts supplemented the dinner with a delicious lomo, which is a huge perk for hosting a 4th of July Thanksgiving-style event in Argentina.  Fried turkey + beef tenderloin = Best. Dinner. Ever.
Jeff the Chef
Jon graciously volunteered to keep Jeff company as the oil heated up.  These two Canadians were trying to push the Canada Day initiative with their Canadian aprons.  

The oil is ready to go.  Notice the amazing engineering feat taking place in the background of this photo.  You see, an American turkey fryer doesn't necessarily work with an Argentine propane tank.  Nothing a little tin foil won't fix...

Milena's beautifully set table:

My little homemade centerpieces:
Have you ever seen more adorable turkeys??
Our little troublemakers. Don't they just have that mischievous look in their eyes??

Last year's troublemakers.  Back in the days when Gretchen would still wear a bow.  It is hard to believe how much these two have grown!

This year's newest member of the Turkey Fry tradition, baby Preston!  Trey was taking special care of his brother during our attempts to get a picture of the kids on the couch.  How sweet are they?!

This year's best picture of all of the little ones:

Last year's best picture of the kids:

Last year's real best picture of the kids:

 And for posterity's sake, here is Gretchen on her first 4th of July:

And the lone photo I was able to take of her a this year's 4th of July.  She looks like such a little girl!  If only we had video of her instead of a photo, you would see that she's telling us "Hot! Hot!" because the  under-counter oven was on.  Last year, we celebrated Gretchen smiling, clasping her hands together and laughed at her obsession with sticking out her cute little tongue.  This year, she tells us "Hot!", "Stop!" and loves her "Bath! Bath!".

 Thank you to our friend's movers for making the best mistaken turkey fryer delivery ever, and to all of our friends for helping us celebrate a very American holiday far from our American homes.