Sometime late last week I got an email from my good friend, colleague and general OG Allie with a menu attached and a simple mandate, “Monday there is a magical hippie supper club, vamos.” These were all the details needed to convince me but little enough to let my mind wander with imaginative (over-exaggerated) scenarios. Nothing against self-described “hippies” but my California upbringing compels me to imagine a few of my unfavorite things… Boy was I surprised.
Planetarion, as this magical supper club is called, is a non-descript private residence tucked away on an unassuming side street in the Almagro neighborhood. We were greeted by the kind-eyed Orión, the cook that opens his house every Monday to anyone that brings buena onda (good vibes).
A chef opening his living room to a group of complete strangers is not a new phenomenon in this city. Although marked as a trend by the visitors that cover them, the puerta cerrada, as it is referred to here, is by no means brand new. It is, with the help of the internet, just a little more visible. Granted, it is an unorthodox dining experience in a city that isn’t exactly known for being a gastronomic trendsetter. Rather, the stereotype of this being a land of beef, pasta, pizza and wine has quite a bit of truth, with inventive, globally infused eateries popping up a little behind the curve.
This is where the puerta cerrada comes in. Hankering for a Filipino steamed pork bun? Some Moroccan tangine? A five-course vegetarian feast? Check out the offerings at Casa Mun, Casa Saltshaker or Casa Felix respectively before you head into the trendier restaurants that populate the Palermo neighborhood.
The problem: accessibility. Out of the dozens of puertas cerradas that one can choose from it’s safe to say that on average the evening is going to cost you upwards of 150 pesos. And that’s guessing conservatively. I’m not hating, if a chef prepares me five homemade gourmet dishes with ordinarily hard to find ingredients, serves them in the intimacy of their home, and offers wine pairings and explanations of each dish, the value is correct. But let’s face the facts people, I’m a 25 year old writer making paychecks in pesos Argentinos.
However here, there are no prices. The a la gorra experience means that Planetarion is stripped down to the basics. There are no servers, no impeccable matching china sets, you serve your own wine and grab your own food. At the beginning of each course Orión asks that each table get up one by one, walk into the kitchen and grab their plates. It feels more like a veggie Thanksgiving than a gourmet dining experience. We started off the meal with a soup and salad. The creamy pumpkin soup was the perfect way to get warmed up after the cold walk over. The salad was a combination of cabbage, onions, carrot and celery served with a homemade vinaigrette made with lemon, olive oil and sesame seeds. I am always left in awe when I eat out and find complex and colorful soups and salads in a city that doesn’t particularly care for either.
A quick pause followed before we were invited into the kitchen to taste the appetizer. The first week I attended, the appetizer was two pieces of sushi, a slice of tofu with hot sauce and bright pink kimchi. I got in line with everyone else to discover two pieces of sushi and a communal soy sauce bowl on the kitchen counter. It was a crunchy combination of carrot, red pepper and cucumber. Its simplicity was made exciting by its presentation. Everyone was given two pieces, and all our hungry selves wanted the biggest, crunchiest ones we could grab without embarrassing ourselves.
The third course was the predicted indecipherable mish mash of vegetables. Orión gave me a heaping serving of Thai-inspired noodles (topped with tofu, fresh spices, and chili sauce), and sides of potatoes mashed with carrot and sweet potatoes and home-baked bread with a green hot sauce. While in the kitchen I grabbed a left-over salad and went back for extra noodles. I wish that I could paint better imagery of what exactly I stuffed into my mouth, but I can’t, all I can say is that I ravaged my first plate and returned for seconds.
More than an experience centered solely around the food, Plantarion is a community of people that share a simple enjoyment of dining with good company. And what better way to spend a Monday night than amongst friends discussing the weekends adventures over a slow home-cooked meal and lots of wine? And not to mention that someone else grabs the dishes.
WHAT'S UP BUENOS AIRES
by Kevin Vaughn