Casa Saltshaker, Buenos Aires – a closed door restaurant

I’m not a steak person! There, I said it! Admitting that I don’t care too much about red meat still makes me a true foodie at heart, I promise 🙂 Argentina is known across the globe to be home to BIG meat eaters. There are parrillas (grill houses) all over Buenos Aires serving every part of cows! For Argentinians, beef is “king” and a part of everyday meals. This was cause for concern to me because I did not see myself eating everyday in a steakhouse, especially since I was traveling alone. A simple google search on alternative dining experiences in Buenos Aires led me to believe that “closed door restaurants” or puertas cerradas were quite popular in this city!

No, not literally "closed doors"

No, not literally “closed doors”

They’re such a fun way to meet new people especially if it’s your first night in the city, i.e. if you all get along! It could be incredibly awkward to sit at a communal table for 3 hours with people you dislike while the chef prepares and serves a five course menu (think dysfunctional family holiday dinners). Luckily for me, I had a great experience. I emailed a few closed door restaurant chefs asking if they would accommodate a solo traveler. Dan (head chef of Casa Saltshaker) got back to me immediately with details on scheduling a dinner date with other unknown travelers, Paypal information on sending him a deposit and information on sample menus that would be served! Oh, and his/the restaurant’s address is not listed on the website. He provides that once you’ve confirmed your reservation.

I took a cab from my hotel and stared out the window to take in all the sights of this beautiful city! Take a look at how similar the architecture is to that of Paris!

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires or Paris? Who can tell?! 🙂

I arrived at Dan and Henry’s lovely apartment close to 8:45 pm on a night when it was raining cats and dogs! Henry is Dan’s lovely partner and was also our host for the night. It was so exciting getting buzzed in to walk into an apartment to have dinner with people I’d never met. I couldn’t help feeling a little thrill as I was being led up to a partly undisclosed location for a fun night à la the movie “Eyes Wide Shut“. However,  I quickly reminded my silly brain that this was going to be an adventure where only the fleshly sins of gluttony were involved. Not any other kind 🙂

I walked in to find the place already packed with guests, and was served a shot of Pisco, passion fruit liqueur, orange juice, yellow chili and ginger. It definitely packed a punch, and set the tone for all the “exotic” flavor combinations and unique ingredients we were going to sample that night. Once we mingled a bit and the conversation started flowing, Dan politely announced that dinner was ready to be served. We were presented with the following menu with names of wines paired along with each course:

Casa Saltshaker Menu, buenos aires, argentina

Casa Saltshaker Menu

The first course was a “Humboldt squid and sand perch causa”. This for me was the highlight of the night. What an explosion of flavors! A causa is a layered Peruvian potato dish. In this case, I definitely tasted onions, lime and chilis. All of these amazing ingredients topped up with a creamy avocado and red pepper puree – foodgasmic! No one at the table was complaining 🙂

Humboldt squid and sand perch causa, casa saltshaker

Humboldt squid and sand perch causa

The guests at our table were from all over the world. There was a Greek couple who had flown in from China; a British guy and his Indo-American wife from Brooklyn, NY; a Spanish couple (the woman had apparently ran a marathon in 7 continents), and a woman I bumped into who was from a neighboring town in New Jersey! Dan and Henry stepped in and out during dinner, shared a few stories and gave recommendations of where to eat in Buenos Aires and New York! THIS is what I love about traveling! You just never know who you might bump into! We all slurped all of course 2 that was a vegetable soup with a delicious garlic pesto! I mean who doesn’t love garlic! It’s easily one of THE best herb/flavor enhancers on this planet! We were served a refreshing white wine with this soup which I think I could have done without. I don’t really think wine and soup make a good combination, but that’s just me.

Vegetable soup with roasted garlic pesto , casa salhshaker

Vegetable soup with roasted garlic pesto

Next came the second highlight of the evening – a delicate cauliflower gnocchi served with mushrooms and parsley sauce. This is one of those dishes that I could eat anytime, anyday! So warm and comforting. I am not sure how he was able to get an excellent texture on that gnocchi, but it was a BIG HIT in my book!

Cauliflower gnocchi, mushrooms and parsley sauce, casa saltshaker, buenos aires

Cauliflower gnocchi, mushrooms and parsley sauce

All our tummies were showing signs of distress by this point because we all felt like we’d just eaten a whole cow, even though the meal components were well paces out. Of course, we didn’t take a break 🙂 Our spirits were high on good food, wine and funny conversations, and we wanted more! Course 4 was a pork chop served with spicy orange sauce and creamy quinoa. This was my least favorite dish simply because I don’t like pork, and I didn’t like the overall combination of elements of mushy tomatoes with slightly overcooked quinoa in an overpowering orange sauce. Dan was nice to provide the same dish to a vegetarian in our group by replacing the pork with eggplant, so I’m sure this would be a great experience for non meat eaters too.

Pork chop with spicy orange sauce and creamy quinoa

Pork chop with spicy orange sauce and creamy quinoa

By this time I was craving something sweet. We finished this memorable meal with a desert of purple corn curd and crispy rice pudding –  not too sweet, not too rich; just sublime!

Purple corn curd and crispy rice pudding, casa saltshaker

Purple corn curd and crispy rice pudding

We had such a good time at this dinner that we all ended up going for a drink to a bar down the street from Dan’s home. I had such a great time, and cannot wait to go back another night when I’m back in Buenos Aires. I have to say that dinner at Casa Saltshaker was the only unforgettable dinner experience that I had in my 4 days in the city. I learnt while speaking to a few locals that Argentinians don’t use a lot of spices in their cooking, but do use a lot of herbs. Somehow, every place I ate dinner in Argentina; the dishes lacked in flavor. Casa Saltshaker was pretty top notch in my opinion, and I would highly recommend it to travelers looking for a fun time!

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