Behind the Closed Door: Buenos Aires’ Secret Restaurants

First let’s get one thing straight: The food in Argentina is really delicious. I’ve been eating myself into fat pants all month. There’s only one issue: it’s really, really repetitive. Argentineans seem to never tire of the same old favorites, but for me there are only so many steaks, empanadas and milanesas I can eat before I really just want an interesting salad. Or some Thai food maybe. Things that are not so easy to come by, even in a city this enormous.

Fortunately, there’s another aspect of Buenos Aires cuisine, one that might easily be overlooked. The puertas cerradas, or closed door restaurants.

Closed doors seem to be an international phenomenon. I’ve heard whispers of them in DC, apparently they are a big thing in New York and there are at least a dozen or more stashed around Buenos Aires.

So what is a closed door restaurant? It’s basically a hidden restaurant, run out of somebody’s home. You convene in their living room and converse with strangers while the host cooks you a set meal in their own kitchen. The good is usually something creative or different, often with several courses and wine pairings. It’s part dinner party, part gourmet meal.

Intrigued, Mike and I plotted our first foray into the Closed Door scene along with some new friends, including the lovely Meg and Tony of Landing Standing. Cocina Sunae had been recommended to me by several people and I was intrigued by both the low (relatively speaking) price point and the promise of legitimate South East Asian food.

Here’s what we found:

First Course: Lumpia from the Philippines- essentially spring rolls.

Second Course: Spicy Thai Laab chicken wraps that were actually spicy! Oh spiciness how I’ve missed you…

Third Course: Mike had Pancit Guisado from the Phillipines. It was a noodle dish with shrimp, chicken and mushrooms.

Whereas I opted for Gaeng Hanglay Muu or Chiang Mai Curry from Thailand. It was a new dish I’d never tried before and I was definitely a fan.

Fourth Course: Dessert! The most important of all. We were served homemade green tea ice cream (which gave me Japan flashbacks) and individual key lime pies. I can’t even come up with a descriptor for the key lime pie, I was struck silent by deliciousness.

For only 130 pesos for a four course meal (roughly $30 USD) this place was a bargain. The meal was one of the best I’ve had in all of South America and I’m still dreaming about that key lime pie.

As opposed to putting all of the guests at one big table, Cocina Sunae was run more like a traditional restaurant, with separate tables, a wine list and a waiter. This worked well for us because we were in a biggish group already, but I’m hoping to try a closed door with a communal atmosphere soon. … You know, for journalism’s sake…

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