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Culinary Magic In Buenos Aires

Argentina is famous for several incredible things. The first that springs to mind is the tango, closely followed by their exceptional wine, particularly their Malbecs from Mendoza. Not to forget soccer, especially with Argentina being the current World Cup titleholder. It is also renowned for its culinary scene, starting with the delightful steak cooked over an open flame by gauchos. Today, Argentina’s culinary scene has reached new heights with skilled chefs who can easily compete with the finest in Europe. In Buenos Aires, you’ll find Chila – a premier dining establishment that is at the forefront of South American gourmet cuisine.

Dining at Chila is not just a meal. It’s an epicurean journey filled with surprises and innovations at every turn. The core philosophy revolves around striving for perfection, breaking it when attained, and starting anew to create something extraordinary. Innovation is an ongoing process rather than a final goal.

Upon entering Chila, you’ll be greeted by an unexpected sight – an alluring image of a woman in bondage gracing the hallway leading to the maître’ d station. The shock factor of the artwork is deliberate, hinting at the remarkable experience awaiting every guest. At Chila, the aim is to astonish and then delight guests throughout the evening. A visit to Chila is not merely for a meal; it’s an experience in itself.

Chila offers connoisseurs a chance to savor the richness of the country’s seasonal ingredients through a seven-course avant-garde Argentine cuisine tasting menu. The restaurant stands among the esteemed Relais & Châteaux properties in Buenos Aires and currently holds the 19th spot in the list of the top 50 restaurants in South America.

Provocateurs of Gastronomy

If Chila were a literary work, its central figure would be Andres Porcel, the visionary behind Chila established 17 years ago. His ambition was to introduce something novel to international diners in Argentina. The realization of his vision took considerable time. It all began during his formative years, where his profound interest in haute cuisine started. Travelling across the globe, he dined at esteemed restaurants, meticulously observing the details that set them apart. Details like ambiance, music, décor, cutlery, service, and, of course, the cuisine itself. After a stint in finance and a decade of refining his haute dining insights, he crystallized his vision for what Chila could become. This marked the inception of Argentina’s most avant-garde restaurant.

Chila exemplifies Andres Porcel’s masterpiece, embodying his vision of an unparalleled dining encounter. However, a vital aspect of this vision is the refusal to settle. He and his chef are constantly in pursuit of perfection, only to deconstruct it once achieved, paving the way for fresh and innovative creations. The essence lies in the continuous evolution and innovation in the dining realm.

One could liken Porcel to the composer and Chef Pedro Bargero to the conductor. Pedro’s journey to becoming the executive chef at Chila has come full circle. Starting as an intern at Chila, his career took him to Europe, where he trained under the tutelage of Mauro Colagreco, an Argentine chef with three Michelin stars and a disciple of Allain Ducasse. Pedro also honed his skills in the kitchen of two Michelin-starred French chef David Toutain, learning new gastronomic techniques and interpretations. Armed with a wealth of knowledge and talent, he returned to Chila as the youthful and ingenious executive chef. Pedro is not just a chef but also a creator, experimenting with flavors, colors, and textures to craft tantalizing aromas, tastes, and presentations reflective of Argentina’s diverse ingredients.

Buenos Aires, often dubbed the Paris of the South, is a captivating city marked by century-old baroque structures and a verdant central park weaving through its heart. What was once a dilapidated harbor is now the upscale waterside district of Puerta Madera, replete with lavish residences, chic boutiques, and trendy eateries. Nestled along the Rio Plata waterfront is Chila, housed within a former grain warehouse.

The interior exudes elegance and sophistication with a minimalistic design featuring dark hues accented by touches of gold, artistic lighting, and edgy artworks. The ambiance is trendy, complemented by stylish music, attracting a clientele of affluent patrons celebrating special occasions, romantically inclined pairs relishing a night out, and business associates commemorating successful deals.

While the restaurant overlooks the riverfront, where passersby stroll along the riverside promenade, with the silhouettes of towering buildings on the opposite bank, most guests find themselves captivated by the indoor setting. Attentive waitstaff elegantly glide through the room, while exotic dishes from nearby tables tantalize the senses. The majority of patrons opt for the riverside veranda, although additional tables are available in the interior room adjacent to the glass-enclosed wine cellar. However, the focal point remains the kitchen, visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows, akin to a well-lit theater where chefs skillfully maneuver with blazing pans and steaming pots.

An Epicurean Odyssey: The Seven-Course Adventure

Even before commencing, it’s clear that this experience transcends mere dining; it’s a theatrical production with acts, scenes, and an interlude. The journey kicks off with a selection of innovative pre-dinner cocktails followed by a unique presentation in a wooden box sealed with a paper bow. Upon unwrapping, the menu for the exquisite seven-course degustation dinner is revealed. An accompanying document is a map showcasing the origins of the meal’s ingredients sourced from various regions across Argentina. The introduction culminates with a tantalizing amuse-bouche providing a glimpse of what’s in store. It’s at this moment that the curtain lifts on the culinary performance.

What some may deem as an appetizer, Chila fondly refers to as “snacks.” Yet, this modest moniker belies the culinary marvel within. The presentation arrives in the form of an orb – a spherical wooden container housing individual trays that interlock like a puzzle. The contents within delight both the eyes and the palate. The initial treat resembles a lollipop but is a white ball of fermented cassava dough and cheese water coated in vibrant red moringa powder on a stick, accompanied by a zesty picante sauce. Another tray holds a savory rendition of the traditional Spanish churro, featuring pacu fish, beetroot, and garlic in place of the usual sweet fare.

Next, a chef arrives at your table with a cart of ingredients to prepare a special soup right before your eyes. The soup, crafted from tomato water devoid of any paste and infused with yerba mate, a traditional Argentine beverage, takes center stage. The cold broth is then poured over a delectable arrangement of heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, and spices. The gastronomic voyage continues with inventive courses like octopus with fennel, followed by a palate-cleansing frozen popsicle of strawberry and vinegar set amidst ethereal smoke from dry ice.

The main course features a fish delight – Rock Fish, tender white flesh resting on a tapioca bed with crispy chard. Every element plays a distinctive role, whether adding color, flavor, or enhancing the overall presentation. Accompanying this dish are what appear to be fish bones – and indeed they are; ribs from the pacu fish, crispy fried to perfection, offering delightful morsels reminiscent of chicken wings.

The main course interlude leads to an excursion to thekitchen. Behind the glass wall, guests are welcomed to witness the enchanting culinary process firsthand. This visit is not just a visual delight but an immersive experience. The delightful surprise for guests materializes in the shape of a cloud-like, ethereal white cotton candy, skillfully crafted right before your eyes. The cotton candy is skillfully sculpted into a sphere, then adorned with a sprinkle of popcorn salt and a drizzle of vinegar gel, accompanied by a glossy sweetbread laced with chimichurri. Acting as a foundation, the cotton candy encapsulates these elements, creating a delectable handheld treat. The entire encounter unfolds as a captivating culinary spectacle.

 

In a nation renowned for its beef, the steak course carries a weighty reputation to uphold. At Chila, the steak comprises 45-day dry-aged beef, impeccably cooked to perfection and complemented by a dollop of zesty olive and caper puree. The meat, tender and succulent, is flawlessly executed, with the puree serving as a delightful enhancement. It is an indulgence of sheer excellence that tantalizes the taste buds.

 

The dessert finale is a symphony of indulgence in two acts. The initial act exudes originality, featuring an edible paper container brimming with cherries and cream. The subsequent act presents a sumptuous creation layered with crispy wafers, ice cream, a rich cheese filling, and a medley of fruits. A sublime conclusion to a truly magnificent dining experience.

Throughout the meal, each course is impeccably paired with Argentine wine. While Argentina is celebrated for its robust and bold red wines, notably Malbec, its white wine offerings are equally noteworthy. The country’s boutique wineries produce an array of captivating wines that harmonize impeccably with the cuisine at Chila. To introduce an element of intrigue, mead and cider are included in the beverage selection in lieu of traditional wine pairings for certain courses.

The crowning touch that elevates Chila to one of the most outstanding dining destinations in South America is its personnel. Every interaction with the staff exudes warmth, attentiveness, and expertise. These consummate professionals showcase mastery in their craft, demonstrating thorough knowledge of each dish, its components, and preparation methods. The service is not only impeccable but also exudes a personal touch, ensuring that the service experience stands on equal footing with the culinary offerings.

 

Andres Porcel and his culinary accomplice Chef Pedro Bargero embarked on a mission to transform dining into an elevated art form. Their vision was to position Argentine cuisine on par with the finest restaurants globally, a feat they have accomplished through haute cuisine that celebrates locally sourced ingredients, impeccable culinary techniques, and meticulous presentation. This consistently innovative gastronomic fare, the refined ambiance of the restaurant, and the exceptional service seamlessly merge into a culinary performance characterized by alchemical brilliance. Bravo, Chila…Bravo.

Image Source: HappyCow

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