We waited, wondering in the interim between the doorbell’s chime and the front door’s opening if this could truly be it. After a day spent exploring Palermo Soho, Andi and I had come for what promised to be an unforgettable meal. But, standing in front of this private house in a residential neighborhood, the thought did cross my mind that we were lost. Until Diego opened the door and welcome us to Casa Felix.
Within minutes we were presented with our welcome drinks, sparkling wine with citrus and verbena. We stepped into the house’s courtyard to see that several of the other guests were already there. But where, exactly was there?
Casa Felix is one of Buenos Aires‘ puertas cerradas or closed door restaurants. This phenomenon of restaurants run out of homes has become popular in Buenos Aires, and although the better known puertas cerradas have websites and Twitter accounts – hardly clandestine – the feeling of attending a select dinner party remains.
Diego and his staff invited us to explore the house. Most interesting was a look at the backyard garden where many of the night’s ingredients were grown. Our tour was accompanied by the first of five courses: warmed fontina cheese wrapped in a chayote leaf with chañar syrup. This small bite set the tone for the dishes to follow – the use of ingredients indigenous to South America to create imaginative combinations that tasted fantastic.
Many puertas cerradas seat diners at a common table, but Casa Felix split us into our individual parties. Although I like the idea of mingling with other guests, on such a short trip, I was glad to have time to catch up with a friend without having to socialize with strangers. It also meant that we didn’t have to share our black bean hummus – just as mouthwatering as it sounds – with anyone else.
The first plated course blew me away. Never had I imagined that fish meatballs would taste like heaven, but the Paraguayan borí-borí made from red seabream did just that. The oca broth, made from a type of tuber, with slivers of oca crisps and pickled radish with the herb suico, was out of this world. Andi and I both opted for the wine pairing, which meant that with our soup we enjoyed an Algodón Wine Estates chardonnay.
Next up was the salad, a mix of greens and herbs accompanied by a spicy pear marmalade and melty camembert. This paired perfectly with a Tomero malbec rosé thanks to the wine’s own spicy notes. I have extolled the virtues of Chilean rosé, and apparently Argentina’s version isn’t too shabby either.
The intermezzo got the buzz going in the dining room. The menu read simply “apple granita.” But what was that underlying note? A girl at the table next to us was the first to voice the thought quite literally on the tip of everyone’s tongue: curry. The mix made even palate cleansing an imaginative activity.
The worry with a set meal is always, of course, that the chef may feel inspired by an ingredient you can’t stand. As I perused the menu, I tried to stay positive at the description of the main course: “sunflower seed and parsley-encrusted fresh anchovy, seasonal vegetables, red pepper sauce, paico oil.” I tend to think of anchovies as those things that ruin pizza.
Imagine my surprise when I was presented with the plate above. Apparently anchovies also come in extra large. Diego, upon seeing these monsters at the fish market, had wanted to challenge his guests’ preconceptions of the fish. The result? Only a very slight “anchovy” taste which worked with all of the other flavors on the plate. I even ate roasted beets and liked them – Casa Felix is clearly magical. The dish was full-bodied enough to stand up to its wine pairing, a Laborum tannat, and I was glad to finally try this grape.
By this point you probably could have rolled us out of the
restaurant house, but Andi and I still had one course to go. Dessert was a warm cornmeal and chocolate alfajor with blueberry filling and a mandarin cream. The Familia Cecchin sparkling demi sec was certainly a dessert wine, but the tart mandarin flavor kept everything from getting too sweet.
And finally, it was done. Not only our dinner, but all of the Casa Felix dinners of the season. Diego and his California-born wife escape Buenos Aires for the winter, taking their kitchen on the road. Currently in San Diego, they’ll also be hitting up LA and San Francisco before heading to New York. There’s even talk of a visit to Chile toward the end of the year.
Casa Felix served up a creative meal that tasted absolutely phenomenal. If you get the chance to try Diego’s cooking, whether in Buenos Aires or up north, don’t hesitate. Go. And eat the anchovy. Trust me.
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