We've been a little ambivalent about food in Argentina so far. While we've had a few really good meals and some terrific grilled meats, the lack of variety in the cuisine here has left us pretty unsatisfied. When we booked our Mendoza wine tour, we were excited to learn that we would be having a five-course lunch at one of the most popular restaurants in the area. Each course on the tasting menu was paired with a different wine.
We began with the 'Corn soup, chili, cheese and bread croutons,' paired with Ruca Malen Chardonnay 2010, a fresh and soft wine with sweet and toasty notes. This was a cold soup and quite a boring opener in our opinion. It definitely needed more pizzaz.
The second course was the 'Sweet potato and ground meat pie; Roasted tomatoes served with chimichurri sauce,' paired with Yauquen Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, a fresh and fruity 100 per cent Cab Sav with soft tannins and spicy notes. A nice interpretation of the classic empanada, though the filling was nothing special. The chimichurri sauce saved the day.
Our next course was a 'Creamy roasted aubergines croquette, black olives with chimichurri sauce and green sprouts,' paired with Ruca Malen Syrah 2008, a 95 per cent Syrah 5 per cent Malbec blend that is full-bodied with red fruit, spicy mint and smoky notes. This was much better than the soup but the filling lacked substance. Aubergines were not well represented here, which was disappointing.
Finally, we had a 'Grilled beef tenderloin medallion with potato cracker and green onions with baked pumpkins,' paired with both the Ruca Malen Malbec 2008, a fruity red with a greasy texture, and Kinien Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, which was presented to complement the spices in the dish and the smoked character of the pumpkin. Fortunately the tenderloin was cooked perfectly and we enjoyed a juicy and delicious main course. The potato side dish was nothing special, even a bit hard on the outside, while the pumpkin was almost perfect: one cube was barely cooked. We also waited a long time between the third and fourth courses - the restaurant was very busy and this delayed our meals.
For dessert we were served a 'White chocolate and spiced panacote with orange sauce,' paired with Ruca Malen Brut, a 75 per cent Pinot Noir and 25 per cent Chardonnay blend in the Method Champenoise style, a complex sparkling wine with caramel notes. We loved this dessert. The soft and delicious panacote was a nice ending to the meal and the spices really brought out the best characteristics of the orange. Pairing this dish with the brut was smart.
Overall we weren't overly impressed with our meal. Many of the wines were delicious and well-paired with the dishes, but we enjoyed the lunch more for the conversation we had with our group than from a purely gastronomic perspective. Our search for a meal we can rave about in Argentina continues.
Do you have a favourite Argentine restaurant? We'd also be keen to hear about your favourites from elsewhere in South America.