Behind Closed Doors

2006.Oct.30 Monday · 2 comments

in Restaurants

 Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

– Leonardo da Vinci

Buenos Aires – As many of you know, I’ve been exploring the world of puertas cerradas venues. I’d heard some time ago about a catering company called Caracoles, or snails, that occasionally offered reservations only dinners. I got in touch with them, and it turned out that they only offer dinners on Saturday evenings, now and again when they don’t have an event to cater – which also means that they let folks know they’re offering dinner pretty much at the last minute. It also meant having to intentionally take a Saturday night off from Casa S in order to go sample their wares.

Caracoles tableIt turns out that the name is actually Caracoles para da Vinci – Snails for da Vinci (contact them via the website for reservations and menus… and directions). I have no idea why. There’s a Leonardo da Vinci connection offered in the form of paper placemats with sketches and notes from Leonardo’s notebooks on the subject of food, but as best I can tell, that’s about it. Then, there was the matter of the menu. It arrived via e-mail a few hours before dinner – six courses, 19 pesos, plus 4 more pesos for a trio of desserts. My initial reaction was that this was an impossibility, financially. I must have been missing something… But we gamely set out to the Palermo viejo home of Sofia, one of the trio who run the catering company, and were greeted at the door by another of them, who played hostess and waitress for the evening. A beautiful cobblestone courtyard, overhung with trellised vines lined our entry, and then we found ourselves in the long and narrow living/dining room of Caracoles. The space is packed with furniture – little of it matching its fellows – looking for all the world like a showroom for chairs and tables… Caracoles bloody maryand not exactly dining tables (with one exception), the setup is lounge style dining, with low mesas ratones, or coffee tables (in our case a steamer trunk), with chairs or benches arrayed around them – I have to admit, physically not overly comfortable – we’d have rathered a couple of cushions on the floor. The room is piled high with old copies of Architectural Digest, for no apparent reason other than presumeably Sofia likes the magazine. [This place closed in 2010.]

It quickly became apparent how Caracoles is able to offer a six course menu for a mere 19 pesos, or $6… they serve plates of the hors d’oeuvres they use for catering cocktail parties. In essence, for that price, you’re getting a half dozen canapes or so. Not exactly, as you’ll see, but pretty close. In fact, we were in and out of Caracoles in barely two hours with cocktail and seven courses. But, that was to come, we started off with a complimentary shot of one of the best Bloody Marys I’ve ever had – good enough that I commented on it and our hostess swiftly brought me another. And, on to the parade of food – keep in mind that each of these plates is a portion for two people:

Caracoles - spreads
“Course” one was a basket of bread served with an okay lemony hummus, an excellent beef liver paté, and a very good roasted pepper sauce

Caracoles - bruschetta and escabeche
“Course” two looked more promising, with decent bruschetta topped with tapenade, a cup of overly vinegary eggplant escabeche, and spoonfuls of mixed fruits and mushrooms

Caracoles - tortillas espanolas
On to the third course and an interesting “deconstructed” tortilla española – pretty good, but two bites

Caracoles - chicken curry
The chicken curry held out more promise for volume, but then, it’s for two… with a bowl of rice topped in chicken threads and sauteed onions, served with a coconut cilantro sauce – I’m not sure where the curry comes in, there didn’t seem to be any evidence of anything that I’d call curry – overall a bit bland, even with the sauce

Caracoles - roasted stuffed onions
These roasted onions were proudly served as “Jamie’s” recipe – Jamie Oliver, the nekkid chef himself, as it turns out – roasted onions filled with cream and parmesan, and wrapped in bacon – a bit messy, but good flavors

Caracoles - mini hamburgers
The “main course” were mini, and I do mean mini (that’s a shot glass next to them), hamburgers, sans buns – toothpicked stacks of burgers with pickle, tomato, lettuce, cheese, and pastrami; the accompanying bite of coleslaw was excellent

Caracoles - desserts
Desserts were a trio – flourless chocolate brownies with chocolate sauce, very good, a sort of puddle of a banana crumble – flavors good, texture a bit soupy, and a coconut gelato – that was barely cold, and strangely dry – it seemed to be mostly pressed together coconut pulp

Overall, the quality of the food was quite good, though a trifle lacking in any spice – catering, literally, to the typical porteño tastes. The price is good, you won’t leave hungry, especially if you go for the dessert, on the other hand, you won’t leave overly full – you’ll leave a bit like you’ve been to a cocktail party and indulged in a decent sampling of hors d’oeuvres, which, sans the mingling, is exactly what you’ve just done. A short selection of wines and beers is available at a bit over retail price, and unlimited bottled water is to be had for a mere peso. The place can hold about thirty people, and though we were the second party to arrive at 9:30, by 10:30 every table was occupied, for maybe a total of twenty folks that evening. Many seem to be regulars and/or neighbors, who’ve been before, and one party of six brought two children (ages roughly 3 and 5), who were left to run free through the house, much of the time screaming and shouting. It can make dining a trifle trying…


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