“Faith means living with uncertainty – feeling your way through life, letting your heart guide you like a lantern in the dark.”
– Dan Millman, author
One of my goals for this year, as I think I mentioned a couple of months ago, is to get myself out to my competition – i.e.,, the other puertas cerradas here (and other places as I travel). It’ll mean an occasional rearrangement of our schedule, and, hopefully a lot of fun. There may be one or two that I don’t end up writing up – I simply won’t mention them – I may be willing to occasionally trash a “regular” restaurant that truly gets it wrong, but in the case of a home business, I’d prefer to just not bring them up.
So, I’m happy to report back on one of the newest spots, Casa Mun, with very positive thoughts. I met Mun and his partner about a year ago when they visited Buenos Aires. At the time they were thinking of opening up a mixed sushi-bar and Korean restaurant, and had it in mind that they’d start off with a closed door spot as a trial, to see if people liked Mun’s food and style. Saturday night a friend and I trundled off to a small home in Palermo where we were told to look for a red lantern lit in the window. We found it with no problem and entered around 8:30 in the evening. [Update as of end of January 2012: Casa Mun has moved to a share shared mixed used space with a wine distributor and some other puertas cerradas in Palermo that’s roughly double the size of Mun’s home, a bit more restaurant-like. I plan to return to check things out when I have a chance.] [Update to Update: As of August 2012 Casa Mun has closed up as a regular operation and moved to Mendoza, where they’ve reopened as the restaurant at the Casarena winery. Once every month or two they come to Buenos Aires and run a one or two night pop-up.] [U to U to U: A short-lived project in Mendoza, and they moved to Germany.]
This was Mun’s 9th dinner since opening in March. They’re still in the stage of being the new hotspot to try amongst the foodie cognoscenti – so it was no surprise that the majority of the 16 people who showed up were among a tight circle that tend to know each other, including some fellow food writers. The room is beautifully and simply appointed, in primarily red surfaces, with white tablecloths on the tables, charger plates (very formal), silverware and chopsticks at each position. We were greeted by the trio of Mun’s partner and two servers who tend to the room, and a glass of sparkling wine. A bit of mingling for about half an hour and then we sat down around the two tables – perhaps slightly crowded together fitting sixteen around the two tables designed for probably twelve.
Mun came out and introduced the evening. He’s quite soft-spoken, but entertaining, with a charming accent (does anyone have a non-charming accent?). A duo of women at, thankfully, the other table, never stopped talking throughout the evening, including when he was talking to the room, and actually got louder then, which was annoying, but he took it in stride. He told us about the food we would be eating as well as the wines, and then headed back into the kitchen. He and the two servers quickly removed the set plates and then returned to serve up a beautifully arranged room temp vegetable and prawn tempura in a light and delicate beer batter that was spot-on delicious, though I might have preferred it hot.
Next up, a sushi and sashimi plate. Delicate slivers of Chilean salmon served atop ribbons of cucumber for the sashimi were wonderful. Good, the maki roll, which fascinatingly moved through four different slices that started subtle and moved on to stronger flavor. It also passed from “crab stick” at the left, a slight dismay when there’s good quality crab available in this country (then again, crab stick is so common these days in sushi rolls that perhaps it’s almost expected), to a crispy prawn at the right.
The third course, Singapore Noodles, I’d say was a disappointment. It wasn’t bad, but it was out of balance, particularly in comparison to the rest of the food and the approach to everything else in the evening. Rice noodles, shrimp (for the third dish in a row, which was commented on by a couple of people at the table), a lightly perfumed curry sauce, radish and bean sprouts, and the one component that was a touch overwhelming, a mix of green and red peppers that were just too strongly flavored for the rest of the dish’s elements. It was apparent at least at our table, as all but one person ate through less than half of the dish and then just pushed it aside.
But everything was redeemed and life was bright and shiny with the arrival of the next course, a vegetable and quail egg bibimbap, which is not only my favorite Korean dish of all time, but the flavors, the balance, and Mun’s mom’s “secret hot sauce” made this one of the best versions of this dish I’ve had in a very long time. I was a very happy camper and could even more happily just made a dinner out of a very large bowl of this.
Now, despite having recently trained as a pastry chef to improve my skills, I’m still not much of a dessert person, and very rarely will order anything sweet at the end of the meal. A chocolate mousse cake, light and fluffy, was tasty, and the rest of the table plowed through it with abandon, so I’ll assert that it was very good, though for me, I ate the fruit, tasted a bite or two of the cake, and just relaxed with some delightful green tea. The little chocolate Chinese character meaning “home” was a cute touch.
Overall, beautiful space, lovely stylish service. Two truly great dishes and two good, with one so-so – not a bad showing, particularly in a closed door setting with one person cooking for 16 people a five course tasting menu. Gorgeous, artistic presentation of the food. A trifle pricey – coming in at 195 pesos for five courses but only three wine pairings (two whites and one red – and an announcement that the pours were set and if you wanted more wine you’d have to pay for it), and the advance request for a gratuity to be added is a little odd for a closed door setting – not that it’s not typical to leave one for the service staff, but asking for it in writing is strange (we did that when we first opened, as a suggestion, but it was received really negatively by customers and we heard about it numerous times within our first couple of months open, so we dropped it and it made no difference in whether people choose to leave on or not as best I can tell). The price is not out of line for a tasting menu in a closed door setting – we’re only five pesos cheaper, and several spots are more expensive, some significantly, but usually there’s a different paired wine with each course and refills are generally included. In the end, however, we left sated and I’d recommend it as a nice evening out.