Don't you love those dinners out where the food is out of this world, the service seamless, conversation sparkles with laughter and wine is aplenty? As you head home you think to yourself 'this is what life is all about'. I had one of those nights at Porteño recently. We arrived at 6:00pm when they open and the line was about 40 deep. We didn't want to eat until later so this suited us just fine. We were put on the list and told we'd probably be seated at around 7:45pm so we headed upstairs to Gardel's Bar.
Gardel's Bar serve pinxtos to nibble on but we knew what was coming so held back.
Our cocktails arrived from upstairs and we decided to munch on some pan de casa (house baked bread) with olive oil and pâté whilst finishing them. The bread was flavoursome and crusty and the pork pate, chunky yet smooth and creamy. For $2 a head I thought it was damn good value.
Red wine was the winner of the evening but with a strictly Argentinian wine list, TBS and I were a bit lost. Before we even thought to ask the gorgeous sommelier had glided over and persuaded us to try a 2009 Alpamanta Natal Malbec from Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza. The wine was biodynamic- upon tasting it TBS remarked that it smelt like fish (it didn't taste like it!) and we were told that fish was actually used to prepare the soil in which the vines grew.
The menu is substantial and caters not only for the carnivores but very adequately for the vegetarians in the house. As we finished ordering I asked our waiter as I often do, "do you think this will be enough to start us off?". He replied "I think this will be enough to bury you". Excellent!
Our first dish arrived, costilla de asado- Greenstone Creek pasture fed Angus BBQ beef long-ribs grilled over charcoal. The meat was juicy, fatty and melt in your mouth. Our side of morrone y brenjenas asada- BBQ eggplant & bullhorn peppers with garlic, chilli and sherry dressing worked beautifully with the meat. The eggplant was creamy and the peppers were sweet.
The chanchito a la cruz- 8 hour woodfired pig was all crackly, fatty, meaty goodness and the strong nuttiness of the repolittos de brusela frito- crispy fried brussel sprouts with lentil and mint, our second side, accentuated the flavour of the pork.
The meat dishes are pricey (over $40 per serving) but I think we forget how hard it actually is to cook a piece of meat, simple and unadorned so that its natural flavour is the star of the show. I think the results justify the price tag and you get a very generous serving. At one point I remarked to TBS "we could probably have just done with one meat and one vege eh?" he responded "yea probably, but that would be boring." What a champion.
Dessert called and we responded. I was immediately drawn to the burnt milk custard, fennel ice-cream and rhubarb and TBS decided to try the postra chaja, the South American style pavlova. "2 desserts??!" our waiter exclaimed. Of course.
My burnt milk custard was nestled on a pool of rhubarb puree and surrounded by crumble and popcorn. It was beautifully presented and delicious. The custard was creamy and the fennel ice-cream and crumbs provided the savoury element needed to counteract the sweet.
I must say however, that the star of the show was the postre chaja. TBS literally had his arms wrapped around his plate to protect the poor dessert from my advances. It was so, so, so good. A tower of sponge, dulche de leche, pears, meringue, cream, salted pistachios sat amidst a pool of custard. I'm salivating just thinking about it. It was the perfect end to a dream meal.
Good to know:
Banana Old Fashioned $20
Blood orange & plum pisco sour $18
2009 Alpamanta Natal Malbec $69
Pan de casa: house baked bread with olive oil and pâté $2 per person
Costilla de asado: Greenstone Creek pasture fed Angus BBQ beef long-ribs grilled over charcoal $40
Chanchito a la cruz: 8 hour woodfired pig $46
Repolittos de brusela frito: crispy fried brussel sprouts with lentil and mint $16
Morrone y brenjenas asada: BBQ eggplant & bullhorn peppers with garlic, chilli and sherry dressing $16
Leche Quemada: burnt milk custard, rhubarb, fennel ice-cream $16
Postre Chaja: South American style pavlova $16
358 Cleveland Street
Tuesday to Saturday from 6:00pm
Porteño only accepts bookings for groups of between 5 and 12 people
All members of a party must be present before you are put on the waiting list.
Images: T B Southam