Pop in, pop up

Shrimp maki sushi: the stuff of fantasies.The puerta cerrada concept of dining in a private home has long been fashionable in Buenos Aires, and in a country where its people often feel the rest of the world is streets ahead of them in terms of trends and being cutting-edge, the puerta cerrada idea has existed here for 30 odd years, whipping other trendier capital cities into submission.

Conversely, what the Brits refer to as supper clubs, puerta cerradas have only just started to take off in the past few years in London — Argentina 1: UK 0 — yet on the other hand, the British supper club has a more pop-up style to it, to which Buenos Aires is fast playing catch-up.

The secret to a puerta cerrada’s success is the element of the unknown, but combining “pop-up” takes that up a notch.

Although I have yet to shovel down a portion of juicy moussaka while feigning interest in a feta cheese salad (unless of course it is genuine feta, but I don’t want to start any unfounded rumours) the Cocina rodante griega, or Greek Mobile Kitchen, has taken to setting up its restaurant around Buenos Aires on an ad-hoc basis, and this week pulled out its knives and spice rack at Palermo’s Mandrake.

By taking over said restaurant’s kitchen, Jristos Eleftheriadis is cunningly running an eaterie without dealing with the day-to-day reality of doing so. By appearing sporadically, slowly gathering a faithful clientele who may be clamouring for more stuffed aubergine rolls or beef-and-plum stew, he leaves the hungry masses gagging for the next time he decides to pop up elsewhere. Of course, by day Eleftheriadis is an architect and houses need to be designed in this period of economic boom, hence the nature of his irregular bursting onto the food scene…

For a reasonable 70 pesos, which doesn’t quite fit into my “Change for 100?” culinary mission but is a reasonable price regardless, given that I can list only two other Greek restaurants, neither of which I have been to (Estación Grecia in Villa Devoto and the supposedly pricey Mykonos in Las Cañitas), Eleftheriadis (the clue is in the surname…) serves up a three-course meal, which you choose in advance from his reduced menu. You get to hang out at a bar or restaurant you might not otherwise have considered going to, chomp down a dinner lovingly made by someone who is passionate about sharing such tastes with you, and maybe make some new friends to boot.

This past week also saw POKE, a Pacific-Basin, California enterprise set up shop for one night only at Palermo Soho’s Magdalena’s Party, while up the road and round the corner Caracas bar hosted the one-off Sabores del Sur, an evening of Patagonian flavours given a twist by the hands of Venezuelan chef Luis Alfredo Rueda.

But casting a shadow over other closed-door restaurants with his delicious Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Californian dishes is the chef and co-owner of Casa Mun.

Korean-American Mun Kim has been operating a weelyk puerta cerrada since March, and in a bid to move the operation from his own home, recently joined forces with the private members’ establishment Oasis Clubhouse to take over the latter’s kitchen.

Initially holding the Mun-Oasis dining extravaganza as a charity event to raise money for a Buenos Aires City children’s home which now has 11 months to find the funds to buy up the property or move on, the Korean chef and the clubhouse’s owners decided to make the event more regular, albeit not weekly.
The Saturday night five-course dinner at his own premises may involve soba noodle soup, fiery fish tacos, sashimi, dim sum, bibimbop and Korean barbecue, each dish paired with wine and accompanied by a loving explanation from Mun himself.

But for last week’s pop-up event, which adopts a cocktail party style rather than the classic sit-down dinner (although sun loungers are available for moon bathers or just fans of the chef whose name is pronounced thus), Mun and his team spent two days preparing a four-step menu of maki sushi (see photo of salmon, spicy tuna and shrimp so delicious that I’ve been having anxiety attacks about when I’m next going to have some), vegetable tempura (asparagus, onion, carrot, courgette), momofuku-style pork buns, and to cleanse the palette, lemon mousse and coconut bars with Italian meringue and strawberries, all for 70 hungry mouths. The clubhouse was filled, and so were tummies, given the never-ending parade of glorious buns.

These monthly events are sure to become an even hotter ticket once summer decides to put in an appearance. Biting into vegetable tempura or pork buns alongside a stunning infinity-style swimming pool is definitely my idea of eating fun. And other foreigners living here agree. Last Thursday’s was expatacular, if I say so myself. Verdict: total eclipse.


Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on October 23, 2011
Photo courtesy of Casa Mun

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