Los Fuegos by Francis Mallmann
Argentina will always hold a strong grip on my heart. It was my first country outside of North America in what seems like forever ago. I’ve been a lot of places since 2008, more than I ever could have imagined, but Argentinean cuisine has enchanted me ever since my first beautiful slab of beef in Buenos Aires.
If there can be such a thing, Francis Mallmann is a poet chef. Or, more likely, a maestro restaurateur. A conductor of a beautiful dining experience. His techniques stray afar from the table of modern cuisine, but not to fear, he sets his own table with grace. His menu begins strikingly with a full page dedicated to a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame; how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?”
When I’m seated promptly at opening, I’m the only person on the patio overlooking the waves of the Atlantic. The restaurant is absolutely beautiful. Mallmann seems to be among the last true romantics in the world. Yet hopelessness is nowhere to be found. The design is elegant and sophisticated, yet it retains true Gaucho ambiance. The kitchen is open to the far end of the patio and is a sophisticated, well-oiled machine of delectability and flame.
My chilled almond soup with watermelon, olive oil, and sherry vinegar is a subtle tease of the coming delights. It pairs well with my sherry bourbon cocktail. Refined nuances fill my olfactory perception.
The roasted beet salad arrives with globs of goat cheese, hints of garlic, beet chips, and beet leaves. The colors are stunning and the taste matches in intensity. These may very well be the best beets that I’ve had.
If the salad was good, the Octopus ‘a la Plancha’ with roasted potatoes, garlic aioli, smoked paprika oil, tomato confit, and chervil is exquisite. I firmly believe that people with an aversion to octopus simply haven’t had it prepared like this. It was creamy and delightful. If anything, the portion was much too large for a tasting menu. Against my better judgment, I ate every bite.
And along comes the rib eye with chimichurri accompanied by burnt domino potatoes, and arugula, avocado, and red onion salad. I thought I was starting to get full. Suppress those urges to run, there’s no turning back now. It smells like fire and heart with a side of love. The name, Los Fuegos, is entirely appropriate. The steak is perfect in every way. It’s beautiful, maybe even a masterpiece.
I can barely move, I’m tapped out. I’m done. No more. I’ve obviously forgotten, dessert. Three of them to be specific. Dulche de Leche pancake, chocolate nemesis cake, and fresh fruit salad with grapefruit and campari. They were all good, but the pancake belongs in a class of its own. I’m usually not a dessert person, but places like this always change my mind.
With as enchanted as I am, I’m surprised I don’t wake up from my food coma on a flight to Buenos Aires with the grand scheme of hiking through Patagonia in attempt to find Mallmann’s remote island and beg him to take me in, rest my weary feet, and learn the ways of the ultimate grill master. Maybe if I can get a hold of him and learn some Spanish, I’ll do just that.