the backyard argentina dinner party guide
PHOTOS BY KARLA GARCIA COSTA
I’ve come back from my honeymoon in Argentina and had withdrawals. Tried going to the Faena, the Argentine hotel with a sister spot on Miami Beach, and that didn’t quite do the trick. I missed the spritzs, the sausage, the salsa criolla, the daily empanadas - so I took matters into my own hands and planned a backyard Argentine-inspired dinner.
We picked Argentina after seeing the Francis Mallmann episode of Chef’s Table and realizing it would be winter there during our summer, so we could bundle up after our beach wedding in the Bahamas and escape here in the humid trap that is Miami. So off we went on an eight and a half hour flight south. A week in Buenos Aires, three days on a nearby estancia in San Antonio de Areco and five days in Patagonia later I was Googling real estate and trying to figure out how I could be a part time Porteña (a Buenos Aires local).
Argentina is basically the nicest of everything. Every restaurant has homemade pasta and the steak, the most iconic of Argentina’s many notable dishes, is unlike anything you can get here. Buenos Aires was a meat-heavy city, but everyone we talked to said it would be San Antonio de Areco, the small gaucho town next to our estancia (something like a very fancy bed and breakfast where they served us breakfast, lunch, tea, cocktail hour and dinner, entirely from scratch everyday), would be where we’d have the best steak, or bife, of our lives. And we did.
Throughout the trip we ate a mix of typical dishes - more empanadas please! - and modernist cuisine inspired by Argentine food. A cheese plate at Cassis, a tasting-menu restaurant tucked away in the mountains of Patagonia, featured smoked meats and cheeses whipped into beautiful little portions of pâté and dip paired with homemade relishes and artisanal bread. At a “Puerta Cerrada,” or pop-up restaurant in someone’s home, we ate dish after dish of thoughtful dishes that were riffs of Argentine classics, prepared and served in an apartment that had once belonged to the restauranteur’s parents.
Perhaps the easiest takeaway from Argentina, was the affinity for the spritz and negroni, cocktails we’d already added into our rotation after a trip to Italy last summer.
The Italian influence is strong in Argentina, but it’s the Parisien style architecture that’s hard to wrap your head around. Can it be you’re in South America, eating fresh pasta and drinking negronis, surrounded by Renaissance style palaces and Art Nouveau apartment buildings? It can be, but after a few cocktails and picadas, the giant cheese and meat trays served at every dive bar, it’s easy to imagine that your flight went eight and a half hours east instead of south.
Culturally, it didn’t feel far removed from Miami; the people are obsessed with food and drink, they talk of a time past when things were different in their country and the politics less corrupt and the pace of the city is slow.
I’ve been obsessed with my Francis Mallmann cookbook “Mallmann on Fire: 100 Inspired Recipes To Grill Anytime” since Christmas when my then-boyfriend, now-husband gifted it to me. But sometimes, there just isn’t time to make everything quite as inspired as Francis can make it, so luckily, I live right down the street from Graziano’s, an Argentine market with prepared foods like the empanadas and homemade sausages featured here.This party was for a crowd of 50, which is definitely a big dinner party, but the Argentine style of shared charcuterie (picada), BBQ favorites and a big arugula salad make for an easy menu to multiply by four, five or six.
We served the meal in four phases over the course of six hours or so and the menu was a blend of homemade dishes, recipes from the Gjelina Cookbook, an under trendy restaurant in LA with a very ambitious cookbook that I've been obsessed with, that we prepared over the course of the week and things I scooped at Graziano’s that day. The homemade dishes are marked with asterisks and recipe sources are described below the photos.
- Hora de Vermut -
Manchego and Chorizo Sandwiches*
Grilled Zucchini, Sprouts and Tapenade Sandwiches*
- Picada -
Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Pate* with Giardiniera*
Picada of Manchego, Brie, Goat Cheese and Salami, Chorizo and Prosciutto
- Parrillada -
Chicken Wings Marinated in Garlic Citrus Mojo*
Arugula Salad with Shaved Parmesan
Served with Malbec from Mendoza
- Postre -
Strawberry Lemon Sorbet*
*Grilled Zucchini, Sprouts and Tapenade Sandwiches: This one was more-or-less invented. I wanted something vegan in the mix of very meat-heavy Argentine food and olives seemed like an appropriate pairing. Plus, I had a whole bunch of them to get rid of so I Googled around and mixed up a couple of tapenade recipes to use the leftover herbs from the chimichurri and the olives.
*Campari Spritz: Champagne or Prosecco, Campari and soda water topped with orange slices. It will become your new favorite.
*Pickled Eggplant: This one came from the Gjelina Cookbook. It was the surprise hit of the party. Nothing is uglier than pickled eggplant and no dish went faster than the pickled eggplant, so it must have been good.
*Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Pate* with Giardiniera: The giardiniera, a pickled vegetable medley, came from the Farmer's Market at Pinecrest Gardens. The Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Pate is a Gjelina recipe that was such an epic adventure, I'm going to save the full story for another day. Spoiler Alert: I found the duck liver, aka foie gras, at Marky's, a Russian market off the 79th Street Causeway.
*Chicken Wings Marinated in Garlic Citrus Mojo, Salsa Criolla, Chimichurri: These all came from the cookbook of the man, the myth, the legend Francis Mallmann.
*Strawberry Lemon Sorbet: Another Gjelina recipe. I'm not sure if this was a weird synergy that was discovered or I just wanted to make these ambitious recipes and use my new ice cream machine, but they worked so well together, it's a wonder these evil geniuses behind Gjelina, GTA and Gjusta in Venice Beach haven't opened an Argentine restaurant.
A very very very special thank you to the SUPER talented Karla Garcia Costa who snapped these gorgeous pics. Look out for more collaboartions between MIAMI NICE and our girl Karla.
IT'S A TRILLION DEGREES OUTSIDE