Confession: I miss people.
The funny thing about traveling as a couple is that even though you’re always with somebody, the two of you often wind up alone together. You stay in apartments or double rooms, you’ve got a ready-made travel buddy, and you don’t reach out to other travelers the way you do when you’re on your own.
Our landlords in Buenos Aires, a warm, friendly couple in their late 50s, live in the apartment below us. They have a small courtyard visible through our kitchen window, and every Sunday they host a long lunch full of friends, conversation, red wine, and delectable-smelling grilled meat.
It makes me obscenely jealous. And I guess it makes me a little bit of a stalker, but let’s ignore that.
So when I heard about the puertas cerradas – closed-door restaurants – in Buenos Aires, it was something I wanted to do. The restaurants’ exact locations are unadvertised; they’re ‘secret’ events, hosted in the chef’s home. A limited number of people can attend and guests share a communal table. The menu changes weekly, and the atmosphere is a cross between a dinner party and a blind date.
After a brief consultation with Google, I was pumped to find one of these restaurants in the San Telmo area. Jueves a la Mesa (literally, “Thursdays at the Table”) is run by Meghan and Sofia, who are experts in sourcing organic ingredients and making magic out of them. What really makes Meghan and Sofia’s food stand out is that it’s entirely vegetarian, a minority in this city of beef.
Ten of us sat around the candlelit table, from Germany, the US, Australia, Chile, England, and Norway. Everyone was in Buenos Aires for a different reason – long-term travel, a wedding, a weekend from Santiago, to study medicine (in Spanish! Even though she’s Norwegian!), so we cracked a bottle of Malbec and had plenty to talk about. I felt like a little kid on a sugar high, talking faster and faster just because I was so excited to be talking to people again.
Meghan and Sofia introduced themselves and directed our attention to the tins of markers on the table and encouraged us to write our own answers to the questions written on the paper tablecloth. It’s clear that they enjoy their work and are passionate about creating imaginative vegetarian meals.
When Meghan and Sofia brought out the starter, conversation came to a startling halt.
“You guys are really quiet out there,” Meghan called from the kitchen.
The only audible sound was faint chewing. We barely responded through delicious mouthfuls of herbs, vegetables and rice, topped with a little kick of spice. Eating took total priority over all other activities, except maybe breathing.
Eventually, the ten of us raised our heads from our plates and started talking again, the initial throes of food ecstasy subsiding. The chefs brought out the main dish, a meat-free version of Vietnamese phở, served with basil, sprouts, cilantro, peanuts, and marinated tofu croutons.
Don’t judge tofu. Seriously. When done right, it is pretty darn tasty.
Meghan told us to grab the toppings with our hands – they’d experimented with serving spoons, but that made things more difficult.
I was more than happy to comply. It reminded me of the communal vibe of Korea, where people move around the tables and eat whatever is in front of them. Except here, I wasn’t sitting on the floor and I could understand what people were saying. Happily, I dug right into the tofu and peanuts.
Dessert was a bowl of papaya topped with Meghan’s own homemade dark chocolate, served with ginger tea to aid digestion. I cannot say enough about the chocolate, which is sweetened with honey instead of sugar. When I first looked at it, I thought, “Cool. I like chocolate. I like papayas. Winner.”
But when I bit into a piece of the heart-shaped chocolate, I immediately wanted to steal the remaining chocolates from everyone else’s bowl and hoard them for myself. It. was. delicious. Meghan sells the chocolate in packs of six, in flavors like orange/sea salt/fennel, coconut, and pimienta rosa. I thought about ordering some to take home, but we all know that I’d just eat six in one sitting and wish I had more.
My craving for conversation was satisfied, as was my grumbling stomach and everlasting sweet tooth. And last weekend, when the landlords had their dinner party, I wasn’t even tempted to peek.
OK, I was, but only for a like a split second.
* * * * *
Muchas gracias to Meghan for giving us a discounted meal – as always, all opinions are my own.