As I mentioned before, there seems to be a second wave of closed door restaurants popping up in Buenos Aires, and I am ecstatic. This time around, things are taking on a different vibe, more intimate and relaxed, with their own unique twist.
If you’ve been in BA for more than a hot minute and enjoy food, you’ve probably heard of Frances. She has some of the most beautiful photos out there, and I’ve loved her blog form the moment I stumbled upon it. She’s this tiny person with a huge radiant smile (yes I have a girl crush on her, ok?). When she isn’t cooking/eating/photographing food, she also works as a licensed acupuncturist, nutritionist, herbalist, yoga instructor and Chinese Doctor. Basically she’s pretty much a badass.
Anyway, Frances realized her dream of opening her kitchen to the public less than two weeks ago when she opened The Hidden Kitchen at the Reserve space in Palermo Soho. I was eager to dig in to the goods and of course booked a seat at the table for the first night she was in business.
I loved the giant cartoon cat that greeted us at the top of the stairs upon arrival, and the red lanterns and cans of chopsticks on each table added to the kitschy ambiance. Frances and her sous chef were prepping, cooking, and frying right out in the open, so it was cool to watch her at work and hear all the sizzles that go into the food you’re about to eat.
The concept is supposed to echo an Asian street food experience, and the table setup reflects that – butcher’s paper instead of fabric tablecloths, various bottles of hot sauces and chili oils grouped with a large supply of chopsticks and paper napkins. You already feel at ease and are ready for the fiesta to begin.
Get ready for a lot of food. Whoa. I had to be stuffed into the car when we left, basically. Before the first course of veggie spring rolls came out, we were treated to the “1000 layer pancake” that was torn into chunks and served with chili garlic sauce and a black sesame salt – both insanely spicy and amazing. They added real flavor to the pancake and I couldn’t stop eating. If only I had known what was ahead …
We were served a little wonton, marinated in a corn and kale broth and topped with some chili and scallions. This wasn’t on the menu, so it came as a surprise. A delicious, amazing surprise. I slurped up every bit of the broth and added some of Frank’s chili sauce to it for an extra kick.
Next, the spring rolls came out. Piping hot and nice and crunchy (though perhaps a tad oily). I liked the simple, fresh salad of carrot, daikon, lettuce and cilantro that they were served with, and dunked those puppies in Frances’s homemade chili-infused oil for an extra kick. I got a little messy, but that’s the point, right?
Then out came our mains. I ordered the Gong Pao Tofu, served with dried chilis and leeks and drenched in a crazy spicy sauce with rice. I loved it – the rice helped soak up the delicious sauce and the tofu was nice and puffy after being fried. If I hadn’t been eating everyone else’s food I might have begged for seconds of my own! My dining companions ordered the Taiwanese Pork Belly and the Organic BBQ Crispy Chicken. The pork belly came apart nicely (as it should) over the rice and was served with bok choy and other braised veg.
Dessert was unexpectedly amazing. Dark, rich flourless chocolate cake served with a fresh (and homemade!) lime-basil sorbet and little crunchy almond cookies. I wanted to eat ten of these – the chocolate was so rich and decadent and the lime/basil combo was a perfect way to cut the sweetness with a bit of tart.
The Hidden Kitchen is BYOB (love that) so we enjoyed two of our own bottles of wine, though there is a short (yet original, and well-priced) wine list available. I also liked that we could choose between bottled water or having filtered tap water – I hate paying $15 for it at other restaurants, so taking advantage of the unlimited water was a fiesta. (I’m a freak)
The price is right, too – for just AR$150 you get tons and tons of food. It’s unique, different and made with love. Definitely a great deal if you ask me.
Now, since we dined at the Hidden Kitchen on its first official night in business, I do have to say there were a few tiny kinks that need to be worked out. Not all of the dishes were served piping hot (the pork belly, for example), which was kind of a bummer, though I’m sure that’s an easy fix since it just has to do with coordinating the timing a bit better. Though there was an abundance of chopsticks on the table, sometimes a fork and knife would have been better so it would be nice for those to be on the table always just in case.
I highly recommend making reservations at The Hidden Kitchen – go with a big group and really dig in to the communal dining experience. The three entree choices are sure to satisfy any palate, and Frances is sure to do her best to accommodate any special dietary needs when you make your reservation. Since you can bring whatever booze you want, you shouldn’t be thirsty at any time during your meal – bonus. Be sure to check out the Facebook page for photos, updates and more information.