Sometimes the stars align and out of the blue a perfect night happens upon you. This was my experience last week when I was invited to participate in a cooking/wine-tasting at I Latina under the title “Yo, Cocinero.” To me there is nothing more fabulous than hovering over a boiling pot in a kitchen rich with aromas, fueled by good wine and even better conversation. And to have such an experience at one of BA’s hottest restaurants was just the icing on the cake.
For starters, let’s just gush for a moment about how kind and welcoming brothers Santiago and Camilo Macías are – it only reinforces my secret belief that Colombians are perhaps the most genuine people on the continent (sorry, grumpy Porteños). As we walked up to the Villa Crespo house I knew we were in for a great night – meeting new people, drinking great wines and learning some of the secrets behind the standout dishes at I Latina, perhaps the standout puerta cerrada of the moment.
The atmosphere was relaxed as the group gathered around to listen to Santiago’s introduction about what we’d be making – cheesy arepas with melted butter, heaven-sent patacones (double fried plantain fritters with a sweet sauce and avocado salad), a rich seafood stew and then an insane coconut and hazelnut tart in a vanilla-scented crust. Hello, yum city!
Most of the hard work had been done before we’d arrived – dough was made and already chilling, seafood had been cleaned and was ready to be thrown in for the stew, but there was still plenty to prep. We chopped plantains, minced cilantro, rolled the arepas before placing them on the piping-hot plancha. We got our hands dirty, but Camilo always made sure that our glasses never reached empty – we sipped on a range of wines from the Vistalba winery (one of my favorites).
The arepas and patacones were devoured standing up before we migrated to the dining room, where we’d eat our main course and dessert over lingering conversation and more wine. I’m a firm believer that things always taste better when you make them with your own hands, but if they can have an extra push from a Chef like Santiago, you definitely can’t go wrong. Confession: I ate about 6 patacones because I literally have no self control whatsoever.
These were the perfect set-up to what came next, though. Creamy aromatic Colombian seafood stew – basically a bisque but with a lot more flavor. Mussels, scallops, baby squid and shrimp were all piled in along with rich veg broth and tons of Latin seasonings. It was a new-to-me twist on a dish that I’ve loved since as long as I can remember. Seeing the heart and soul that goes into these dishes reinforces your respect for people who do this for a living; it also made me wish I were more of a culinary maven.
To top it all off, dessert was a real treat. Once again, I think the tart crust tasted even better because I had rolled it out myself, but what you might think to be a simple dessert was somehow elevated to foodgasm territory. I have no idea how they do this. I am sure the wine was a strong influencer, but this was just over the top.
When I Latina first opened in Buenos Aires (after a successful run down south in Bariloche), I was in the States for holiday and was so bummed to have missed the gran estreno. Somehow time flew by and I still hadn’t managed to get over there for dinner (or Sunday brunch), so when the chance came to spend time in the kitchen with the team, I knew it would be too amazing to pass up.
Before we stumbled out the door, bellies full and hearts happy, Santiago sent us all home with little jars of the magical patacon sauce. José was lucky enough to snag the leftover arepa dough by correctly answering Chef’s question, which was something to the effect of “How do you make patacones?” As we all stumbled through our fuzzy memories, trying (and failing) to list off ingredients, José simply stated: “Con amor y pasión.” Surely he trying to act cool – because he paid zero attention earlier, clearly – but in the end, he hit the nail on the head. Good food becomes excellent food when it’s made with heart and soul. If this is what you’re looking for, head over to I Latina, and get ready to feel at home.