Having been taken to see a stage production of Evita at an impressionable age (12), my longtime aspirations of traveling to Argentina were mostly fueled by the desire to somehow sneak onto the balcony of the Casa Rosada and belt out a showstopper. Unfortunately, the museum and tour of the “Pink House” were closed to visitors during our trip, so that is one life goal I will have to leave unchecked for the moment. Probably for the better. However, in the midst of all our bike riding and wine tasting in Mendoza, my bestie Q and I did find time for another singular Argentine experience- dinner at 1884 Francis Mallman.
For those uninitiated into the cult of the fire, Mallman is the author of Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, and is generally credited with elevating the gaucho cooking of South America to the realm of international cuisine. And how! I love dining out and have been known to go to great lengths (including attending graduate school to win a bet over a chef’s table dinner) to eat at new restaurants, and 1884 was no exception. Despite the restaurant’s global profile, the local cab drivers in Mendoza were somewhat uncertain of the location. The third cab we flagged was willing to take us, but as he veered out of the city into the unlit streets of suburban Godoy Cruz, turning onto a residential dead end, I started to get that “this is how I’m going to die” feeling in the pit of my stomach. Just then, Q spotted a small light on at a huge compound tucked behind massive iron gates. Saved from certain starvation/death, the driver pulled up in front, the security guard checked my name against their reservation list, and the gates swung open to this…
Once seated, safely ensconced at our terrace-side table, champagne and appetizers were clearly in order.
And for dinner… the beef rib for two. Let me preface this photo by saying that it is almost obscene to claim that this serves two people. The serving platter stretched the length of our table. The steak was the size of my arm (literally). I asked our waitress if any pair had ever finished the whole thing. Her answer? Once. And they did not eat the grilled vegetables served on the side.
But it was by far the best steak I’ve ever had. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, covered in a garlicky chimichurri, no serrated steak knife needed. Lingering over a bottle of local Malbec, Q and I made our best effort, but could not conquer the beef rib. It was a little tragic to watch as the leftovers were carted away.
Having worshiped in the cathedral of meat (high priest, vaulted ceiling, cloistered courtyard, wine…), the obvious downside is that, having tasted the promised land, ordinary steak will no longer satisfy. Not to mention the fact that after two weeks of gluttony, I was desperately craving vegetables. Clearly some clean eating was in order.
This salad is ideal for March- when spring is just on the horizon and you can no longer stand the heavy soups and braises of winter, but asparagus and rhubarb have not yet made their annual debut. This recipe yields quite a lot, so make a big batch on Sunday evening, and you’ll have a fresh and crunchy lunch salad for the rest of the week.
Quinoa, Apple & Arugula Salad
Adapted from Fine Cooking, via The Kitchn
1-1/2 cups quinoa, preferably red
5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
1 large red onion, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
4 oz. arugula, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
4 oz. aged Gouda, finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 large, crisp apple (such as Fuji or Pink Lady) cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup finely diced fennel
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3 Tbs. sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
In a bowl, rinse the quinoa with water, rubbing it between your fingers for about 10 seconds. Drain and transfer it to a 3-quart pot. Add 2-1/2 cups water and 1/2 tsp. sea salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, until the quinoa is tender but still has crunch and the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Let the quinoa rest for 5 minutes and fluff it with a fork. Let cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the red onion and a pinch of salt, stirring frequently until tender and brown around the edges. Add the balsamic vinegar and toss with the onions until the vinegar cooks away. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Add the arugula, cheese, apple, walnuts, fennel, and cranberries to a large bowl. When the quinoa and onions are cool, add those and gently toss together.
In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 3 Tbs. olive oil with the sherry vinegar, 1/2 tsp. sea salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the dressing to the salad and gently mix it in. Let rest a moment, and season to taste with salt and pepper.