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Argentina has been on our list to visit for a few years now. We finally decided to pull the trigger and spend our Thanksgiving break exploring three separate cities in Argentina. These adventures were a great break from a hectic work life.
Our goals for this trip were pretty simple – get away from work for a week and explore a new area of the world. Argentina is well known for it’s wine and it’s beef. As with almost all of our trips we built our experiences around food, wine and seeing beautiful spaces. Of course we had to couple these requirements with our need for a relaxing break. It is a vacation after all.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you my thoughts on the various flights, hotels, restaurants and experiences, including:
- Flight Planning
- United Flight IAH – EZE | Economy
- Wait. Wrong Airport?
- LATAM Flight EZE/AEP – MDZ | Economy
- Park Hyatt Mendoza – Standard Room
- Valle Uco Wine Tasting
- Dining in Mendoza
- Austral Frlight MDZ-COR | Economy
- Sheraton Cordoba – Junior Suite
- Dining in Cordoba
- Walking Tours in Cordoba
- Cordoba Airport
- LATAM Flight COR – AEP | Economy
- Park Tower Hotel – Corner Suite
- Buenos Aires Bike Tour
- Dining in Buenos Aires
- The Bird Poop Scam
- Taxis in Buenos Aires
- United Flight EZE – EWR | Economy
- United Flight EWR – ORD | First
Not to spoiler the ending here, but we loved our time in Argentina. Next time we will do somethings a little differently though.
Have you been to Argentina? What was your favorite spot? Did you have to deal with the bird poop scam?
Each year, we travel somewhere for Thanksgiving. We find it a great time to leave the country as no one is traveling for business that week and most Americans are traveling domestically. We’ve traveled to Ireland, Mexico City, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Colorado, and Oregon for Thanksgiving. This year, we are heading south to Argentina. This will be my first visit to the country, while it will be Mike’s second.
So far, we’ve book airfare down to and back from Argentina as well as flights inside the country. We’ve chosen our cities to visit and the hotels in which to stay. We’ll be staying in Cordoba, Mendoza and finally a few days in Buenos Aires. I’ve only made reservations for one meal while we are there too – our final night in Buenos Aires, we are hitting a lovely fine dining restaurant as we celebrate Thanksgiving.
I need your help though. I’m looking for advice from travelers and locals who can tell us great places to eat and wineries to visit. Frequent readers know that I love a good bike tour, so any recommendations on who to ride while while in Argentina, let me know.
What is the one thing you wish you had done while you were in Argentina? What about the one thing you wish you hadn’t done?
We had a single night for dinner in San Francisco, so I immediately turned to the Fifty Best Restaurants list, a list that has never steered us wrong. Saison was rated number 46 on the current listing. Like many fine dining restaurants you buy tickets for a given day and time and those tickets go on sale two months before your desired reservation time. I marked my calendar and had no problem getting reservations.
We did absolutely no further research on the restaurant or the menu before our arrival. I knew that Saison focused on seasonal produce and meats prepared in a contemporary California style. That’s all we knew – we prefer to go in relatively blind.
We arrived at 19h00 and were seated immediately. Our table was a corner two top where we sat right next to each other. It was a tight fit and for several of the courses the table just didn’t have enough real estate. It got even more crowded with the various wine glasses.
Speaking of wine, we chose not to do all of the wine pairings. Honestly, this choice was made solely on price. The wine pairings added another $298 per person, which would have brought our total bill for dinner to nearly $1,200 and while this is a once in a lifetime experience, we’ve had a few once in a lifetime meals already this year and thought we should be more cost conscious. That being said, we asked our server to select a couple glasses of wine for the entire meal, progressing and pairing as the meal went on. We also asked that our wines be different so we could more properly experience the tasting menu.
We had a team of servers helping us and they ran the gamut from Mr. Congeniality to folks on the very far end of the GADS (Asberger’s) scale – so much so that it was painful to talk to them. They didn’t have any details on some of the courses they served, but they tried. When these struggles presented themselves, the server knew quickly that they weren’t prepared (all three times it happened) and one of their colleagues would return and talk more in-depth about the course. At the end we got where we needed to be.
This meal seemed more elaborate than other tasting menus we’ve seen recently. Everything from a make-it-yourself amberjack lettuce wrap to a barbecued half quail. Dining in late June allowed for the early summer seasonal produce to really shine. The fresh peas and summer fruits for dessert were stellar.
Our meal lasted about two and a half hours, but at the end we sat around for another 45 minutes sampling a couple of wines and chatting with some of the servers, who had just recently visited Chicago and spent a week eating – so we talked fine dining to beef stands. It was a great way to end the meal.
While not without room for improvement, the food really stood out at Saison. I wish we had a slightly different table and that our team of servers were a little more well-rounded in their training and delivery. If Saison has been on your list of places to try whilst in San Francisco, you must go. It was quite the experience.
Have you dined at Saison? How was your service team? Which course was your favorite? I loved the Peas, the Antelope and the Orange dessert. So refreshing.
After doing a bit of research on fine dining in Montreal, I decided to give L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon another try. I wasn’t overly impressed with it when I was in Hong Kong, but I had delayed planning a nice dinner until late in the game and I couldn’t find a reservation that would fit into our overall schedule. L’Atelier it is! I didn’t realize, until the day of the reservations, that the restaurant is actually in the Casino, which honestly, if I had known, I likely would have changed my plans. Casino food can be hit or miss and if I wasn’t sold in the excellence of L’Atelier from a previous visit, I was sure the locale wouldn’t make it better. Plus, it was too late to cancel without a forfeiture fee.
I roll into the casino about 5 minutes before my reservation and like all casinos, it was like a maze finding the restaurant. Eventually, after a few escalators, an elevator and a flight of stairs, I arrive. The Maitre d’ greeted me by name as I walked up. The restaurant was booked full and I was a single diner showing up about 10 minutes after my reservation time – process of deduction lead them to me.
The welcome crew was great, no comment about my tardiness. There were a couple of single seats around the counter, of which I had my choice. Selecting a corner seat gave me extra elbow room and only one opportunity to have a talkative neighbor.
The menu was delivered right as I sat down. Before I could even get situated, I was presented a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and was asked if I’d be joining in a pre-dinner glass of champagne. OUI! Madam, OUI!
As I sipped my champagne and perused the menu, I finally got a chance to check out the restaurant. It looked remarkably like the Hong Kong version, bar seating, highboy tables around the perimeter, although this restaurant looked out on the river and was quite bright and sunny, despite the deep red and black lacquer finished.
I had basically decided I’d be doing the tasting menu this evening. The final decision was which menu to try, the Decouvert de Saison or the Experience. I was pushing for the Experience, but I didn’t want the sweetbreads and I couldn’t swap out a course, so it was the Decouvert for me. It wasn’t a big let down, I just really wish I could have had the canard – I love duck.
I decided to do the wine pairings as well – why not, right? So I sat at the bar, alone, enjoying a 10-course tasting menu with wine pairings, and I couldn’t be happier. First up, an amazing bread basket was delivered. I knew I wouldn’t eat all that bread by myself…but I did a damn good job. I just left one of the olive loafs behind. So perfect, so buttery, so not needed based on the amount of food I was eating!
Service was surprisingly smooth and knowledgeable. I kept replaying the dinner in Hong Kong and how disappointing it was. Not at all like that here. The service was well timed – a glass delivered, then the wine poured with about 20-30 seconds of explanation of the grape, the region and why it was chosen to pair with the next course. I’d have about a minute or two to smell, taste and admire the wine before the plate was delivered – again with a 20-30 second explanation of the dish, then I’d be left to enjoy it in peace. Dinner continued like that for about two and a half hours.
By the time the L’Asperge Blanche was delivered (which was SCALDING hot by the way), a couple sat next to me. She was loud and brash. She ordered a double spicy, extra horseradish Bloody Mary. The server confirmed and gave her fair warning that that drink would likely destroy her palate, truly diminishing the tasting menu. She ordered the tasting menu and a second double spicy, extra horseradish Bloody Mary. All before the champagne was served.
Despite my initial frustration with this woman, we ended up having a really great time chatting. Her husband (boyfriend?) was more of the silent, look at his phone type of guy and she was a chatty Kathy. She ended up being quite respectful, when my dish would arrive. She’d turn and lavish attention on her date, who couldn’t care less about her (or so it seemed). Once I finished, she let me savor for a moment, then she’d jump right back into her story, without missing a beat. It made for an enjoyable experience.
Finally the petits fours were delivered. Eric Gonzalez, the head chef, came out and chatted with me for about 15 minutes. We spent a lot of time talking about port (I love a beautiful Portuguese fortified wine) and about proper duck preparation and how he doesn’t really dig the whole duck press service. I loved pressed duck, but many places do it so poorly.
The Departing Conclusion
My early dinner came to an acceptably timely close a little before 22h00, which gave me plenty of time to head back to the hotel, change and meet up with my friends that evening. The L’Atelier in Montreal is head an shoulders better than the one in Hong Kong. I was thoroughly disappointed in so much of the Hong Kong experience and despite the casino location, this team did a phenomenal job. I’d head back and dine here in a heartbeat — but will I dine in Paris, or Shanghai or Taipei or any of the other cities with a Joël Robuchon restaurant? Time will tell.
Have you dined at any of the incarnations of Joël Robuchon’s restaurants? What did you love? How was the service?
After an amazing first full day at IPNC, Group A, of which we were a part, remained on campus. The breakfast on days one and two are pretty much identical – amazingly fresh berries and stone fruit (if you haven’t been to Oregon in berry season, you are missing out on one of life’s amazing pleasures), fresh buttery pastries, bacon or sausage, some yogurt, juice and coffee. Nothing terribly fancy, but delicious and nothing too wild that will destroy your palate before the tastings.
The main event is the Grand Seminar, where everyone who was off campus the day before goes to Linfield’s gym for a tasting seminar. This year’s seminar was Two Vineyards | Six Hands, which was an in-depth exploration of six wines from two vineyards. These wines were made especially for IPNC. We actually skipped this session. We decided to head off campus and grab breakfast with some local friends. We’ve had mixed results with the Grand Seminar – sometimes they are really great and other times they can drag on for way too long. Everyone we talked to said we missed out on a really great seminar this year.
After the Grand Seminar was the Lunch on the Lawn. This al fresco dining experience, like the Grand Dinner the night before it is a plated and served lunch where each table has a winemaker sharing a selection of wines they brought and the somms providing larger tastings (half glasses) of other wines from the library. We sat with one person we had met before at another IPNC and everyone else was new to us. Our winery partner was Sokol-Blosser – where we had an off-campus experience a few years ago. Our entire table was such fun and Robin Hawley the Associate Winemaker was a generous host as well. She was inquisitive and engaging – a real delight to sit with. We also had a couple of first-timers at our table, so it was great to get their impressions and to offer sage advice.
Following lunch we had our University of Pinot class, which centered on Austrian Pinot Noirs. There were about a dozen different 90 minute courses you could take – and we actively selected into this course as we do visit Vienna from time to time. The class had three Austrian winemakers showcasing the geography, the diversity and the uniqueness of their wines. These wines definitely had a lighter, crisper feel than a traditional Oregon Pinot Noir, but this is really one of the main points. It is the INTERNATIONAL Pinot Noir Celebration, not the Oregon PNC. The winemakers were insightful and made me want to hope on a plane and pay them a visit. The worst part, this class lasted 25 minutes longer than scheduled, which cut into the Afternoon Activities. We could have left, but we sat in such a place that we couldn’t actually leave without being very disruptive. Next time, plan better!
Saturday’s Afternoon Activities were focusing on Rosés and Jamón. I will still pretty full from lunch, but I’ve always got room for proper Ibérico Ham, which was served with heirloom tomatoes, burrata cheese and the most wonderful sardines I’ve ever eaten. The line was long for Jamón, but we had a rosé to keep us company. I will admit, I was in the Jamón line twice – the second time we spent more time chatting with one of the Austrian winemakers too. We’ll be visiting him on our next trip to Austria.
Like the first day, there is an al fresco tasting before dinner. Tables with dozens of wineries pouring a curated selection of wines sit underneath old oak trees. You get direct access to the winemakers and owners of these great wineries. Plus, this is a great time to mingle and chat with the new friends you met earlier in the weekend.
The final dinner is the famous Salmon Bake. This buffet dinner is the only part of the weekend that is open to non-attendees of IPNC. Separate tickets can be purchased ($225 per ticket) from the IPNC website. Like all meals, there is no assigned seating, it is first-come-first-served seating. There are two strategies for the Salmon bake 1) Hurry and select a table for you and your friends or 2) Head straight into the buffet line, then once you have a full plate, strikeout to find a seat.
The star of this dinner is the salmon, which is roasted over an open flame in the style that indigenous people of the pacific northwest would cook it. In addition to the salmon, there is beef and pork, plus tons of salads and sides – all made with fresh, local ingredients by excellent regional chefs.
Like the lunches and previous dinner, the somms are assigned to certain tables and they keep your glasses full. They are always rotating different wines including, chardonnays, rieslings and of course pinot noir. There is a ton of food at the buffets, so multiple trips are required. The separate dessert stations open up about an hour after the main meal is served – dozens of small dessert pastries and even full slices of pie.
The casual dinner allows for easy walking and chatting with new friends. People also bring their own bottles to share with friends old and new. We find our selves walking around the tables, exploring new wines and continuing to meet new people.
At the end of the night, we always grab a few friends and a couple chairs and sit by the remains of the Salmon Bake Fire. We have so much fun at this part of the night, it is a sad time as the great weekend is coming to a close.