This is the ninth post in the Hello Argentina Series detailing my week-long trip in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Other posts include Hello Argentina, La Cabrera, La Rambla, Empanadas, Tamales, and Beer, Oh My!, Cabanas Las Lilas, Buenos Aires – Three Most Famous Ice Cream Shops, Chila, Elena, and Oviedo.
Ask a local food expert where to find the best dining in Buenos Aires, and you may be surprised to hear that it’s not at a restaurant.
Well, not exactly.
Recently, puertas cerradas, or closed-door restaurants, have exploded in popularity in Buenos Aires. Like secret supper clubs, closed-door restaurants operate out of a person’s home and often have less consistent schedules. Oftentimes, there are no menus. The experience feels more like a dinner party where you sit around a table, meet new friends, and enjoy a surprise tasting menu that the chef has prepared for you. It sort of reminds me of the pop-ups and supper clubs we have in Boston.
Other closed door restaurants feel more like traditional restaurants, with menus, servers, and separate tables.
Some estimate there are over fifty closed door restaurants in Buenos Aires, although the exact number is uncertain. After all, how do you calculate the number of something that’s “underground” or “secret”? Nevertheless, word travels, and most people know where the best ones are. In fact, there are numerous lists floating around summarizing the best puertas cerradas in the city.
I had a hard time choosing between the various good ones. It was tough because I was only in Buenos Aires for a week. Many of these closed door restaurants only open a few days a week. Some of these people have day jobs and only have time to prepared a a couple elaborate meals a week. Other places only open on weekends.
I finally settled upon Casa Coupage in Palermo for a couple reasons. First, it was often named in various lists as being one of the best closed door restaurants in Buenos Aires. Second, Casa Coupage is unique because it started as a wine club before turning into a supper club. The two owners, Santiago Mymicopulo and Inés Mendieta, are both trained sommeliers and thus focus on food and wine pairings.
On Friday evening, after having spent almost a whole week in Buenos Aires, Bryan and I headed out to an unmarked door in the middle of Palermo to partake in this “closed door” experience for the first time.
It’s tricky trying to find an unmarked restaurant in a foreign country. Bryan and I made the HUGE mistake of just relying on Google Maps the first time. It turns out that Casa Coupage had moved recently, and the address had not been updated in Google Maps. This means we ended up walking up to some random unmarked residential gate (complete with graffiti!) and tried knocking on the door.
It’s no surprise no one answered.
I wonder whether the current resident is tired of all these strangers accidentally ringing the doorbell.
It took us a moment before we realized we were at the wrong address. Thankfully, the new location was also in Palermo, only about a 10 minute walk away.
And then we heard footsteps.
We breathed a sigh of relief. Although the outside had looked every bit as suspect as the last location, we had finally arrived at the right place.
The moment we walked in, we felt like we had entered another world.
Inside, it was cozy, warm, and inviting. Though we were about ten minutes late, we were still very early by Argentinian standards. After all, we had booked the first slot, 8:30PM – their opening time.
We were still the first to arrive. We had our choice of seating between the nine tables present, which were divided up between two dining rooms.
We chose a more secluded corner in one of the rooms, right next to all the pretty wine bottles.
In the back, near the restrooms, there was a beautiful semi-outdoor patio-like area where they were growing all sorts of different plants (maybe even some herbs?) in hanging pots.
It was so pretty.
I felt immediately relaxed after our harrowing adventure finding the restaurant.
Soon after, we met Santiago Mymicopulo, one of the owners and sommeliers of the restaurant. His English was excellent, and he began talking to us about the menu and the wines.
You can choose between an 8-course tasting menu or order a la carte. Wine pairings are available and you pay according to the number of different glasses you want. I think I went with the 3-glass pairing, while Bryan went all out and got the 7-glass pairing.
Their pours are very generous (I’m talking almost a full pour per glass), so take that into account when deciding!
We went for the 8-course tasting menu, which at 450 Pesos is still very, very reasonable by U.S. standards ($56 USD official exchange rate; $37.50 USD “blue market” rate).
Casa Coupage’s goal is to showcase Argentinian wines. We started with some Alta Vista Premium extra brut sparkling chardonnay from Mendoza. We enjoyed this with a tiny amuse bouche which consisted of rabbit escabeche and a plantain chip. I really enjoyed this bite. The tender rabbit, which had been marinated and slow cooked in a vinegar and oil mixture, had the texture of pulled pork. Unfortunately, I think I totally forgot to take a photo of this bite!
Our next wine was a 2013 Colome vino blanco de Gran Altura Torrontés from Salta. Torrontés is a white grape that is beautifully floral and aromatic. The best ones come from the region of Salta in Argentina, which is one of the highest elevation grape-growing regions in the world.
This was paired with a sponge cake-wrapped crab salad which was served with a slice of fresh palm heart (yum!), olive and avocado cream, red pepper, and quail egg.
We found the food and wine to be an excellent pairing. The Torrontés brought out the sweetness of the crepe and the crab. Santiago also had us pair the dish with a chardonnay just to experience the difference. The chardonnay became saltier when paired, which was quite interesting.
Both were excellent pairings.
We (meaning just Bryan) then moved into a trio of reds: a 2010 Primogenito pinot noir from Patagonia; a 2012 Calamaco Malbec from Mendoza, and a 2008 Alta Vista Terrior Collection malbec from Mendoza.
You can see how generous the pours are!
Our next course was a puff pastry filled with pork liver mousse and served with a tomato watermelon gelee, sprouts, and pickled cucumbers. It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo, but we were surprised at the portion size, which was pretty big. The overall dish worked well, with the fruity water melon gelee nicely complementing the liver mousse filling.
We then had a trio of steak nigiris served with a side of “soy sauce” made from Argentina soy beans and a meat jus. The steak was topped with chimichurri sauce and volcanic salt. The soy sauce had a nice savory umami from the jus and the dish paired pretty well with the red wines. The rice texture was mushier than what we’d typically see from top sushi places in Japan, but perhaps I’m being a bit harsh with such exacting rice standards.
Our next course was a deep fried halibut served with a mayo and seaweed sauce and topped with a cilantro and ginger foam. This was served alongside grilled octopus and pan fried vegetables (zucchini, green pepper, green bean, baby carrot, baby corn, and mushroom), on top of homemade ketchup.
I loved the vegetables, especially the mushroom, which soaked up the flavors of the balsamic-based sauce beautifully. The mayonnaise sauce had a nice umami, and the fish was tasty as well.
Our final savory course was the steak which was served with a blood sauce, garlic sauce (like an aoli), a potato galette, salsa, and a few greens. We found the steak to be a bit disappointing. It was a tad tough, cooked more than our liking (which is typically in Argentina, we found). In general, we found the steak to be subpar compared to those we had enjoyed at steakhouses (parillas) earlier in the week.
And then it was time for the dessert wine! We tried a 2011 Melipal late harvest malbec from Mendoza, a sweeter wine with elements of blackberries and plums which paired very well with the cheese.
It’s no surprise that a region that’s known for producing a lot of beef (i.e. cows) would also produce a lot of cheese. We had a cow’s milk blue cheese, which (thankfully for my sake) was not terribly strong and stinky. It had a nice blue cheese flavor, and was creamy with a good amount of salt. We also tried a cow’s milk “Parmesan/Reggiano”-style, which was fine but did not particularly stand out. Similarly, the goat’s cheese was fine, having a distinctive goat cheese flavor that I find to be “only OK” but that Bryan loves.
Of course, Bryan is also the person who says “I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like.”
For our palate cleanser, we enjoyed a lovely tamarind sorbet. It had very tropical fruit-like flavors, sort of like passion fruit. (oops, looks like they are melting!)
Dessert was a Banana Cake served with a rum-based cream, coconut dollop, a thin cracker, and a banana custard.
They were more than happy to accomodate my wish and gave me a cute Mediterranean pastry shell (sort of reminds me of vermicelli-like phyllo pastry) filled with various fruit jellies and served with watermelon sorbet, grapefruit sorbet, and a freeze-dried orange slice.
All in all it was a lovely meal and a fantastic price for what we got. Our final bill, which included two 8-course tasting menus, a 7-wine tasting, a 3-wine tasting, and gratuity, came to about $140 USD. In terms of absolute food quality, we still give places like Chila and Oviedo a solid edge. However, Chila is almost 50% more expensive, and even more if you consider the wine. It’s also hard to put a price on the experience of enjoying a personal meal inside a house-like environment with the owner himself sharing with you his passion for wines. The overall experience definitely felt a lot more personal than our dinner at Chila.
Casa Coupage is only open Wednesday through Saturdays, and reservations are essential because it is very popular and small (there are only 9 tables!). The earliest reservation is at 8:30PM. Definitely make sure to check the address to make sure you are going to the right location!
Soler 5518, Palermo,
Buenos Aires, 1425
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