In Argentina, chef and food TV star Francis Mallmann is a demi-god.
Mendoza is home to one of Mallmann’s restaurants, 1884, and it’s said that some tourists come to the area only to eat at the restaurant.
After all of the hype, I expected 1884 to take itself very, very seriously.
But it is fun and playful and the crowd is lively, wearing everything from polo shirts and jeans to silk cocktail dresses. Our waitress – with a dangerously high side ponytail, black ankle boots, and a red and black striped tie – bops around happily. The lovely hostesses sprint on high heels between the outdoor grill and the dining room, bearing large platters.
Completely out of character, I order the grilled pork ribs with a sweet potato cake and cherry tomatoes seasoned with marjoram. It’s right out of the “shock and awe” playbook: It’s supposed to be impressive only because it’s a huge piece of meat. The winner for me is absolutely my appetizer: a salad of charred carrots, arugula, goat cheese, and garlic chips. Around the table, we agree that the appetizers are much more creative than the entrees. Big servings of meat can only get you so far and we’ve already seen plenty of that in Buenos Aires.
We're sitting near an open door and, between courses, we slip out to the patio. The garden is lit by candlelight and by the grill.
Couples mingle with wine glasses before sitting down to dinner and leggy brunettes in gladiator sandals vamp for the camera. On the other end of the courtyard, the cooks hustle to fill orders and to flip steaks, as clouds of smoke rise from the stovetop.
Mallmann may have disappointed with the meat, but he succeeds in creating a great show.