Cafayate’s dream team

Grilled salmon at Piattelli
Grilled salmon at Piattelli
Although beef empanadas in Salta are half the size but a similar price to your standard BA meat-stuffed pasty, in my mind they are worth twice that, given that they always come served with a side dish of a tomato-based salsa picante. Heaven for this spice fiend!

It’s another world in the northwest, food wise, and a real pleasure to fork up once more. While restaurants are less glamorous and fewer than their BA counterparts, you can still dine fine. In Cafayate — the wine-producing area in Valle Calchaquí that has grown terrifically yet not detrimentally over the past three years since my last visit — there are two top choices. One is a go-to favourite that does a great job time and again that’s been on the scene for some time, the second opened just a year ago. Both form part of a winery set-up, but that’s where the similarity ends given their respective recent and established histories.

New kid
While Piattelli Vineyards has had a presence in Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo since 2004, the US-owned winery has taken longer to come to fruition in Cafayate. But the hard work by North American owners Jon and Arlene Malinski and their team has paid off, and the birth of Piattelli number two finally happened last year. The result is the first bodega in Cafayate that really has considered the importance of eno-tourism. And given that it’s perched in the hills at 1,700m above sea level on the way to Yacochuya and has a killer view, there’s no missing it either.

While I hear local residents have been reticent to welcome the new bodega, let it be known that prices are fair and the food top notch. Throw in a free tour and they’ll see that Piattelli is helping, not hindering, to cement Cafayate’s mark on the wine map.

Only open for lunch, you can choose from the covered patio overlooking the foothills, indoors in an extremely spacious stone-laid dining room or on the more private terrace with phenomenal views of Malbec vines established before the Malinskis set up shop.

I chose the smaller terrace space, covered by large white umbrellas, for a highly photographic panorama taking in vineyards, valley and hills. To the left, the equally impressive winery is still shiny and new.

Lounge over some classic but also modern starters that vary between 30 and 55 pesos, fair prices you’ll agree, with excellent beef and goat’s cheese empanadas as well as abundant salads such as the beetroot, carrot, onion and goat’s cheese variety that is fresh and invigorating — some ingredients come from the winery’s own garden.

The menu is short and sweet, and mains include pasta such as pesto and tagliatelle (65 pesos), the correct coloured salmon, pork, beef and Cafayate-bred lamb — classic dishes given contemporary touches.

My pan-fried salmon fillet (95 pesos) was large, attractive and delicious. With a creative herb butter patty drizzling through the fish, which in turn was laid across oven-roasted potatoes and crunchy carrots, it was well presented with swirls of other salsas painted onto the palate, such as the light daub of pesto. Cooked just perfectly with a crunchy skin, it was a great dish and filling.

The most expensive mains are the meat dishes that to go up to 115 pesos, but for a great meal with such a phenomenal view makes this an unmissable spot that’s still new to Cafayate. All I heard was postive feedback while I was in Salta and it was all true. Wine tip: the most recent Torrontés’ refreshing character makes it a great aperitif, then dip into the Cabernet Sauvignon Premium Reserve 2012 with a meaty dish.

Old kid
Down in the valley at El Esteco, next to the winery, is its stunning colonial-style white-washed hotel Patios de Cafayate. Step past the iron gate through the small garden, keep walking through the living room and bar until you reach the terrace.

Patios de Cafayate
Patios de Cafayate
There, to the left, is La Rosa Restaurant. Sit in or out around a converted oak barrel table, I chose the latter for a pool- and vine-side view, plus I could do some llama spotting.

Service is attentive and helpful, and the menu focuses on regional and seasonal ingredients. Goat’s cheese, quinoa, organic greens, new Andean potatoes, figs and a variety of seeds all feature across the board, but its the additional contemporary touch that makes so many dishes stand out.

Never a fan of leafy greens at the best of time (so much so that it has to be liquified more or less), the house variety at 78 pesos was tender yet crunchy, succulent and bursting with flavour.

Leaves from the garden, soft goat’s cheese (always a winner with me and why can’t we get the same stuff in BA, huh?), crunchy sunflower seeds, crunchier croûtons then a magical molasses, mustard, balsamic and vinegar dressing. Stupendous, alive, fresh — I need to make that salad at home. Plus it was vast and big enough to share. Wine tip: back it up by the most recent Don David Torrontés, the house white on offer.

After such a revelation, it was of course verging on impossible for the poor pork main to even stand a chance. Sirloin marinated in Torrontés and honey gravy, served with apple chutney, grilled polenta and poached egg (126 pesos) was just too much like hard work and the honey gravy just a bit too sickly sweet. Delicious bit of pork though, so that’s what I demolished.

Buenos Aires Herald, April 27, 2014
Ph: Me, Patios de Cafayate

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