A new day entered my week when Mr Links and I went to check out a dinner and dance show in Recoleta. That’s right, tango Tuesday.
It’s been a while (four years?) since I tried my hand dancing it and four years since the Herald’s former entertainment editor Pablo Toledo was convinced I should take it seriously, for his entertainment, of course. If I wasn’t built for it then, I’m definitely not built for it now.
As I recall, there are certain gestures you should make in polite tango company —nod for a dance, perhaps — and gestures you shouldn’t — not nod, if you’re me. And so, captivated by the music on Tuesday, I started to nod my head in time then worried I might be giving off the wrong signals.
Innocently, I asked what the etiquette was on Twitter, half in jest, half seriously. A few replies headed my way, then suddenly an essay of an email landed in my inbox cussing down tango dinner shows.
In fairness to Christian Martínez who took the time to write to me, I usually encourage visitors to Buenos Aires to head to a milonga to take a class then stay on for a bite to eat while checking out the regulars dancing. But on the other hand, many people aren’t even blessed with two left feet or perhaps don’t feel confident enough to deal with a milonga in a foreign language and so a dinner show might be the best solution for a quick tango insertion.
Regardless, his point that there is plenty happening on the independent tango scene is an important one, and something to look further into.
I digress. The most renowned hotel dinner show in Buenos Aires is Rojo Tango at the Faena in Puerto Madero, and most excellent it is too. Its price tag is rather less excellent at around US$250 a head, and while I know the dancers and musicians and cooks and Alan Faena need to get paid, it’s enough to set pulses racing, much like the show itself.
Over at Recoleta’s Mio hotel they just started their own dinner show last Tuesday, Tango Mio. Sivela, the on-site restaurant started out doing great things when it opened some 18 months ago (Herald, January 28, 2013) despite — or in spite of — having no celebrity chef in their midst. And it’s been well thought-out, making use of Sivela’s double spaces. The evening kicks off on sofas on the ground floor for a glass of espumante and some tapas including beef skewers and cream cheese-stuffed cured ham before heading down to the basement for the main attraction.
While downstairs is an ample space, Mio has managed to make it more intimate, with tables to cater to a small audience of just 20. Diagonally positioned for the best view, the stage setting runs the length of the tables so all the spectators can see what’s happening. Even though we were in the second row, I didn’t feel that I missed anything — I saw plenty of fancy footwork.
And a clever touch was dividing the music and dance between courses. Tango, to the innocent bystander, is pretty hardcore, so to stomach a two-hour show and a three-course dinner is ambitious.
What’s can also appear ambitious for a restaurant is serving a group of people the same dish at the same time in order to fit in with a musical schedule. But the timing worked out perfectly, two options per course were ample, steaks were grilled to the required points and service was friendly and efficient.
A couple of details, however, need to be worked on, which is fair enough for a first night. While the bread basket is really quite delicious, I asked for some olive oil to back it up but a small jug of cooking oil turned up, which was a shame. And while the pumpkin salad sounded great on paper, there was too much gourd, the poached egg was way past its ideal poaching point and there weren’t enough dressing or condiments to sex it up despite the claim it was in a balsamic reduction.
The rib-eye was sufficiently vast to wow visitors unaccustomed to the immensity of local steak, and the medium rare point was just right. Accompanied by a Malbec sauce, this was a classic Argentine dish in every way and scored plenty of points where the starter didn’t.
Still, for a first night, some cracks are to be expected. Should I even be commenting on dishes when all people care about is the tango? Of course, it’s a show with dinner!
A note on the wine. Each table comes with a bottle of Saint Felicien’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Initially surprised that we weren’t taking the Malbec route bearing in mind the target audience, in fact it worked brilliantly with the steak, rounded tannins and body, fruity with plenty of cherry.
And while the spectacle might not have as many sequins as Rojo Tango, regardless it was excellent to our untrained eyes. Comprising a musical trio of viola (from the Colón Theatre, I am reliably informed), keyboard and bandoneón, two dance couples, an excellent singer, it was soulful, moving (if only I knew the name of the song I welled up at), energetic and breath-taking, surely fulfilling every last wish for those for-one-night-only aficionados.
And for me, a polite reminder of the musical movement that sums up Buenos Aires.
Quintana 465, Recoleta
Prices subject to confirmation at press time.
Buenos Aires Herald, August 24, 2014