I first became aware of Francis Mallmann a few years back when Joanne and I visited Mendoza, in the heart of Argentina’s winemaking region. Our concierge strongly recommended his restaurant and praised his cooking technique, apparently inspired by the Argentine Gauchos, so we gave it a try.
The menu? Beef, beef, and for meat lovers, more beef – all cooked over an open wood fire in the Argentine tradition called Parrilla (pah-REE-yah).
We came away from dinner that night absolutely stunned, both by the richness and depth of the beefy flavors, and stunned by the rustic, yet sophisticated yin and yang of the plating, which was at once savory and sweet, high and low, dark and light, and soft and crunchy. We were struck, too, by the surroundings – open air, slightly rustic, with flames galore. We ate outdoors and had a front row seat to watch the the restaurant’s artisans of flame.
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from Mendoza. I figured it would be a smallish, a bit dumpy and dusty like Napa once was, but enhanced by its location at the base of the Andes. I certainly didn’t think it would be so sophisticated, nor did I anticipate a restaurant run by a chef who had trained with Paul Bocuse.
Well, check out the photos I’m posting here. The Park Hyatt Mendoza is probably one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever experienced. And the wineries…OMG, Salentine (pictured) needs no comment from me.
So perhaps you can imagine how happy I was to learn late last year that Francis Mallmann had opened a restaurant in the United States: Los Fuegos, at the Faena Hotel in Miami Beach.
Joanne and I had the privilege of dining there last week.
First, a word about the Faena Hotel, which is way over-the-top. Gold leaf columns? A Damien Hirst gold-leafed mammoth skeleton sculpture? Really?
And then there’s Los Fuegos – fancy, opulent, high-finish, as far removed tonally from Mallmann in Mendoza as it is geographically. It’s a sleek, slick – way too slick — place. Fortunately, though the setting ignores the artisanal, fire-driven, rustic nature of Mallmann’s menu, the food and service pay faithful homage.
Seated at premium table #33, we ordered grilled octopus to start, followed by wood-oven roasted pig, complete with cracklings… both were as good as anything we’d eaten in Mendoza. And then there were the sweetbreads à la plancha (pictured), breaded and seared on a red-hot flattop grill. Simply spectacular.
What DIDN’T WORK so well for me was the filet Milanese… breaded and sautéed like veal Milanese. It is not bad; but as we well know, it’s pretty damn hard to improve on a simply prepared classic cut of beef.
What DID WORK for me was sweetbreads a la plancha (pictured)… breaded and seared on a red-hot flat top griddle. While some readers will know what sweetbreads are… it wasn’t until I was on a business trip to New York… 20 years ago… that my client insisted that I try them. Fascination outweighed revulsion and I gave them a try and what a revelation it was. They were smooth and firm, yet tender. The flavor was subtle, the mouth-feel creamy. Only after the fact did I learn what I had eaten.
SWEETBREADS: BRAINS OR BALLS?
Well… sweetbreads are not sweet. Sweetbreads are not bread. Sweetbreads are not brains. Sweetbreads are not balls. Sweetbreads are the thymus glands of young livestock… usually veal (ris de veau)… but could be lamb as well.
And don’t make them at home… to much brain damage… MYSTERY SOLVED.
5501 Mendoza, Argentina
+54 261 424-3336
The Faena Hotel Miami Beach
3201 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33140