Quite a few weeks ago, Juan and I went out on a date.
It sounds weird to say we went out on a date, but I can’t think of a better phrase.
While I see Juan every day, we sometimes get so caught up with work (for him) and other activities (such as cooking and painting and blogging for me) that we don’t always consciously remember to connect. Those of you who are in a relationship, or who have been in relationships before, will understand what I mean – that connecting and communication is very much a decision as opposed to being just a natural desire.
One Saturday, we decided to dress up a little for date night out, and made reservations at a “closed-door” restaurant (also known as “puerta cerrada”, an exclusive restaurant concept that is increasingly popular in Buenos Aires). Basically, a “puerta cerrada” restaurant is often hosted and served by the chefs in their own homes, so it tends to be a small dinner crowd with reservations to be made in advance.
The interesting part of the whole “puerta cerrada” experience is that you never really know what to expect.
Pointing the car towards downtown (or “microcentro” as it is called here), we soon arrived at Suckewer y Associados, which was located in a French-style apartment building, rang the doorbell and waited to be received.
Each restaurant has its own rules, styles and menus – so sometimes you could end up in a really posh, Parisian-inspired setting, or you could end up having dinner in the patio of a house that looks completely unassuming.
That night, after the doorbell was rung, we heard soft hurried steps approach the large wooden front door, which opened to the face of a beaming woman, whose apron hung snugly around her motherly figure. She introduced herself as one of the partners of the restaurant, and ushered us upstairs into a small, simple and rustic apartment – you know, the kind with tall, high doors and dark oak wood flooring, with white walls that reached all the way up till the ceilings. From the bare white walls hung paintings hand-painted by Alejandra, one of the chefs. Walking into the dining hall felt strangely comforting, as if we had been invited for dinner at a friend’s house, even with a short tour of the apartment – “here’s the toilet, here’s the other dining room, and well this is the larger dining room.”
(Well, that wasn’t far from the truth – Alejandra and Leandro – the husband-and-wife cooking team – also own a small restaurant from which Juan buys most of his lunches from, so you could consider them friends to some extent.)
We were seated at a brown square wooden table, where the first thing we were offered was a choice between a glass of chilled champagne or a cocktail made up of passion fruit, rum and something else. We went for the cocktail of course. From our point of view, we were facing the kitchen, where all the action could be seen – roaring flames as Leandro whipped up a Chinese stir-fry, sprinkling sesame seeds and spring onions and oil; or where Alejandra prepared dessert. It was a sight to behold; it was like being in the kitchen with them – the aromas floated right to us, whetting our appetite with each wave.
While the menu had mentioned starters, it didn’t quite mention that there were going to be so many appetizers – at least four or five dishes were presented to us, and by the time the main course arrived, we were already quite full. And then there was dessert, which was lip-smackingly delicious, after which they offered us coffee or tea, but we had to decline, we were simply too stuffed.
Over a stretch of three whole hours, we ate scrumptious food, we sat back in our chairs, relaxed, we drank and we talked about almost everything. These were just simple actions, but it helped us connect without the stress of daily life, or the stress of looking for an apartment, a main topic of our conversation lately.
We loved our time there, and mostly, I loved that it gave us the chance to communicate, in the company of good food and a comfortable ambiance.
I think we need to do date nights more often.
I wanted to bring you on this night with us, and because I enjoyed one of the appetizers so much, I eventually ended up making it at home.
It’s a rustic appetizer that really doesn’t require much genius, but the simple, fresh flavors gel so harmoniously well together.
You start off by making the pesto, that’s so easy you can laugh your way through it. Begin by plucking the basil leaves from their stems and washing them. Later, you combine the fresh basil, a couple of garlic cloves, a handful of crunchy almonds and a squeeze of olive oil in a mixing bowl.
Using a hand mixer, blend them until a thick green paste starts to form.
If it’s too thick, add a bit of water or olive oil until it reaches the consistency you like.
That was the toughest part, so you can now breathe a sigh of relief.
After that, you’ll just need to put your chopping skills to test, dicing the tomatoes and onions in even sizes. Pour some olive oil over the tomato-onion mixture, sprinkle a dash of salt and pepper, and mix well.
On a warm, crusty piece of bread toast, you slather on the homemade pesto, brimming with the flavors of fresh basil leaves, crushed almonds and spicy garlic. And then right on top of that goes on a generous helping of diced tomatoes mixed with onions and olive oil.
Can you already taste the flavors?
BASIL PESTO, TOMATO & ONION BRUSCHETTA (Makes 15 slices)
Inspired by Suckewer y Associados
1) 1 French baguette
2) 2 cups of fresh basil leaves
3) ½ cup of roughly almonds
4) 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
5) 2 cloves of garlic
6) 2 tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
7) 1 large onion, peeled and diced
8) Salt & pepper to taste
9) 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
10) Finely chopped parsley for garnish
1) Combine the fresh basil leaves, almonds, garlic, and olive oil and blend them together using a hand mixer, until they become a smooth paste with the amount of consistency of a spread
2) Add salt and pepper to the pesto as you like
3) Dice the tomatoes and onions, add olive oil and salt & pepper, and mix well
4) Slice the French baguette diagonally, making sure each slice is about 1-finger thick
5) Toast the slices of bread for about 5 minutes in the oven at 160 deg celcius until golden brown
6) Spread about ½ teaspoon of pesto on each slice of bread, and top with tomato-onion mixture
7) Sprinkled chopped parsley for garnish (optional)