What creates paradise for you? How about an unforgettable landscape that has picturesque mountains springing out of turquoise-blue lakes? Or giant Andean condors with a wingspan over ten feet soaring the lofty winds, sending airplane size shadows to cover your eyes from the beaming sun? Or maybe the serenity of a national park that is flourishing with old growth trees, clear, sparkling rivers and a lack of crowds?
Or how about all of those qualities plus the ability to experience gourmet dining at a fraction of what it costs in Paris, New York or London?
Welcome to the Lakes District of Patagonia. The combination of great outdoor adventure and stellar cuisine is what I love so much about living here…it is not uncommon to spend your day walking amongst a forest void of other tourists (if you know where to go), taking in the setting sun on an empty beach as the sky flows through a rainbow of colors and finishing it off with a delectable seven-course meal that tempts the palate with treasures like empanadas stuffed with Patagonian lamb, hand-made trout filled raviolis in a wild mushroom sauce or crème brulee accompanied with homemade lavender ice cream.
But where does one go to finish off a perfect day? The dining in Bariloche can be, at times, a gastro-adventure. Continue reading to find the simple path to the culinary masterpieces of the Lakes District…
Location: Hua Huan 7831, just off Bustillo at KM 7.8
Telephone: (02944)461 441
Owned by a German, Argentine and Irishman, Butterfly is a creation that came out of international friendship in the form of one of the elite experiences of the Lakes District. Nestled on the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi within a charming, modernistic atmosphere, this blend of cuisine artistry, fine dining and personalized attention is an example of true-to-life nirvana. With an ever-changing menu, first time visitors are offered a rainbow of well-portioned entrees, each pared with a like wine. Your evening may begin with an amuse bouche of smooth pureed pumpkin soup flavored with fresh ginger and then continue with a stuffed loin of rabbit filled with garden fresh vegetables, basil and garlic placed upon braised red cabbage. The next chapter of deliciousness would be presented as a little gift – prawn and squid bouillabaisse "au papillote" – where Coni (the beautiful Argentine female energy of the establishment) cuts open the wrapped package to reveal a delicately flavored broth of light cream, garlic and a kitchen-secret marinating well-sized seafood. A presentation of tender beef swimming in a Thai Style Wild Forest Mushroom sauce enhanced with green curry tempts the palate for the fourth course. The following main dish is the usual show stopper and could range from succulent tenderloin sliced for you at your table to the "catch of the day" marinated in sweet and savory orange sauce, depending on the mood of European-trained gastro-artist Chef Ed. A desert such as pear sabayon with French toast topped with vanilla and honey ice cream is accompanied with chilled, hand-made chocolates. If the divulgence of multiple flavors is too much, you can also enjoy individual plates where Chef Ed works with his guests on creating a savory fusion to match their favorite tastes. Chef Ed prepares his menu based on his passionate love affair with food and only the freshest and best ingredients the local market has to offer. "With meat, I am blessed in Argentina (and with lamb even more so in Patagonia). And, believe it or not, I have also been blessed with great fish, being 1000 kilometers (620 miles) from the coast! An evening at Butterfly is a special occasion. It's for people who love food and wine like we do and we want you to feel special."
Butterfly is the embodiment of elegant personal service. From the terraced cocktail experience on the veranda overlooking Lago Nahuel Huapi and the Andes to the exquisite hand-rolled cigars for an after-dinner treat, this culinary event is one that will leave you feeling pampered. "Everything in Butterfly is done with love. We are three people from different cultures who all happen to be very like-minded about how we want Butterfly to be. The three of us do just about everything and we do it all with love. I cook with love, Coni prepares the restaurant, greets our guests and serves with love, Sebi (the German) chooses our wine menu, and even waters the garden with love."
Location: Calle Monet 81, just off Bustillo KM 23.6
Telephone: (02944)448 771
The sounds of the Patagonian wind whip around the house, whistling with the soft jazz being played on the stereo. The fire is warmly spilling an orange light over the dinner guest's relaxed faces. Looking out the panoramic windows, the moon highlights the white breaks of waves on Lake Nahuel Huapi. It feels like an elegant evening enjoying good food and drink at a friend's house. But it's not.
Welcome to Los Timo, an elegant dining opportunity in the home of Inés and Julio Timo. This fun-loving couple, originally from Buenos Aires, has taken gourmet dining to another level.
They have created a cozy, warm, international-cuisine restaurant within their modern, classy home. Based on the European concept of an "open-door restaurant", Inés has used her culinary mastery and schooling to create a different and unique multi-course meal each Friday and Saturday evening. Julio is the maitre d' and joyfully entertains guest. Julio feels that the difference with Los Timo is, "…the way we treat our guests. Each person is a dear friend that is given personal attention and is never served as a mere client." The views from the dining and lounge area look out over Lago Nahuel Huapi and towards the Andean crest and neighboring Chile.
The open kitchen which spills into the dining room, allows guests to observe the culinary empress at work. The dishes are a variety of tastes, ranging from all locations of the globe. The majority of the ingredients are from the property's garden. "My favorite flavors to play with include sweet, sour and spicy; it is a game of the tastebuds," explains Inés. To give an example of the sapidity of choices available, the menu for the first weekend of March, 2009, included soft, warm camembert cheese drizzled with toasted pistachios and honey, a temptation of lamb touched by mint, homemade, freshly baked foccacia bread, garden fresh salad (the ingredients taken from their back yard) and to finish the main course off risotto with sautéed vegetables, bacon, blue cheese and pecans. The homespun dai dai ice cream brings the concert of flavors to fruition. For the required reservations and to find out the latest menu, check out the Los Timo website ahead of time. They also offer catering services.
Location: Bustillo KM 24.3
Telephone: (02944)448 346
With the exterior of a charming cabin and flourishing gardens, Il Gabbiano could be your long lost relative's Italian get-away. A local, married couple, Mimi and Guillermo, own and run the establishment; he being the host and she the talented chef. The food is freshly prepared using spices from the property's garden as well as the daily market, while other harder-to-find ingredients are shipped in directly from Italy. Although all of the dishes are flavorful and exquisitely prepared, the smoked salmon pasta, consisting of freshly-made spaghetti noodles dressed in a pink, creamy sauce with large chunks of the cured fish, is a recommended choice. Guillermo also has a few suggestions on what to order, "My current favorites on the menu are Tortelli di carne al burro with sage or handmade rellenos made with braised beef and fine dough." An evening of feasting always begins with oven-fresh bread. Appetizers can include zesty marinated vegetables with dill scented olives, a robust Greek salad with large slices of tomatoes, feta cheese and crisp greens or roasted artichokes with goat cheese and delicately arranged floral pieces of ham. In addition to the smoked salmon pasta and recommendations of Guillermo, other unforgettable entrée items feature trout caught only hours before, Atlantic octopus and prawns in a garlic-butter sauce or tagliatelle pasta with an arugula pesto cream base. The deserts change with the seasons but can include such Italian favorites as tiramisu or sweets with a wilder side like caprese cake (a sugary rendition of basil) or season-fresh strawberries with the Argentine caramel, dulce de leche.
The inviting entrance of the restaurant opens into a warm, softly-lit, dining area that is split into three rooms, creating a private dining experience for all guests. Guillermo explains why his restaurant is a delightful change to the dining scene, "We feel different than many restaurants of Argentina because we belong to a select team of localities where the presence of the owners within the kitchen is permanent and a vital aspect to the functionality of the restaurant. Our guests are able to have complete confidence in our suggestions. We want them to feel as though they are enjoying the flavors of their own house. It is our mission. We are completely personally dedicated to the attention of each and every guest."
Location: Calle Monet 306, just off Bustillo Kilometer 23.6
Telephone: (02944)448 436
An international and Patagonian-fused, upscale restaurant, Yuco is a local favorite for experiencing culinary art. It recently moved from city center to a showcase location with a spectacular view. The roundhouse architecture looks out towards Chile and the Andes erupting from Lake Nahuel Huapi. To take advantage of the entire affect that Yuco provides, it is best to be seated before the sky begins it sunset magic.
The dishes, which come in an assortment of playful tastes based on a star basal ingredient, give the palate a rich and well-spiced variety of choice. For example, their Shrimp without Borders serves the pink-fleshed seafood nestled in a bed of spinach with a curry Thai sauce, marinated in wasabi lying on a floor of wild rice, interlaced in a tower of crunchy lime and coriander and sautéed in garlic, paprika and peperoncino. Or for a more Patagonian culinary show try the Con Acento Criollo (With Local Accent), which plays with specialties like a soft country cheese served with a homemade chimichurry sauce (a tangy blend of garlic, oregano, parsley, olive oil and other secret ingredients), blood sausage wrapped in a crispy jacket, Argentine chorizo sausage in a tomato sauce and vegetable confit, crusty sweetbread with pill pill sauce, kidney marinated in garlic and parsley and tender Argentine beef with criollo sauce. Their specialty wine list is a showcase of the top bodegas of Argentina, Las Hormigas – a smooth wine that has been around for over 80 years – being one of the favorites. Their deserts are well-done renditions of favorites like crème brulee made out of dulce de leche, flaming rum and an almond crust, varieties of rich chocolates or lime ice cream partnered with strawberries, pineapple and blackberries.
Location: Lago Gutierrez, Ruta 82
Telephone: (02944)476 167
Cassis is considered to be one of the top three gourmet dining experiences in Bariloche. It encompasses the ambiance of romance, the flavors of delectable cuisine and the wine choices of a five-star dining extravaganza. A Bariloche twosome, Ernesto and Mariana, own and run the restaurant. Mariana is the chef and was trained in Europe. She uses fresh herbs from her own garden, creating her dishes to be delicious and flavorful, while Ernesto offers a warm greeting and entertaining conversation with guests. Ernesto explains why he feels Cassis is a step above the rest, "If we read the definition of restaurant in the dictionary it expresses the restoration of the stomach. At Cassis we also include indulging the soul. We love it when stressed people visit the restaurant and bit by bit start to relax and rediscover the table as a center for love and a reunion of food. We are not a traditional restaurant, in that we enjoy offering people an ambiance of real food, great music, a place to relax and a time to share with friends. We appreciate the ability to spoil our guests."
With the understanding that their food is important for both the soul and body, Cassis creates all of their dishes with the flow of the seasons. They make a concentrated effort to bring together the flavors that are naturally cultivated by Mother Nature, for example it is common to see trout and meats in the summer and rabbit, deer and other hunted game in the fall and winter. The vegetables play with the changing temperatures as well, with green leaf salads, fruits and garden specialties in summer and squashes, pumpkin and zucchinis taking over in winter. Although all of the dishes at Cassis are mouth-watering, their sweetened lamb strudel is a slice of heaven. This Patagonian take on a European classic of layered tender meat and thin dough is washed in a sauvignon blanc white sauce and presented with fresh greens and roasted tomatoes. But as Ernesto explains, it is their surroundings that show them the way, "we cook our meals with what we naturally find in our Patagonian environment." That being said, the locally-caught trout with winter squash and zucchini in a marinade of champagne and cream is a flaky treat that melts in one's mouth. Their Patagonian wild hare breaded in juniper-nut crust topped with garlic mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables is a favorite for those that want to continue with a regular Argentine diet but have tired of beef. The deserts are as luxurious as the meals and include such pleasures as cream of Chandon Cuvée Réserve Pinot Noir champagne with warmed raspberries, freshly baked orange biscuits smothered in sorbet and Quinotos lacquer or southern Patagonian chestnut parfait with a whisky and chocolate sauce.
As these five restaurants have shown, the culinary treats of Bariloche are all examples of gastronomical bliss. The northern gateway city is a true tangible example of paradise. Great food. Great wine. Great views.