I first heard of Francis Mallmann on a Netflix binge of their show called Chef’s Table. Each episode features a famous Chef and a behind the scenes look at how they create magic with food and ambiance. I was particularly drawn to Mallmann since he is from Argentina and is heavily inspired by Patagonia. His methods are almost nomadic, influenced by Andean cooking traditions, utilizing the local flora and fauna in his dishes, and using the breathtaking landscapes of Patagonia as his backdrop.
I had the opportunity last winter to visit Mendoza, Argentina’s famous wine region for a few days. Although I was struck by a horrible stomach virus, we were delighted to hear that Mallmann had one of his restaurants right outside of town called 1884. We knew it would be tricky to get a table without a reservation, but the hostess had room on their waitlist.
As the taxi drove us down a dirt road that was very dimly lit, I was filled with mystery and excitement. We were surrounded by dark winding vineyards until we arrived at a giant gate. The gatekeeper confirmed our names and allowed the taxi to drive in, it was exclusive and very intimate. Once inside, we were greeted by the hostess as she escorted us to the beautiful vintage Escorihuela Winery, which houses the restaurant. A tribute to the Mendoza wines and Andean cuisine.
We were transported to a magical place that felt frozen in time. The cocktail bar murmured with distilled spirits, the walls took the color of the Malbec grapes in contrast with the original checkerboard tile giving off a speakeasy vibe. The bartenders dressed with flat caps and knickerbockers alluding to the fashion of 1884. The winery halls lit by nickel plated lamps that burned quietly and disappeared into secret corridors, I was enveloped in the alchemy.
We sipped on their signature cocktail called El Patagonico, a fruity punch that featured brandy. Our table was located in the courtyard overlooking a dreamy garden and the open air kitchen consisting of a clay oven, a fire made from vine shoots and a sheath metal stove. The delicious smell of meat cooking rebelliously on the spit, you could really feel the essence and hearth Mallmann has created.
For starters we chose the grilled pear salad, paired with arugula and burrata. The creaminess of the young mozzarella complimented the bite of the arugula finished off by the balance of the charred sweetness of the pear.
We commenced with the grilled Pulpo (grilled octopus, as you know by now is a favorite dish of mine) with lemon potato, black olive aioli, and smoked paprika. It was so tender and the olive aioli gave a delicious acidity.
The main course we decided to split which was the “Ojo de Bife” also known as the Rib Eye. It was accompanied with Mallmann’s famous Domino potatoes, very thinly sliced potatoes in a square shape and stacked together as if they were actual dominos. They were aesthetically and texturally appealing. Of course the Ribeye was enormous, juicy and cooked to medium rare perfection, it was hard to even finish!
Last, for dessert we chose the Grilled fruit topped with vanilla ice cream and praline. I love desserts that play off hot and cold. The delicious burnt taste of the peaches, plums and apples danced smoothly with the ice cream, and nothing like some praline to give it some crunch!
This experience was definitely one that I will never forget. I admire Francis Mallmann and his dedication to going back to his roots and Andean culture. Every detail from the kitchen to the bar bar transports you to another world and makes you really focus on the flavors of the food and drink. His ability to bring in rustic elements in such a refined setting is pure magic and that is what sets him apart from all the rest!