I’m not much for fancy dinners, perhaps because I’m a woman of the people, or, more likely, because I can’t afford to eat them. Contrary to what some may have you believe, I’m not invited to eat for free in trendy restaurants on a regular basis. Or at all. Ever. Once, I was invited to review a burger joint I already frequented. And I paid. That’s the sum total of my invitations to restaurants. When other food bloggers say if they didn’t eat on the house, they’d never get to blog a high class place, I have literally no idea what they’re talking about. Oh, for the luxury of agonising over the ethics of disclosure.

So when I heard that this year’s Eat. Drink. Blog. food blogger’s conference included a fancy dinner at a place I’d heard of, I was in. I’m not ashamed to say this was the fanciest dinner I’d ever had. I’m also not ashamed to admit I almost walked past the restaurant the first time around.

I arrived at 7:55pm as dinner was to start at 8, and was informed I’d missed the appetisers. No idea what they were but I’m sure they were delicious. I plonked myself down next to my lovely co-bloggers and we were given a rundown of the menu, which was impossible to hear over the general merriment that inevitably accompanies a $134.90 wagyu rib on the bone or a crustacean so large, it requires not so much a bib as a full length plastic apron.

A glass of Reisling soon calmed my nerves and a spotlessly attired waiter informed us the entrees would be out soon. Servers laden with plates soon appeared and carefully placed our plates. What greeted us was not so much a meal as a landscape. Smoked yellow fin tuna carpaccio, swirled around some mayonnaise or equivalent, studded with micro herbs, pickled chillis and a smattering of pistachios. Cameras came out in a flash (pun completely intended) and a waitress appeared out of nowhere to inform us that a special, professionally lit table had been set up in the corner should we want to photograph each dish in a more flattering light.

Many of my co-bloggers kept on snapping away, even requesting used wine bottles to set up an enticing tablescape. I, however took my first bite of carpaccio and it was amazing – silky, smooth, not in any way fishy, and with a texture my mouth couldn’t quite make sense of. The mayo-like-substance it sat on was slightly sharp and very creamy, and the pickled chillis, the most remarked upon feature of the dish, exploded in indescribable bursts of vinegary sweetness. As I finished the dish, all the flavours started to meld together and I became conscious only of the dishes textural contrasts. I loved it.

The second course of slow roasted beef tenderloin and wagyu flat iron steak was sliced up on platters to share. We also had kipfler potatos with chorizo and spinch (unexciting), grilled asparagus (tasty) heirloom tomato salad with basil and roast olives (to die for) and a cast of condiments. This was washed down with a nice glass of shiraz. I have to talk about the flat iron steak here. Sure, I slathered it with chimichurri but I needn’t have done, it was amazing. It had a lovely charred crust on the outside, was tender and juicy on the inside. One of the best steaks I’ve had outside of Argentina, although that gives you no indication of quality whatsoever so I’ll say this instead; it was quite good.

The final course was a cheese course of sweet gorgonzola, which was a welcome end to a day spent stuffing ourselves with pastries, chocolate and macarons. The mild blue cheese was sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts and drizzled with iron bark honey. This was perfectly offset with a glass of St Hallett Rose from the Barossa Valley.

I got into the habit of getting up each time a new plate we placed in front of me, ducking over to the ‘display table’ and snapping away. This seemed an efficient use of time as I was unable to begin eating until my dining companions had finished their photography. Every time I returned, my napkin was neatly folded by my plate and my water glass refilled. I can’t fault the service, I can’t fault the food, I can’t fault the price (free). All in all, a great night.

What about you? Are you much of a fancy dinner person?

If I’m asked to choose my favourite food from a particular country, it’s likely to be a condiment. In the case of Argentina, I can’t go past the pulpy, herby, vinegary mess that is chimichurri. Made of parsley, oregano, oil, vinegar, garlic and ají molido (fine, mild chilli flakes), this sauce is slathered on meats after cooking for an extra bit of zest, flavour and texture.

Image courtesy of Food Stories

Contrary to popular belief, this salsa isn’t always a lurid green, nor is it mandatory at Argentine asados. It also doesn’t have to be served fresh – it can last for months in the fridge. Allowing it to sit for a few hours or even a few days will allow the flavour to mellow and the dried herbs to soften, and many people prefer it this way. If you’re interested, you can read more about chimichurri in this excellent post from Asado Argentina.

A word of caution – dried chilli flakes in Argentina are a lot milder than those we get in Australasia. Our chilli flakes are larger and usually include chilli seeds, thus if you are using these kind of chilli flakes, use them sparingly. Chimichurri is not traditionally a hot condiment, sometimes the chilli is omitted altogether but usually it’s added to taste.

1 cup very finely chopped fresh parsley (use a food processor if you like)
½ a head of garlic, very finely chopped
1 bay leaf, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons of dried oregano
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon fine salt
Ají molido or dried chilli flakes, to taste
½ cup of oil – olive or grape seed for example, something mild yet suitable for salad
1 cup wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
½ cup water

Mix all herbs and spices together. Add oil and vinegar, if the chimichurri is too thick; add enough water to thin it out. Add chilli flakes to taste and leave to sit for at least 2 hours.

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