Wining onSunday, June 29, 2014
Meet Molteni’s Marieta
For The Herald
We’ve had the Latin America 50 Best chef treading terroir new (Roux), we’ve had the cook from Tô branch out on his own (Per Se), and the pork specialist and wine bar-eatery are still to come. In the meantime, we’ve come full circle with another 50 Best winner. Pura Tierra’s Martín Molteni has spread his wings in a new direction to open Marieta in the soon-to-launch Le Dome hotel, so named for its stunning cupola overlooking some of the city’s most prominent sights.
Next door to that culinary landmark I always mean to gorge at, the Museo del Jamón, the first thing you notice is that Marieta looks out onto busy Cerrito street, ergo the 9 de Julio. But from the inside out, the bustle of the vast avenue is merely silent movement thanks to the double glazing, like an early film featuring car chases foiled by changing traffic lights and pedestrians but in glorious technicolour (unless it’s raining).
Fusing the eras
Molteni has had the good fortune to not have to start from scratch but it’s has made good use of the 1900-built construction. Features include the exposed brick ceiling, black and white photos of city trams and the port from back in the day that were unearthed on site then recycled into more delectable artwork; and wooden blinds that have been brought back to life with a splash of paint and are artfully hung on the walls. More modern touches include the disco-esque empty wine bottles placed inside the wall that blink from one colour to another near the entrance (don’t worry, you won’t see them winking at you during dinner), and trios of ceramic bottles now living out life as light fixtures.
Well illuminated in the day thanks to the natural light from the windows, the salon is also well organized: tables for two, tucked-away nooks for larger groups, stools at the bar, and the most glorious of teeny-tiny wine cellars — there are all kinds of options for all sorts of situations.
And that’s the style that Molteni is aiming for — inclusive, friendly yet orderly in the sense that the menu and staff are above standard. The Menú del Mercado offers up daily specials; come evening the contemporary menu ups the ante with mains seen throughout the week that hone in on Argentine produce. It’s a bold statement to make in an area of the city that for the most part is stuffed with classic Spanish eateries or crappy pizza parlours.
I just want to whip you downstairs for a quick cellar tour. While it started out life as a well for water, this horseshoe-shaped hole is now living a brand-new life storing “exceptional” vintages from La Rural, Catena Zapata and El Esteco among others. Big enough for three to have an intimate wine tasting, it’s adorable and definitely worth a peek, if not a tucked-away drinking session.
We sampled a special five-step lunch menu — longer than the usual three — which gave a sense of what was on offer. The midday offering — three courses with a glass of wine and bottle of mineral water for 170 pesos — might usually comprise a soup starter; we, by which I mean I, eagerly slurped up a bacon broth, herb cream, baby vegetables, mushroom and soft egg soup, breaking the yolk to blend it in. The veggies — carrot with stalk, string beans and carrot — were perfectly cooked with bite to them, the creamy soupiness was comfort food personified. Delicious (as is almost everything with pork strips in it).
The lunch menu normally would go straight to the main — think rabbit or bife de chorizo (sirloin strip) — but our next step was a rice dish, arroz meloso, which other cooks would try to palm off as risotto. Molteni, however, says it as it is, a creamy rice with vegetables.
While I am all for using seasonal produce, it was a little repetitive to have the same mini carrots bobbing away — although there was an addition of cherry tomatoes, perhaps the veggies could have been mixed up more between courses. This was my least favourite dish as it was a little bland — more bacon broth perhaps?
Then we were back on track with the fish of the day, a herby salsa, broad beans, radish slivers and capers, all fresh, well cooked as in crunchy veg and firm yet succulent fillet.
The final savoury encounter was with the bife de chorizo. Cooked as asked, medium-rare, this dish was perhaps the most emblematic in terms of featuring Argentina on a plate, and came with a whopping great steak knife. The small tasting piece of beef was tender and tasty, backed up by humita ground corn, new potatoes doused in sea salt, a grilled red bell pepper and salsa criolla. La Pampa meets Salta. Would love this as a main.
While I haven’t checked out Marieta for dinner yet, this is a great new spot, opened just three weeks ago, in the centre of town, ideal for business lunches or visitors after some modern Argentine fare —don’t forget the accolades that accompany the good name of Molteni.
And who is Marieta? In fact it’s the name of a farm owned by one of his business partners...
Cerrito 22, Microcentro