To paraphrase the Godfather, when you dine at Don Carlos Restaurante in Buenos Aires, you can leave the gun. But please, take the ravioli. You’ll be glad you did.
We arrived for dinner to find the front door locked tight, even though the lights were blazing inside. We knocked and waited; the taxi didn’t. Don Carlos himself peered at us through the window, then let us in with a broad smile.
“You!” he booms. “You Norte Americanos, si?”
My daughter has lived in South America for years, but she answers in English, admitting we are from Chicago. She tells me later that the Don is being gracious, speaking to us in our own language.
He sweeps us to our seats, brushing by a table of eight men in black suits, skinny black ties and stark white shirts. Their conversation is loud and intensely Spanish, hands beating on the table, sudden bursts of laughter. I feel certain they are “going to the mattresses” after dinner.
The Don explains his dining experience.
“You got no menu, si?”
“I decide what you eat! Understand?”
“I bring food when I think you ready! You understand?”
“Okay Chicago? You got that? Okay?”
Sure thing, Don Carlos. No way I’m arguing with you. I see Luca Brasi in the corner, giving me the evil eye.
So it begins. A lush Malbec wine. A platter of rich, hand-made sausages, drizzled with cheese, with warm, airy bread. A silky tomato and cranberry concoction that might be a chutney when it grows up. Charbroiled lamb in a light, garlicky sauce. Huge chunk of beef (it’s Argentina, after all) so tender, it slips off the fork. More wine. Lentil stew, to which the Don added the chutney. Hand-made spinach ravioli with fresh ricotta filling. Homemade ice cream with raspberry sauce. Did I mention the wine?
While we were lingering over the last crumbs of bread, I noticed other prospective diners knocking and peering through the window. Don Carlos cracked the door open, handed them two bottles of wine, and firmly shuts the door.
Don Carlos is located in La Boca, near the stadium. Take a taxi, especially at night. After dinner, the staff will be happy to call a return taxi for you. Billinghurst 450, Buenos Aires +54 11 4864-5208. Website http://www.doncarlos.com.ar. For a starter, entrée and dessert without cocktails, expect to pay around 200 pesos per person ($22 US).
And remember … Argentina is beef country. In many restaurants, you need an appointment to see a vegetable (Don Carlos is an exception). But no one will blink if you order wine at breakfast.