Each time I go back to either Argentina or Uruguay I’m amazed at the variety of methods they use with cooking with fire. We’re not talking about just wood fired grills or pizza ovens, but truly unique engineering feats to draw the best of wood, fire and iron. The more I eat, the more I like. I’m going to start this file and keep updating with the different fire types I run across and from learning by seeing (and eating).
JOSE IGNACIO — PARADOR LA HUELLA
First stop, the firemasters at the famous La Huella beach restaurant in Jose Ignacio. All day long they keep feeding the beast, turning wood to fiery coals. The coals underneath do the hard work while the burning wood logs heat the top of the meats and bring flavor to every dish.
They cook nearly every dish by fire at La Huella.
You’ll want to eat at La Huella every single night….lunch, too. Check out this awesome article in Bon Appetit that totally nails the atmosphere of this amazingly special place. Make sure to watch the video.
Each time I come to Jose Ignacio, I can’t wait to sprint to La Huella and hang out for the afternoon….dreaming about this whole grilled fish to while away in the shade. Then think about coming back for dinner.
A rare uncrowded end-of-season night, actually about 11pm this night, this entire outside deck was jammed with hungry and lively crowds of people.
La Huella (pronounced la HUAY-sha in the local dialect) is rocking around the clock, 20 hours a day. Make a standing reservation at 3pm everyday and enjoy an hours-long relaxing feast….not to mention the people watching….
JOSE IGNACIO — MARISMO
Also in Jose Ignacio is Marismo, one of the coolest restaurants, ever. Set out in the countryside amidst the low pines and scrub brush, Marismo is an unmarked restaurant that you drive until you see cars, then get out and weave your way through the trees to open up onto this magical scene. Sand floors, open to the stars and lit by nothing but fires and candles, it seems like a movie set and too good to be true. Pinch me.
Almost everything at Marismo is cooked with fire, most of it in a “horno” which is the mud-capped wood fired oven ubiquitous at restaurants and backyards across Uruguay. Nearly everything goes in and comes out ummmmm.
JOSE IGNACIO — LA SUSANA
A feisty newcomer to Jose Ignacio is La Susana in the new Bahia Vik hotel development. We were there in its first season, before the hotel actually opened. It was outstanding. Keeping with the theme, they built a compound of huts around the main fire and grill area, for all to see. Even in the rain.
La Susana is right off the beach, with views out over the Jose Ignacio peninsula.
Okay, one thing not cooked on the grill: the amazing ceviches, with bright fresh citrus flavors and a spicy kick.
It’s hard to see between the raindrops, but the massive fire pit is the focal point of the surrounding huts in the compound.
This. Fish. OMG. We don’t even remember what type it was, some sort of local grouper-like fish, was hands-down one the best pieces of fish any of us had ever had. Just lightly seasoned, but perfectly grilled. Must have been the fire.
A TASTE OF JOSE IGNACIO This year we were completely lucky that the town (organized by the owners of La Huella) organized the first ever Taste of Jose Ignacio. We heard there was an enormous amount of rain throughout the entire month of February 2014 which totally drowned the spirits of this sun-loving beach town. So they decided to throw a festa, with all the town’s restaurants setting up elaborate booths and serving their specialty dishes….of course, cooked with fire.
These were not your typical popup tents and folding tables, each restaurant really went to town building one-of-a-kind booths selling their one-of-a-kind specialty dishes.
These dudes were our favorite. Check out this ingenious portable grilling apparatus. Like a Roman fire-breathing weapon of destruction…but made for meat.
Check it out: this moveable feast-maker has one, two, three, four (!) ways to cook with fire! All on wheels. I want one! I call this the Jose Ignacio Fire Truck…
Love this: cooking beans in a skillet over an inferno of a truck tire rim!
GARZON — Up the road in the little town of Garzon, Francis Mallmann, the undisputed King of the Cooking With Fire World has his famous restaurant and hotel in the rolling estancia-lands about 30 miles inland. He’s world famous for his knowledge and promotion of cooking with fire, staging stunts in New York, Paris and all parts in between. Check out his cookbooks…the first called Siete Fuegos (Seven Fires) is mind-blowing with its pictures of cooking whole cows. At his restaurant in Garzon, you can feast on a couple of different fires — he has a new restaurant in Mendoza called Siete Fuegos that is built around cooking around all seven of his types of Argentine fire cooking. One of his seven fire cooking method is called infernillo — little hell — built around a specially-made grilled called with three levels. Coals on the bottom, a food rack and an upper rack of smoldering coals — so in essence, you’re cooking both sides at once, keeping the meats moist but piping hot. Read more about his seven fires in Food & Wine.
These scallops and radicchio are seared and roasted ala plancha and brought smoking hot to the table.
The spotless glass-walled kitchen…and its infernillo fire…take centerstage for the whole restaurant to watch.
This rocksalt packed cod is roasted forever until it is rock-hard and cracked open a the table, soft light and moist on the inside.
Keeping the fire-related theme, we discovered this ingenious fire basket in the courtyard of his five room hotel in Garzon. It looks humble, but look how absolutely functional this basket is…..
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