By Isabella Silva-Biotti
From Southern Wind to the Streets of Minneapolis: Al que madruga, Dios lo Ayuda
Wandering through the Minneapolis Warehouse District, a brisk wind carried whispers reminiscent of the distant pampas. Here, in a setting seemingly unsuitable for an exploration of Argentine cuisine, gauchos’ mastery of the asado unfolded amidst the chilly breezes near the Mississippi River – an unexpected fusion of two worlds, a canvas far from the warmth of home.
The Tango of Expectations and Perceptions: Más vale tarde que nunca
Picture this: a young Argentine, navigating the culinary labyrinth of Minnesota’s fine dining scene in 2023. Surrounded by the opulence of oak tables, polished silverware, and hushed conversations, the experience unfolds as a cultural ballet – a tango of expectations and perceptions. What is it like for someone whose palette has danced to the rhythm of authentic asados, now swaying amidst the flavors of the North Star State?
As an Argentine in Minnesota, I found myself straddling two culinary realms – the pristine elegance of high-end dining and the rustic allure of the parilla. The exploration extends beyond assessing the presentation of chimichurri to delve into the intricacies of cultural exchange. A question arose: Could the essence of an asado truly be captured within the confines of a fine-dining establishment in the Midwest? Chicago has done it with Chef Di Sapio’s Tango Sur, amongst others. This, my dear reader, is where the true adventure begins.
In this gastronomic expedition, we embark on a journey at chef Del Prado’s new restaurant: Porzana, an Argentinian-inspired steakhouse, exploring not only the flavors that grace the table but also the intersection of tradition and modernity.
The Emotion behind an Asado: Más vale maña que fuerza
¿Querés venir el Domingo a un asado en casa?
Now, let’s dive into the heart of the Argentine culinary gem—the asado. Envision this: a communal table, adorned not just with crimson hues of Malbec but also with the shared anticipation of an all-day affair. The air is thick with the aromatic dance of grilling meat, a prelude to a symphony of laughter, animated conversations, and the rhythmic clinking of glasses echoing through the atmosphere. This is not just a meal; it’s a collective experience, a cultural embrace that transcends the boundaries of time.
As we immerse ourselves in Porzana rendition of the asado (listed as Parrillada: $125), we are called back to our origins with every savory bite. It’s not merely about the allure of an open flame juxtaposed against the pristine precision of fine dining; it’s about the early morning ritual of tending to the fire, the camaraderie in preparing seasoned and fine-cut meats, the simplicity of crafting salads, the sizzle of the grill becoming a prelude to the main act—a communal feast that’s been marinating in tradition.
The asado is a feeling, a day-long celebration that begins with the crackling of wood, the camaraderie of friends, and the preparation of simple yet soul-satisfying accompaniments. Picture the rhythm of chopping vegetables, the scent of chimichurri being meticulously concocted, the clinking of knives against cutting boards harmonizing with the distant hum of conversation. It’s not just about the bottle of red wine; it’s about the collective effort, a shared commitment to crafting an experience that goes beyond the confines of a plate.
I reached out to friends back home, asking them to define what an asado meant to them. The unanimous response was a contemplative, “that’s a tough one.” Yet, in their hesitation lies the beauty of the asado—it’s an emotion too intricate for words, a sentiment that weaves through the fabric of Argentine culture. It’s a challenge to pinpoint with exactitude, yet the vivid imagery of friends and family gathered, the crackling fire, and the aroma of grilling meat immediately transport us to that sacred space.
Unveiling the Cultural Symphony at Porzana: Cada loco con su tema
It’s crucial to note that this exploration isn’t a comparison, nor does it seek to scrutinize Porzana’s authenticity. Instead, it serves as a reflection on the experience of an Argentine-inspired restaurant in a place like the Midwest—specifically Minnesota. In a region known for its individualistic cold culture, the asado introduces a communal warmth, a cultural infusion waiting to unfold, and a celebration of togetherness that challenges the icy winds with the fiery spirit of Argentine tradition.
An Argentine Asado for Three: El que mucho abarca, poco aprieta
Venturing into the heart of Del Prado’s culinary domain, my parents and I found ourselves ensconced last Thursday night in an atmosphere defined by the gentle glow of low-lighting, the rustic charm of wood floors and tables, interspersed with touches of greenery. This aesthetic, a signature of Del Prado’s establishments, amalgamates brick, tile, and timber to craft spaces that are not just restaurants but visual symphonies—where the hues of the dishes and the people create the palette.
The ambiance, though distinct from the lively chatter that fills Argentinian eateries, was warm and inviting. Seated at a table overlooking the open concept kitchen, we embarked on an evening dedicated to the classic asado ‘en familia’. In the subdued glow, we commenced our culinary journey with a plate of natural oysters, a basket of classic bread, and expertly crafted cocktails—old fashioned’s and a Gigi.
The pièce de résistance arrived in the form of their Parillada, a grand platter featuring short ribs, morcilla, Linguica chorizo, sweetbreads, bone marrow, and ensalada mixta. Augmenting this array, we opted for the classic Argentinian cut, Entraña, accompanied by a bottle of red wine, Malbec. The crescendo of flavors was punctuated with sips of espresso and a delightful berry ice cream, a sweet denouement presented with the compliments of the house.
The service, much like the ambiance, was a testament to Del Prado’s commitment to excellence. Attentive, consistent, and ever-helpful, the staff facilitated an experience that extended beyond the boundaries of a mere meal. Hours slipped away as we reveled in conversation, laughter, and the sheer pleasure of indulging in a delectable assortment of meats and offal.
While whispers of the restaurant falling short of delivering an “authentic Argentine experience” lingered in the air, I found that the essence of Argentina may not be fully encapsulated within the North Loop. Nevertheless, Chef Del Prado has masterfully crafted a well-rounded and comforting experience—an ode to bon vivants and Argentinians alike, seeking respite from the grill.
For those inclined toward alternatives, the menu extends an invitation to explore different pasta dishes or the Eggplant Milanesa Napolitana. While the authenticity may not be an exact replica, the restaurant shines as a haven for those desiring a sumptuous, intimate setting, perfect for groups with a penchant for steakhouses and individuals willing to splurge on a gastronomic escape.
Echoes of Flavor and the Argentine Heartbeat: No hay mal que por bien no venga
As we left, satiated and content, the desire to return remained—a sentiment not unfamiliar to those acquainted with Del Prado’s culinary universe. Across his sister restaurants, a thread of consistency weaves through the fabric of quality, service, and experience. A return visit? Without a doubt, a savory encore waiting to unfold.
In the pursuit of authenticity abroad, the truth remains: a meal in its fullest, most genuine form is an experience confined to its homeland. While similarities may echo in foreign lands, the taste of home is an elusive treasure. Argentinians, with a penchant for declaring their culinary prowess, often find themselves searching for echoes of their homeland’s flavors, comparing and contrasting with each bite. It’s more than just the meat; it’s a culture built around a communal dining experience—a celebration of meals, the bond of shared ‘mate’ sessions, and the unique anticipation of something inherently Argentine. The essence lies not just in the dishes but in the communal moments they create, a reminder that while we may seek to replicate, some flavors are irreplaceable, existing only in the heartbeat of our homeland.