Sans Steak: Feasting at Cava de Cano, Mendoza, Argentina

by Chris on November 11, 2010

Do you have a favorite “meal of a lifetime?” For guest poster Natalie Pompilio, a private feast served at Cava de Cano in Mendoza, Argentina comes close.

Appetizer spread, Cava de Cano, Mendoza, Argentina

By Natalie Pompilio, contributing writer

To put it nicely, my husband and I are healthy eaters, so we fully expected our two week trip to Argentina to feature steak, steak and more steak.

So imagine our surprise when our favorite meal of the entire trip — Jordan says the best meal of his lifetime — featured everything but.

Cava de Cano is tucked in a Mendoza suburb, a quick cab ride from city center. In the early part of the century, the building was the home of the area’s governor, Don Guillermo Cano, who in 1935 established the region’s first wine festival. In 2002, owner Claudio Mellimaci renovated the property, digging down, refinding the wine cellar that now serves as his dining rooms.

Wine at Cava de Cano, Mendoza, Argentina

We asked our hotel, Petit Hotel in Mendoza, to make us reservations. That evening, we grabbed a cab that took us into a dark, residential area that had my husband wondering if we were being taken for a ride both literally and figuratively.

But soon our driver was ringing a doorbell and we entered the Cava de Cano property. Claudio welcomed us and offered us seats outside as well as a glasses of wine and plates of dried fruit while they prepared our table.

The wine, from the restaurant’s own vineyard, was delicious and set the tone for the meal to come.

Soon, Claudio was leading us down some steps and into a cool cellar stocked with wine. From there, he pointed us to our own private dining room, set with a table for two.

Cava de Cano, Mendoza, Argentina

And the food on that table would have fed at least six.

It was covered, end to end, with cold appetizers. There were meats and cheeses and pickled vegetables and wine-cooked rice and five different kinds of beans and quinoa and roasted vegetables and bread and an unending flow of wine.

For the more ambitious eater, there was a little bowl of some kind of intestine, but we politely passed on it.

Claudio explained that there were four small courses to follow and we could indicate we were ready for them by pushing the button on a handheld device he gave us (think a doorbell that someone pulled off their door and gave to you). He left us then with two open bottles of wine and enough food for about a week.

Amazing, and that was the starting course, one they left on the table throughout the meal so you could pick as wanted. I can’t even tell you how disappointed I am in us for not making nearly enough progress with the starters. You would have thought we were amateurs.

Dinner at Cava de Cano, Mendoza, Argentina

When we finally pressed the button the first time, our first course was an empanada. It was followed by a beef stew rich with carrots, onions and potatoes and so delicious we sopped up the juices with our bread.

We found ourselves full after only two courses. But like the troopers we are, we pushed on.

The third course was the only miss of the night: a spaghetti Bolognese that was lackluster and lacked flavor. But perhaps that was better for us, as it left room for the finishing squash soup, another concoction that demanded to be soaked up.

At that point, I thought we were done. But there was more: Ice cream with dolce de leche, served with a sparkling white wine. They even offered us cigars.

We could have lingered for hours. As it was, we’d told our cab driver to come back for us, so we finished our meal in 2 1/2 hours. Total cost: About $50.

What’s your “meal of a lifetime?” Share in the comments!

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Balee November 11, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I’ve had several wonderful meals in the course of my fifty years on the planet, but one that stands out took place in the early fall of 1985. I was about to begin a year of studying at the Universite de Dijon, but before it began, my boyfriend (now husband) and I were going to spend three weeks traveling around Europe. Allan had done all the work of setting up our trip and because the dollar that year was *so* powerful against the franc and the mark, he had been able to get us fantastic hotels for a pittance and the same with incredible meals. One of the coolest places we stayed was a Schloss in the Black Forest that had once belonged to one of Germany’s many princes. It was a medieval building that had been renovated, but we got one of the turret rooms with amazing views out over the forest. For dinner, we went down to the flagstoned basement for the meal of our lives. As the heads of wild boar and other stuffed denizens of the forest looked down on us, we had course after course of spectacular food and wine. What I remember best is the pheasant with grapes — it is the best bird dish I’ve ever eaten. Allan had wild boar with another fruit compote that was also astonishing. We had just been to Paris and eaten at another great resto (Chez les Anges), but this place was better. Alas, I cannot remember its name, but someone else may well know — it had to have been a well-known restaurant to people in the region.

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Angela Rozas November 11, 2010 at 1:17 pm

What a delightful post! Sounds like an amazing restaurant, and only $50. Good deal.

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Lisa November 11, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Fantastic—-loved reading this!

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Noah November 12, 2010 at 11:25 am

Great post. Sounds like an amazing hole in the wall experience.
It seems many fantastic food experience come along with the Latin American food culture.

One of my most memorable food experiences in Paris had nothing at all to do with French food. There is a small Latin American restaurant on Rue Saint-Jacques called “El Sol y La Luna”. Everything seemed to be perfect in this place. The meal was fantastic. I believe I had a chicken and rice dish and obviously some sort of Latin American beer. My dish was smothered in a delicious tomato based sauce. The atmosphere was very festive with a band playing Latin music and flags and pictures all over the walls. This was definitely one meal that left an impression on me more than two years later.

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Chris November 15, 2010 at 2:27 am

Noah – You are making me hungry with your description! :)

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Simone Cannon de Bastardo November 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm

My husband and I have lived in Buenos Aires for the past four 1/2 years and have had only a handful of so-so meals; almost everything here is delcious! Although the Argentines tend to overcook their meat, it is of a much better quality than other countries, as they generally don’t use hormones or antibiotics when raising cows, who are usually grass-fed…it makes a big difference in taste and is much healthier for you. A quirky thing about Argentines is that they don’t like spicy food at all(comida picante), which is a bit of a problem for me because I love it. Luckily, you can usually ask for hot spices on the side, though, so it’s not too much of a problem. :-)

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