Casa Felix is pretty aptly named… It’s Diego Felix’s house. Just about opposite of the mass of spilling-onto-the-sidewalk cafes and hamburger slinging food carts in Buenos Aires, Casa Felix is a closed-door pescatarian restaurant, serving one beautiful meal to twelve guests just three nights a week. Past busy Palermo, Casa Feliz is marked by a glowing door and the somewhat apprehensive diners gathering around it at 9:30, wondering if they’re at the right spot, only to be happily welcomed in by Diego himself, ushered through a lovely home decorated with bright flowers and soft light, through a working kitchen with a very full spice rack, back into a sweet garden patchworked with herbs and gravel.

Little glasses of caipirinha arrived, the mojito’s complex cousin made with herbs from the tree above us. The rest of the guests trickled in and we milled around the dark garden admiring the plants, the garden, the house, the concept, the whole city. A tray of northern Argentinian cheese wrapped in chayote leaves (…from said garden) drenched in dark chamar syrup presented itself and was quickly cleared, the soft salty cheese in love with the fibrous leaves and sweet palm-sugary syrup. A return diner said his previous Casa Felix meal was one of the best in his lifetime…a certain good looking movie star who may have played Che Guevara arrived… (!!!) excitement built.

We chatted with Diego about his restaurant, which is the principal bit of a bigger project. He and his wife and sous chef do cooking tours in the States, bringing the closed-door dining concept with them, taking over people’s kitchens and producing wonderful meals with local ingredients. The local/organic trend is pretty different in Argentina, Diego and a couple other locals explained. While lots of small farmers are probably growing close to organic produce, its difficult to get certified, so produce may or may not be organic, it’s hard to say. Plus, perhaps there just isn’t quite the same market for the Whole Foods mentality here in the nation of sausage-sandwich lovers. Argentina seems to be somewhat unique in the fact that it’s really self-sustained, all the produce eaten here is grown here. The meat is raised here, the chairs made here, the pencils made here- everythings stamped with “Industria Argentina.” So in that sense the local food/goods mentalty is already somewhat established. But Casa Felix takes it way more local, using fresh pungent herbs from the backyard, making oil from the flowers of the tree down the street. The four days of the week they aren’t hosting dinner, they’re gardening, out meeting producers, introducing them to new seeds. Soon we moved inside, the eight of us seated around one big table. Soft brown bread (so unlike the hard white rolls native to Argentina) and white bean pate was set in front of us, but veterans warned us to save room. After a bit more chatting (and champagne) our first course arrived: chipas over green beans and arugula with salsa criollo. Hot crusty cheesy breads stuffed with salty fontina over sauteed green beans and bright green herbs, with a lighter interpretation of a common steak topping here; salsa criollo, diced onions and tomatoes in oil. The next course another play on an Argentine classic; an oyster mushroom and almond empanada over the season’s last tomatoes, a couple beets, and some light pea sprouts.

A world apart from the street empanada wrapped in paper and stuffed with hot beef, yet still prepared with the same crimpy edges, the same soft dough. Oyster mushrooms are heaven on their own, but with the texture of the almonds and the tang of the tomatoes…oh my. To calm us down from this food bliss, a little intermezza, tiny glasses of cold melon granita, lightly sweet and a welcome break from the complex meal. Then on to the main course! Calamari shepherd’s pie over beans and red pepper sauce, with a few slices of grilled zucchinis. Diego explained the mixed Peruvian and Argentine roots of the dish, and we all got a little quieter as we awed at how something could taste this good. An inbetween polenta and potato pie, topped with a smack of brulee-d sugar, holding inside a handful of perfectly prepared tentacles, over soft beans and just spicy-enough red pepper sauce.

Unexpected, this pairing of earthy shephard’s pie with sea-faring squid, and further yet with smoky red pepper sauce and charcoaled zucchinis. But perfect! Later on dessert arrived, plum and peach galettes with an oatmeal crust, over a spoonfull of sticky black currant sauce, topped with chocolate ice cream. The ice cream melted into the galette, every bite holding the sugary sweetness of the chocolate, the brightness of the late-season fruit, and the crunch of the oatmeal pastry. And finally, little cups of mate cocido- the mate burnt with sugar, creating a dark, sweet, caramelly drink just tasting ever so slightly of mate. By this time it was midnight, but we lingered for at least an hour longer, chatting with our new food-friends, a little bond created over this shared meal. The closed-door restaurant is a special thing, bringing the loveliness of a meal at home even further into the restaurant world than family-style restaurants have done. We all have the same plates, the same tastes, but different reactions to the food, different backgrounds and commentary on the parade of gorgeous courses. And Casa Felix is an extra-special thing, with their bountiful garden, their world tours, their combination of Argentine tradition and modern flavors, their cozy dining room and open kitchen. A lovely meal in a new favorite city.

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