Closed-door restaurants, a.k.a. restaurantes a puertas cerradas, are big in Buenos Aires. Never heard of them? What closed-door restaurants do is to blur the line between restaurants and dinner parties. They often occur in what is actually the home of the chef, and so necessarily they’re limited to small number of diners. Menus usually change weekly or even daily according to the whims of the chef. They also almost never offer you a choice of dishes; you just get what the chef is cooking on the night you go, which is actually kind of liberating.
The result of all of this is something more intimate and social than a regular restaurant. Going to a closed-door restaurant usually involves meeting and chatting with the chef and the other guests, rather than just eating and dashing. There’s much more a feeling of a shared experience with your fellow diners. Also, the cuisine they offer is often a lot more creative and adventurous than your standard Buenos Aires restaurant fare (which makes a welcome change from meat-and-Malbec).
The most well-known closed-door restaurant in Buenos Aires is undeniably Casa Saltshaker, which is run by Dan Perlman, author of the influential Buenos Aires restaurant review site at www.saltshaker.net. Casa Saltshaker offers a five-course tasting menu (optionally paired with wine) which changes from one day to the next. Every menu at Casa Saltshaker is themed, and some of the themes are pretty whacky (check out the website). It seats just 12 people in the apartment of Mr. Perlman and his partner Henry Tapia. It’s located in Barrio Norte.
Much newer on the puerta cerrada scene is Casa Sunae. The food is ‘pan-Asian’ and both promises and delivers “fiery curries, fresh herbs and exotic spices.” If you’ve been in Buenos Aires for a while and are craving food with flavor, Casa Sunae might be just the thing. There’s a nice patio which is a perfect place to meet the other guests over a cocktail prior to dinner, and the service is also top-notch.
Casa Felix is another well-established closed-door restaurant. Rock star chef Diego Felix offers a five-course tasting menu for up to 12 people every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night for ARG$150. Guests get a free welcoming cocktail on arrival. Casa Felix operates out of a beautiful house in Chacarita near Colegiales. Unlike some (most?) closed-door restaurants, mingling between guests isn’t all that common. The food at Casa Felix is sublime and consequently it’s wildly popular, and maybe the best-reviewed closed-door restaurant in Buenos Aires.
Two other highly regarded closed-door restaurants here are La Concina Discreta, which is located in Villa Crespo and has the capacity to seat 18 diners, and Treintasillas (www.treintasillas.com), which is in Colegiales and is run by the talented and creative chef Ezequiel Gallardo.
If you want to check out the puerta cerrada experience, note that most of them only open for Friday and Saturday nights – obviously if you’re running a restaurant out of your home, you don’t really want to have guests every single night of the week. Bookings are also essential.