“But I don’t like to eat alone” – I hear this all the time from people who aren’t nuts about the idea of solo travel. The next comment normally is something about, “I feel weird sitting at a table by myself.” Above dish: Ratatouille Galette.
For some strange reason dining solo has never been an issue for me – in fact I sort of like the way it makes you stick out in a restaurant. I suppose some people may look at me and think it’s sad that I’m alone – but I prefer to think that people are looking at me thinking that I’m one kick ass confident chick on my own. Regardless – I don’t really care what others think around me – I simply want to eat good food and there’s no reason to sit inside and pass up great eating experiences because you are afraid of what others think.
When it comes to solo travel, I find myself eating alone in public a lot. I take a good book, a notepad, or seat myself up at the bar to strike up a conversation with the bartended – and I’m perfectly happy solo. However, for those who aren’t quite as comfortable eating alone in public, I came across a great way for solo travelers to have a fabulous eating experience while in Buenos Aires.
Puerto cerrados restaurants– or “closed door” restaurants are seeming to pop up all over these days in large cities. And they are extremely popular in Buenos Aires. These are basically eating experiences in people’s private homes. Not exactly a restaurant, and not exactly a dinner party among friends. However it is a great way to have some amazing food, experience local living, and meet a bunch of other people – locals and travelers alike.
Dan Perlman, an American from Michigan has been running his own puerto cerrado with his partner, Henry, for the past 8 years. Casa Saltshaker was one of the first on the home dining scene in Buenos Aires and is still going strong. Practically every night of the week he welcomes strangers into his home for a 5 course dinner with wine pairings from the region.
As I rang the buzzer to their apartment, I wondered if I needed to know a secret password to enter this secret restaurant. Luckily Henry came out and met me at the door with no password required. As I entered their chic yet comfortable loft apartment on the ground floor, I was welcomed with a cocktail and ushered out to the garden terrace to meet the other diners. Dan mentioned that normally about 80% of his guests are travelers and the others represent locals. However, since I was dining during the holiday season – there were no locals gracing our table that night since most of them travel out of BA for the holidays.
After about 30 minutes of polite ‘getting to know you’ chat, Henry came and ushered us to the table. And this is where this experience is perfect for solo travelers – it’s a communal table and everyone eats together! Casa Saltshaker is one of the few puerto cerrados to offer communal dining in Buenos Aires. Our little group of 10 strangers consisted of a family of 5, a couple, and 3 solo travelers from the US and UK.
Conversation was easy and fascinating and before each course Dan would come out of the tiny little kitchen and explain to us what the next course would be, where the wine was from, and answer questions. Then he retreated into the kitchen to prepare the next course. The kitchen was very small – only one person at a time – hard to believe that he can do dinners for 10 to 12 people every night out of that kitchen.
You could tell that Dan loved to share food with people – cooking was an art to him and it certainly showed in his recipes and presentation. The wine pairings really blew me away as I learned about some great labels to look for in BA for future dining. The menu was a refreshing change from the meat heavy Buenos Aires diet and I was thrilled when he sat a piece of fish in front of me for the main course!
The surprise of the night happened when two complete strangers realized that they ‘knew’ each other. One of the boys from the family group had dated the niece of one of the solo travelers – but this was the first time they ever met. As the revelation was made there were gasps of disbelief and excitement as they put together all of the puzzle pieces and we all toasted to the ‘small world’ that we live in.
We ate, drank, and conversed until midnight and then Dan and Henry bid us goodbye with our own personal copy of the menu and lots of tips for things to see/do in Buenos Aires and other restaurants to try.
I even went out after dinner for drinks with some of the others – this night I wasn’t solo – I had a whole group of new friends to socialize with and I wasn’t going to pass that up! And one of the best things that came out of the night besides a wonderful array of food, was that I became friends with one of the other solo travelers, Dave, and we ended up doing all kinds of things together around Buenos Aires over the next week. I had come solo, but left with a new BA travel partner – perfect!