Empanadas [Photo by Mike Peters/China Daily]
Argentine food is a celebration, but when it comes to the food at Che Diego in Beijing, it takes on a sophisticated shine. Mike Peters tucks into a carnivore's carnival.
Diego Kuo is in his element. A big table in his restaurant is occupied by about a dozen women from Latin American countries. Kuo, a well-traveled native of Taiwan, has the buoyant smile and snappy patter of a veteran restaurant host.
He makes sure they are comfortable, pays the ladies pretty compliments and makes sure every facet of the evening is just right. He also speaks graceful Spanish with the smooth Italian accent that signals an upbringing in Buenos Aires.
The decor is spare and elegant. The music is spirited and Latin without becoming a tango cartoon.
Che Diego's opening got some buzz in the capital, where there is often much breast-beating over the lack of good Mexican grub in Beijing. So what, foodies wondered, could we expect from a more distant Latin country?
Charming as Diego may be, he knew he had to put his money where his customers' mouths were. So there are two Argentine chefs in the house, one on the grill and one running the rest of the kitchen.
In their country, the meat of the matter is simply meat: some of the best beef and lamb in the world. Shipped in sea cargo vessels with deep-cold but not freezing chambers, the quality of the meat almost always shines through.
A rib-eye steak (209 yuan, $33) with just enough marbled fat to make it a sinful pleasure left us sighing, with satisfying sides of mashed potatoes and grilled eggplant.
Lamb stew (226 yuan) was savory with a rosemary-infused gravy, hearty with potatoes and carrots, and so simply fine that it made us wonder: If lamb stew is peasant food, why are we all trying to get rich?
At 226 yuan, of course, this rendition won't find its way to many peasants. Still, it's money well-spent if a great meal is your favorite way to end the day.
The other top-ticket item - if you must impress friends and clients by flashing your cash - is a medallion of beef tenderloin that looks great but disappointed on two occasions.