Argentina, Solo, Solo Travel, Travel Advice

Dining in Private

15 Comments 07 February 2013

Ratatouille Galette

Ratatouille Galette

“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.”

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 and Henry

Dan and Henry

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.

Dan introduces the next course

Dan introduces the next course

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!
Menu:

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.

Guests share stories around the communal table

Guests share stories around the communal table

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!

Dave and I exploring Buenos Aires nightlife

Dave and I exploring Buenos Aires nightlife

More Information:
Website: www.casasaltshaker.com
Dan not only has a website where he takes reservations for Casa Saltshaker, but he runs a super food blog on Buenos Aires which lists tons of tips and ideas on where and what to eat. Make sure you check it out – it’s a wealth of foodie information!
Blog: www.saltshaker.net
Cost: $60 US
Reservations Required
Cooking Classes: Dan also offers cooking classes at his home
Frequently Asked Questions
Find others ‘home’ restaurants and unique eating experiences 

Your Comments

15 Comments so far

  1. Kay says:

    This a great idea. I never realized that fear of eating solo was a thing when I started traveling. I would just walk into restaurants and eat. One of the downsides of solo eating is that it’s very functional – I eat and leave. On my last few trips, I’ve started feeling the need for a communal eating experience. This sounds like a great idea.

    Do you know of any puerta cerrada resources specifically for vegetarians?

    • Sherry says:

      Yes – I know there are some in Buenos Aires. However typically if you just tell them ahead of time – they will make sure that they have a vegetarian meal for you. At least I know that’s how it worked at Casa Saltshaker! He can work with any allergies too.

  2. kristi says:

    Great idea. I can’t wait to look these up on future travels. I remembered reading an article about this in another country.

    This is why I like eating sushi. I can go to the bar and eat my sushi in peace. I don’t feel like anyone’s judging me, because there are several people there alone.

    But Kay, you are right, it is functional. In and out…get on with your day.

    • Kristi –
      Sushi at the bar is yet another thing I haven’t tried. Someone pointed out to me that eating at the bar in general is a good idea for solo travelers – you’re more likely to spark a conversation at the bar, and there’s always space.

  3. Corinne says:

    Now I sooo want to try a Puerto Cerrado. I love this and have never heard of it before. Are they only in South America? The food looked fabulous.

  4. Lori says:

    Sherry, I was at Casa Saltshaker a few years ago. If they are still in the same apartment, that garden in the back was simply divine!
    http://simplythreecents.com/2011/02/11/when-in-buenos-aires/

  5. Alison says:

    What fun! This concept is becoming really popular in Belgium now too. In the past year at least three new companies have popped up that are promoting this kind of dining. It’s a fun way to meet new locals and visitors.

  6. Holly says:

    Wow – really want to do this! I actually don’t mind eating alone either… I think it’s all about confidence and knowing to what degree you can smile to yourself without looking like a nutter :-)

  7. Steph says:

    I did this when I was in BA a couple of weeks ago. I’ve never had any trouble dining alone, but it was a delightful experience dining in someone’s home. It was marvellous to have some delicious home cooking after weeks of restaurant meals, and the family I dined with was so much fun. After dinner we had an impromptu piano concert and tango lessons! It was definitely a highlight of my time in Argentina.

  8. SC Uebelhor says:

    I just fell on your blog from AFAR magazine’s search engine for “Sri Lanka”. You have some great heartfelt work here. I’m subscribed and will keep exploring your stuff!

    Thanks, and keep up the good work.

  9. Vacay Girl says:

    Sounds like an awesome experience. I for some reason don’t like to eat at home where I’m from. But when I visit other countries I don’t have a problem at all. It might be because in other cultures they don’t make you feel awkward. They come up to you and want to talk. Love the idea of the Puerto Cerrados.


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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