Matillas is a master of meat.
Argentina has consistently "wowed" us with its incredible and affordable steak and wine. But eating at Alto El Fuego has changed the way that we will think about and order meat into the future. We randomly happened upon Alto El Fuego one afternoon, waltzing around Bariloche and figuring out where we would want to eat some evening out. Little did we know we would eat at Alto El Fuego that very night, and three more times before our two week stay in Barlioche came to a sad, carne and empanada-less end.
The cozy, farmhouse-like ambiance of the restaurant and already smoking fire out back invited us in. The menu (90% carne) solidified that we would find what we were looking for in terms of cuisine. And then Mattilas told us that live jazz and his own father's birthday party going on that evening. We snagged the last table, excited for live music and a chance to peek into an Argentinian birthday party and style de vie. And meat, of course.
But were we ever surprised! This parilla-esque restaurant blew every other restaurant we had eaten at out of the water. We were welcomed, we were treated as friends, and we had the opportunity of sampling more cuts of meat than we had ventured to taste elsewhere--in addition to the tastiest bread we had in all of Argentina, and criocha and chimichurri to-boot. As true, novice eaters in Argentina, we had mostly stuck to the "meat highways" - the Ojo, the Lomo, the Bife de Chorizo (aka names of different cuts that are relatively easy to decipher) . But in our four visits to Alto El Fuego, we finally received the entree to the Argentinian meat-eating backroads that we were hungry for. We tried morcilla (blood sausage) for the first time, Matillas brought us a coplimentary slice of the vacio (the Argentinian take on flank steak that leaves the fat ON the meat, hence making it a masterful two-part bite--the first a tenderloin like texture, and the second the sweet taste of fat cooked till crispy and bubbling on a hot grill). We tried matambrito de cerdo (another Argentinian spin on meat, this time pigs' meat cut right off of the rib, like a pork chop and rib put together in one amazing, succulent mouthful). The cerdo was sprinkled with fresh lemon juice and literally melted in our mouths. We were blown away. To top it off, none of our meals added up to more than 180 pesos for two of us.
What made it all even better, on our last visit to Alto El Fuego, Matillas sent us off with two complimentary empanadas de carne. First of all, they were the best empanadas we had in Argentina--sliced steak instead of ground, and instead of baked, fried to perfection. But moreover, we felt like we had found a home away from home in Argentina. Matillas clearly cares about his restaurant, the high quality of the food, and his clients--it makes the entire experience taste even better than the food.
It is sad to leave Bariloche, one of the most beautiful cities we have ever seen. But it is equally as sad to leave Alto El Fuego.