After Dining At Casa Coupage, No Other Restaurant Will Ever Please Us
By Kevin Vaughn.
As we left the comedor of Casa Coupage, my eating partner, socia and general favorite lady pal Evy said to me, “Sometimes perfection seems effortless”. That’s exactly how I felt in that moment, and how I still feel the evening after eating in that elegant little dining room, as I type away, still smiling. Everything was perfect, and they knew it, but they never led on that they knew it.
Casa Coupage opened nearly a decade ago when its owners, Santiago Mymicopulo and Inés Mendieta, were amongst the first certified sommeliers in the country. The project began more as a wine club amongst friends, eventually more people began coming asking to be wined and dined. The pair decided to hire a chef and develop a menu just as unique as their wine palette. The restaurant has been so successful that Mendieta has moved to Mendoza and is currently working on a brick and mortar to open in the near future.
When you walk in the door the space feels homey. Eugenia, our waitress for the evening, greeted us with a warm smile and glass of sparkling wine. She invited us into the sophisticated dining room, adorned with white table clothes, perfectly placed glass and silverware, stately chairs and old armoires that had been refurbished into wine bars. Evy and I exchanged giggles, knowing that even with a great haircut and dress (her) and stylish button up and black shoes (me), we were a little out of our element.
Santi, part host part sommelier, began to size up our wine palettes by asking us a few simple questions. We were a bit shy at first seeing that most of our exposure to wine comes from the local chino, but he went on to explain:
“We really try to get to know each diner and figure out their tastes. Taste isn’t about the food or the wine itself, it’s about the history you bring with you. People from California who grew up with Napa wine taste things differently than an Argentine that grew up with Mendozan wine or a French person that grew up with wine from Bordeaux. It’s important to understand those differences.”
That’s when he handed us two tiny brown jars filled with essences and asked us to smell and tell him what we thought. A very strong citrus pulsed through my nostrils, “mandarin,” I replied. The second one was filled with a clove essence, I told him it smelled like the potpourri that my mom used to sell at her gift shop.
He continued, “Food is one of the only activities where you exercise all of the senses. We look at food as a philosophy, we want to create dishes you can identify with, that speak to your truth.”
Finally feeling more at home, Evy explained that she liked really robust red wines and had a weakness for a good glass of Malbec, and I let him know that I preferred something dry and biting but that overly tannic wines made me feel sick.
He decided that we would start with both a white wine from Finca Suarez and a rosé from Melipal during the appetizer dishes, and use those two to continue exploring our palettes. Both were the complete opposite of what we anticipated, as the sweetness I normally attribute to both wine varieties were very subtle and gave way to a very full white wine with a powerful bite and a light and refreshing and surprisingly not sweet rosé. We were smitten, Santi clearly knew more about what we wanted than we did.
Those wines were paired with three appetizers. The bread basket that was also brought out may or may not have been eaten before the first dish arrived.
The first appetizer was lamb tenderloin served over mashed cauliflower and a red wine reduction. The lamb was fork tender, and the mashed cauliflower, with just a pinch of salt, made me think of a warm home-cooked meal.
What followed was a crispy trout served over corn soup and topped with a false risotto.
Next was a slow cooked chicken liver wrapped in phyllo on top of thick smoked pancetta and a tiny tangy pear that burst with flavor.
“Sommeliers almost have this celebrity status. When I go to dinner parties and tell people what I do they are immediately fascinated more than with other more important professionals. I think that a good sommelier really has to reflect on that, that it is kind of ridiculous that we are put up on such a high pedestal. The idea here [at Coupage] is to bring people closer to wine, not to alienate them from it.” Santi the sommelier recounted.
That same philosophy of taking the snobbery out of wine was present in all three dishes as well. But the trout typified the mantra. It was presented so elegantly, and the skill that went into choosing and preparing a piece of trout that wouldn’t overpower the rest of the flavors was apparent. Not to mention that chef Pablo Bolzan had thought of the textures and temperatures of the three key ingredients and created a dish that displayed three different levels of creaminess. But the universality of the corn soup brought everything back to earth. The taste was homey and comfortable, and while no one was looking we mopped up the leftovers with our fingers. We had eaten the second bread basket already.
Both of us ended up choosing a rosé, next, which surprised both us and Santi, who quickly explained that nearly everyone chooses the white. With that Santi brought out two more red wines to try with the following two courses. A Pinot Noir by Ben Marco that he predicted I would like and a Malbec called Imposible by MAAL that he thought Evy would like. And he was right.
The wine was paired with beef ceviche that was “cooked” in wine vinegar (of course) instead of the traditional lime juice and layered on top of very thin and very crispy sweet potato chips.
I had no idea what to expect, no idea what was going on in my mouth during that first bite, and no idea why on Earth it was so delicious. I would get all Rosemary’s Baby on some raw red meat everyday if I could prepare it with such skill.
Then came the duck. It had a crispy brown shell and although the meat was juicy it had a wonderful chew to it, paired with homemade linguini, frutos del bosque and a white cream, depending on the way you mix the flavors this dish felt like ten in one. Our reaction was perfectly summed up by Evy who very suddenly blurted out, “Can I marry duck?” while we laughed and swayed along to Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra singing, appropriately enough, “Summer Wine”.
Clearly any attempt to keep up the façade of sophistication was dissolving as quickly as a new glass of wine was poured. We were decided in our fate to be the most unsophisticated people in the most sophisticated restaurant ever. And when they asked if we wanted a refill, I quickly screeched out “Sí!” Evy, a bit tipsy asked why and the answer was simple, “because he asked!”
Then it came time for THREE DESSERTS. A cheese tasting filled with wonderfully strong gruyere and brie paired with a sweet dessert wine. I’d tell you what kind it was, but at this point note taking stopped and all I have written down is, “Drink your wine with your cheese people!”
The real dessert. Let’s discuss. Paper thin sliced apples stuffed with a godly custard all formed into the shape of a taco (or at least that’s what my brain tells me was the intention), candied pears and a sweet red sauce that came in a small jar to be poured on at our discretion.
Screw discretion, pour all of it on and also forget where you are and grab that thing as if it were an actual taco.
We finished off the meal with a hot cup of espresso, a few small pastries and the proverbial cigarette, absolutely content and showering Santi with too many compliments. “You liked the wine, didn’t you?”, he asked with a slight grin.
I’m still feeling wide eyed when I think about the meal and the way that Santi made the entire evening feel grounded. We were right at home during our foray into fine dining, and sophisticated enough to deserve every single morsel of it even if we ate three baskets of bread and used our fingers.