Italy And The Orient Behind Closed Doors: Io Sono Shokuhin
by Kevin Vaughn.
It was Friday night, about 8pm and I was sitting in a stuffy classroom at the Facultad de Economia. A relevant aside, scheduling lectures exclusively on Monday and Friday nights should be punishable by something really really terrible, but I digress. While the professor spouted on about the differences between macro and micro economics (I got it) all I could think about was dinner.
Although I’ve gotten used to reading menus that meld together wildly different cuisines or cooking techniques, there was something about an Italian-Japanese menu that made my ears perk up. And drool. And obviously not care about Keynesian Theory.
The restaurant is called Io Sono Shokuhin, a bi-language fusion that roughly translates to ‘I Am Food’, and one of the newest puertas cerradas on the block with just two months under its belt. Throughout the week the unassuming space that rests at the edge of Palermo Viejo goes by a different name. You may know it as “We Are Tango” if you’ve attended their intimate dance class or “We Are Gaucho” if you’ve been to their interactive play series that mixes Argentine history with local food and wine. Or maybe you don’t know them as anything because you attended one of their wine tastings, and we all know where that leads.
Facundo, the spaces organizer, greeted me at the door and welcomed me into the beautifully renovated home, up the industrial metal stair case and into a small dining room that had been casually but elegantly set up for 6 couples. There was also a large deck which looks like the perfect space for a meal once this terrible grey weather disappears.
My date and I had only quickly glanced at the menu the day before, more to make sure we weren’t headed to eat sushi and pizza (because that does actually exist) than to actually analyse the dishes. We both wanted to be surprised, and hopefully pleasantly.
The first dish did just that, sliced eggplant that had been rolled in panko and sesame seeds and deep fried. It came with a small bowl of red salsa, which had a nice Argentine kick of spice to it. Facundo made a point to come out later to tell us that they hadn’t had very many foreigners, and once they did, they hoped to move from “Argentine” spicy to “American” spicy. The eggplant was juicy and perfect, and we hardly noticed the lack of anything.
Although the eggplant was good, I didn’t note anything truly inventive. Then they brought out this number.
A caprese salad rolled in rice paper over a lemon grass dressing. The crunch of the crispy lettuce and bits of chicken was a wonderful contrast to the lightness of rice paper. And that creamy dressing! We both carefully ate small bites in order to scoop up as much of it as we could. Had there been less people in the room I at least would’ve just used my finger for any leftovers, but the snapping of my camera was already attracting enough attention.
The room momentarily went silent over this dish. Mini-skewers with cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken and cheese, topped off with sprouts and ever so slightly warmed peanut sauce.
My lady friend had a fish allergy so I got double salmon. Salmon is a tough dish to make in combination with other foods, and the notes of teriyaki and tomato were too subtle to play with the strong fish flavor. Maybe a lighter white fish, or am I crazy for thinking this could be turned into a really amazing ceviche dish? Or maybe sashimi on top? Am I crazy?
Then came the queen bee of the evening. Stuffed lomo with a shitake mushroom sauce. The chef refused to tell us what the secret stuffed ingredient was, but my money is on crispy bacon. The lomo was wonderfully cooked with a crunchy crust and juicy interior. But let’s talk about this shitake sauce. Dulce de leche? Almond butter? We racked out brains trying to figure it out, and it wasn’t until hours later that I shouted out TOFFEE. It was such an unexpected flavor, and although toffee clearly wasn’t the defining ingredient, whatever combination of flavors the chef dreamed up transported me home. It was lovely and perfect and I want to eat it now.
Dessert was preceded by this seafood and curry plate. Now Facundo’s warning made sense. Curry shouldn’t under any circumstances be eaten without the spicy factor. I’m a sucker for shrimp and squid and I ate the whole thing up anyway.
Dessert was a lemon and basil sorbet with a deep fried banana. Sublime. Seriously. The banana was warm and gooey and the lemon had a citrusy bite that woke up us from the food coma that was quickly settling in.
And I forgot the wine. The entire meal came with excellent pairings. I’d argue a little too much wine, but my date quickly decided I was part of a minority of dumb people for thinking that way. She may have broken a glass on our way out but I’m going to play it safe and say she was right.
The restaurant is currently open on Wednesday and Friday nights but the young crew is planning not only to open up the dining room to more people Tuesday through Saturday, but to open up two more closed doors in the not too distant future. One that would feature regional Argentine dishes and another that will be more along the lines of Io Sono.
It would be wonderful to see them continue to push the concept to more experimental territory rather than safer (albeit excellent) combinations. In other words, throw that sashimi on that pasta!
Io Sono Shokuhin. By Reservation Only.