While it would be imprudent to say that Mendoza’s hospitality industry is back with a bang as the province moves into phase four following Argentina’s stringent Covid-19 pandemic health and safety measures, it’s certainly more back in business than many other places around the country.
As of last Friday, a small cluster of wineries started – very slowly – to open their shutters and unlock gates to allow a local Mendoza public to return to the concept of dining out at vineyard-side restaurants. Tourism is one of the Andean province’s top revenue makers – known as one of the world’s seven great wine capitals – with dozens of bodegas offering lunch experiences that pair fantastic vintages with stunning vistas.
But reopening comes with stringent protocols. Mendoza’s new protocols include seating capacity reduced by 50 percent; reservations can only be made online; diners must sign a declaration of good health (declaración jurada de salud) confirming they have been in Mendoza for the previous fortnight; while disinfecting measures are taken on entering the premises. And, taking temperatures before entering the premises is also part of the new normal. Those restaurants that are back in service are open just two or three days a week, instead of the usual six, pre-Covid.
Fogón at Bodega Lagarde in Mayor Drummond, Luján de Cuyo, was one of the first to face the new challenges in hospitality when it reopened last Friday. “Our capacity is now a maximum of 32 diners, and while this first weekend was relatively quiet, people did come out to eat and were more than happy to do so,” says Sofía Pescarmona, chief executive of the winery. “Each table has its own bottle of alcohol gel while all our members of staff wear face masks and maintain social distancing.”
Fogón will open for Fridays and Saturdays for dinner, and for lunch on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays – for the time being.
This Saturday 13 June, Pan y Oliva at Casa del Visitante, Bodega Santa Julia, in Maipú will start up service once more, naturally applying the same health and safety measures as Fogón. “We’ve used this time to prepare ourselves and find the best ways of being able to get together again in the safest way possible for those who are visiting us as well as those who work here,” says Julia Zuccardi, head of tourism. Pan y Oliva – whose dishes all include a little dribble of the house Zuelo Extra Virgin olive oil – will open for lunch on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays – for the time being.
At Riccitelli Wines in Las Compuertas, winemaker/owner Matías and chef Juan Ventureyra had opened Riccitelli Bistró in mid-February. But just a few short weeks later, it was shuttered; however, the kitchen team quickly started turning round fresh pasta, sourdough focaccia and snacks made with veggies plucked from the winery’s organic garden for delivery three days a week. One of the few bodega restaurants to continue food service during lockdown, the team will announce later this week when in-house service will reopen.
Meanwhile, Alejandro Vigil, the winemaking mastermind behind the Chachingo craft beer and pub chain, not only rose to the challenge of takeaway and delivery but also reacted quickly with new gastronomy offerings in Mendoza.
“While Casa Vigil was preparing vacuum-packed meals and menus, such as hearty lentil stews that are apt for the cold weather as well as fresh and frozen pasta, the day the province permitted restaurants to reopen in accordance with protocols, we opened all three Chachingos, and the following day, Casa Vigil Palmares and Il mercato,” he says.
Besides offering takeaway and delivery services, Vigil also conceived new takeout food ideas during lockdown, such as Bur22 whose homemade buns are filled with premium cuts, Perro Nikkei at Casa Vigil and Pizzería Little Italy. “And, any day now, we will open a brand-new project, Empanada Negra, that will be delivery only,” adds Vigil.
Other winery restaurants to ride through the Covid-19 storm include Maipú-based Trapiche, whose vacuum-sealed tasting menus designed by chef Lucas Bustos have proven quite the hit on the takeaway and delivery scene, while other reopenings include Abrasado at Bodega Los Toneles in Godoy Cruz, whose extensive hours run Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner; takeaway remains available.
Given that diners need to sign a declaration confirming they have been in the province for the fortnight prior to eating at a restaurant, and with no air travel into the province, dinner dates in Mendoza will remain an exclusive luxury for our mendocino friends for the time being.