One of Buenos Aires’ gastronomical lockdown successes is a rather perfect Palermo pairing. The teams behind Proper and Gran Dabbang restaurants joined forces in order to navigate Argentina’s quarantine, which started 20 March, sharing staff, kitchen space, the menu and delivery logistics, a savvy move to keep both operations running during this complex (and, almost 100 days later, ongoing) quarantine period.
The collaboration makes great sense: both restaurants are owned by 30-something chefs – Mariano Ramón is the skull cap-wearing chef who runs a tight ship at Gran Dabbang, which celebrates its sixth anniversary this week, while Leo Lanussol and Augusto ‘Aspi’ Mayer captain Proper together. Yes, they’re all mates, yes, they’re all talented, and both establishments eschewed the haute-cuisine dining mould to create casual dining experiences featuring daily market-to-table menus and regardless ranked in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants lists.
For the first two months, Mariano and Leo worked at Proper, a former mechanic’s workshop, making use of the spacious open-plan kitchen and the wood-fired oven (Aspi is currently in Barcelona, waiting for restrictions to ease so he can open the Catalan version of their establishment and managing Buenos Aires social media). In fact, the first few days they even undertook deliveries themselves but quickly realised their place is in the kitchen, doing what they do best.
Then, three weeks ago, they dusted down and scrubbed up Gran Dabbang and gave it a new (and hopefully temporary) lease of life as La bodeguita, Dabbang and Proper’s grocery store and wine shop, and laughingly call themselves los almacenistas or the shopkeepers.
Leo says: “La bodeguita came about naturally as we needed a space where we could sit down and have a meeting to put together new projects, which is basically on a daily basis. The storefront was all papered up but we’d go there anyway for a coffee. La bodeguita (AKA Leo and Mariano’s bunker) has a different protocol to Proper; people can come in, obviously complying with social distancing and sanitary protocols, but we get to interact.”
While many restaurants have forfeited their wine lists or cellars in favour of a more lucrative partnership to work with one particular winery (and accepting sponsorship is understandable during these tough times that are hitting the Buenos Aires dining circuit especially hard – no government handouts or interest-free loans here, FYI), Dabbang and Proper have more than 40 labels available at La bodeguita or for delivery when you order food (prepared to order) from Proper.
These contemporary almacenistas have an outstanding selection worth browsing, many from small organic and natural wine producers such as Chubut’s Casa Yagüe in Trevelin, Bodega Fernando Dupont’s Sikuri Syrah from the Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy and Pintom Pinot Noir from El Cepillo in Uco Valley. Other great buys include Pielihueso – known for its skin-contact Chardonnay/Torrontés orange wine – Ver Sacrum’s Monastrell and Salta’s Amar y Vivir.
Leo adds: “Mariano worked with the sommelier Mariana Torta on Dabbang’s wine list and I loved what she did; it has a similar profile to Proper’s list as we stock many similar labels. So teaming up for La bodeguita was a very natural step.”
As consumers, it’s vital now, more than ever, that we support Argentina’s tiny wine enterprises. And there are plenty of them out there. It’s a way of letting them know we value their work, appreciate their wine-making philosophies and efforts in an already-hostile economic environment, and give them the financial resources to make it to the 2021 harvest.
Besides wine, Dabbang and Proper also stock treats made by friends and family, such as their spectacular sourdough loaves baked in house, Potto Pipin handcrafted dish ware by Mariano’s British wife Pip Robson, hand-crafted Patagonian cheese from Mauricio Couly, ready-to-drink cocktails from bartender Inés de los Santos and Faraday Bar, and of course THAT dreamy Proper dulce de leche flan (créme caramel), all to take away from the Scalabrini Ortiz storefront. Mariano says: “It’s very important that we bring together the greatest number of friends’ products we can into this space. The more the merrier.”
One other advantage is Dabbang’s location on the busy Palermo avenue means plenty of passers-by stop to check out the menu or peer in, curious to see it open. Simply being open is a great marketing tool, but opening up La bodeguita together six days a week puts a rosy hue on what is otherwise a shitty time to be a restaurateur.
“To be honest, I think joining forces was the best decision and certainly way better than going it alone,” says Leo.
Proper + Dabbang. Check their respective Instagram accounts for the daily menu.
La bodeguita wine store at Gran Dabbang, Thurs-Tues 12pm-6pm, Scalabrini Ortiz 1542, Palermo.
Delivery and takeaway and delivery at Proper. Lunch and dinner, Thurs-Tues, Whatsapp with León +54 9 11 3501 0481, Araóz 1676, Palermo.