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Mun@Casarena: Integrating a passion for food, wine and the Andes Mountains

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Discovering the wines of Argentina includes learning about the cuisines that evolve around each winery experience. In Argentina some of the most outstanding restaurants are an integral part of the wine scene. One such winery is Casarena Bodega & Viñedos where one will find Mun@Casarena, a fabulous Asian - Argentine fusion restaurant.

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Mun@Casarena is the only quality Asian Fusion restaurant in the Mendoza region. It is one of the many choice spots Uncorking Argentina takes the wine enthusiast as part of ones wine adventures in Argentina.

The restaurant is a partnership between Chef Mun Kim and Cary Gilbert. Their story and how they got into the restaurant business as well as relocating to Argentina is an interesting one. Chef Mun Kim is of Korean descent. Born in Seoul, at the age of sixteen his family moved to Honolulu where his mother instilled in him the love of fresh ingredients used for everyday cooking. After 19-years in the banking business both in New York City and Los Angeles, Mun in 2008 decided to pursue his passion for cooking fulltime. For Mun this entailed going to the Sushi Chef Institute in Los Angeles and studying under the “Iron Chef” Makota Okura. As one can see from his roots growing up in Seoul and Honolulu, the seeds of Asian Fusion where already engrained into him prior to taking the huge leap in career.

At the same time, his partner Cary, who grew up in Arkansas and practiced law in Los Angeles also got tired of his respective career and decided to make a lifestyle change along with Mun.

During his stint training with Makota, Mun began to travel frequently to Argentina exploring its various regions. It was during these trips that he decided that the country was ideally posed for a quality restaurant featuring Asian cuisine. In 2010 he and Cary opened their first restaurant, Casa Mun, in Buenos Aires where it became one of the top ranking restaurants in the city.

After being wooed by the owners of Casarena, in 2012 both Mun and Cary moved to Mendoza to establish Mun @ Casarena, which opened in mid 2013. This restaurant embodies the idea of pairing what Mun considers the best wines Argentina has to offer with his tasting menus, which includes Mun’s signature Malbec Filet. The restaurant serves all the wines produced at Casarena.

The Mun@Casarena takes advantage of the exquisite views of the vineyard and Andes Mountains. The décor is chic trendy modern with its interior clean lines reminiscent of Architect Mies van der Rohe. The feeling of the inside building structure is that of less is more. The expanse of the outdoors comes right up to the restaurant’s patio deck and inwards to the dining room. It is almost as if you were looking out to a Midwestern prairie highlighted with vineyards and the majestic Andes in the distant background. In essence it is a fusion of an Argentine landscape with Asian Argentine cuisine.

Meeting Chef Mun and Cary you immediately feel their passion. Mun’s fervor and enthusiasm seeps through the kitchen via the food preparation and Cary’s zeal is in the dining room as he serves Casarena’s wines. The tasting menu paired with the wines is fabulous.

For those with dietary restrictions Chef Mun goes out of his way to work with you so that you can enjoy his cuisine as much as your friends and family. In my case I cannot eat wheat, dairy or soy. With Asian Fusion, soy is probably the most difficult to get around and Mun did a remarkable job of making my meal a pleasurable one without the forbidden ingredient.

Our 5-course luncheon began with a glass of the Ramanegra Extra Brut, a NV Blanc des Blancs. This sparkling wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. One immediately notices the apple and lemon citrus flavors. The first course included Casarena’s 505 2012 Chardonnay accompanied by a Mandarin Orange Salad. The salad was refreshing and the wine with crisp fresh hints of tropical fruit was a nice compliment. This was followed by Mun’s version of a California Roll and was paired with the very fragrant 2011 Ramanegra Reserva Pinot Noir, which I found a bit austere as a match with the sushi.

I absolutely loved the succulent pork belly. Mine was laid on a bed of cucumber and topped with micro greens while the rest of my group had pork buns. With this course I enjoyed the 2011 Ramanegra Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, a rich and jammy Cab that was smoothly balanced with a hint of spice. Next came the Korean-Style Rib Eye Steak & Micro Greens that was paired with the 2010 Ramanegra Reserva Malbec.

We had a special treat for dessert. My companions enjoyed what seemed to be a chocolate soufflé while I had mixed fruit with a berry sauce. It was the 2010 Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon that did me in. I have to say it was fantastic and made a perfect ending to a wonderful meal. I do not often describe a wine as yummy but the Cab was just that. This late harvest wine can only be consumed in the restaurant and is a must to experience.

Following lunch we had a tour of Bodega Casarena. The winery was originally built in 1937 and purchased by its current owners in 2007. Casarena means sand house, which aptly describes the sandy colored stucco winery. This old building juxtaposes the newness of the building equipment and the restaurant yet it is apropos because the winery uses classical methods of winemaking but utilizes the latest techniques becoming a fusion of the old and the new. In the winery we sampled the 505 2013 Rosada, a wonderfully refreshing blush blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Franc. This wine is called the one night wine because during fermentation have skin contact for one night. I cannot wait to see this wine on Chef Mun’s menu.

The whole dining experience is one you cannot miss with any trip to Argentina. Chef Mun also gives cooking classes.

If it were not for my excursion with Uncorking Argentina, the opportunity to visit Mun@Casarena might not have occurred. Next year Uncorking Argentina will be working with QW Wine Experts coordinating a tour during the grape harvest in Mendoza that includes an interactive cooking class with Chef Mun followed by a dinner paired with Casarena’s wines. This tour known as Vendimia 2014: A Behind the Scenes Tour of Argentina’s Wine Harvest and Culture is from March 28 - April 6, 2014 is led by Nora Flavelukes, who is a prominent figure in the Argentine wine industry. The nine-day tour includes Buenos Aires and Mendoza where you will be given VIP treatment at wineries, meet noted Argentine winemakers and stay at some of the best accommodations in Argentina. To learn more about this tour click here or contact Kendra Forsythe at Kendra@qwwineexperts.com. Mention this article when speaking to Kendra.

For more information and reservations:

Mun@Casarena

Casarena Winery & Vineyards
Brandsen 505, Perdriel, Lujan de Cuyo

Mendoza, Argentina

+54 (9261) 691 9732 (ARG)

323-325-8861 (USA)

If you would like to follow more of Cori Solomon’s articles, she would love you to subscribe to her column by clicking the box next to her photo.

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