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Pan y Olivia: The Herbivore’s Retreat

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that Argentine vegetarians are few and far between.

They can´t saunter up to the smoking grill and enjoy the heady aroma of salted meat.  They can´t partake in the ham and cheese croissants/ sandwiches/ quiches/ pizzas/ empanadas that populate nearly every menu.  “So what exactly is the point?” wonder the locals, as they bite into a chunk of chorizo, “why would you ever do that do yourself?”

And though Argentina´s primary social movement is still pro-asado, slowly but surely the culinary tide is beginning to change.  In part to satisfy the ever-increasing flow of tourists and in part to satisfy local herbivores, more and more vegetarian restaurants are cropping up across downtown and the winegrowing regions.

Pan y Oliva is perhaps the most popular vegetarian haven.  This Maipu restaurant, owned and operated by Familia Zuccardi, rewrites the script when it comes to Argentine cuisine.  Traditional argentine flavors are certainly cow-centric, but they also draw heavily upon what sprouts directly from the earth, particularly in Mendoza where agriculture flourishes.

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The restaurant features artisan meatless dishes propped up by the abundant produce that is harvested from the ample organic garden just outside the front door.  Tomatoes, lettuce, mint, basil, watermelon, chili peppers…the garden is brimming with life.

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Indoors, chefs work in the open air, bistro-style kitchen as guests enjoy the charming ambiance of the dining room and the fields of vineyards that stretch beyond.

The friendly staff also offers olive oil tastings from Zuccardi’s ample portfolio of Mendoza products.  Guests are guided through the various olive varieties and then taste the difference – from spicy Arauco to the smooth and mild Frantoio.  “People don´t know that olive oil can have a spiciness to it,” says Torey Novak, restaurant manager.  “They love learning about all the different oils we make.  Everyone knows that Mendoza is an International Capital of Wine, but it’s also a capital of olive oil, in my opinion.”

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Traveling through Mendoza can become a gauntlet of wine flights and steak dinners, and even the most carnivorous nomad occasionally needs to bite into something a little lighter, a little fresher, a little closer to Mother Nature.

In that sense, Pan y Oliva is nothing short of a culinary retreat.

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