His curiosity aroused, Ben Stubbs learns a little more about Latino love at a spicy restaurant for couples.
For all the cliches that don't ring true in Buenos Aires, its reputation for being one of the sexiest cities in the world, full of pouting Latinos, chiselled tango dancers and beautiful people, is on the money.
It is said that variety is the spice of life. I want to do something romantic for my wife while we are staying in the city; I think of tickets to a football game, tango lessons or even shopping for shoes if I have to. I want to do something unique, though, and when I discover Te Matare Ramirez, Buenos Aires's only aphrodisiac restaurant, I book us a corner table on a Friday night. Our relationship doesn't need spicing up, though a little pepper never hurt anyone.
At the door, the bouncer checks IDs; this is definitely an over-18s venue. We walk in through a corridor of velvet curtains, chandeliers swing above us and soft jazz plays in the cosy dining room.
Everything seems normal, if a little intimate, on arrival. I get us a seat at the "Open Mind" bar. There are no schooners or rum-and-cokes here. I order an Insolent Eloquence - Drambuie, Jim Beam, cinnamon and orange. In a place such as this a Sex on the Beach would seem juvenile - they've taken the aphrodisiac theme to another level.
Te Matare Ramirez translates to "I will kill you Ramirez". I wonder if it was created as a threat to a cheating spouse - and I can't help but notice a few men with white marks where their wedding rings should be as we take our seats below the stage among the other couples.
The place is dimly lit, as you'd expect, and the room is wrapped in thick red velvet. The restaurant is packed. Couples snuggle on couches, spooning chocolate fondue into each other's mouths; wine bottles are opened as lovers get comfortable and let their guards down. There is no insecurity here at all - from the twinkle in people's eyes, I see a mixture of first dates and well-established couples enjoying what Te Matare Ramirez has to offer.
The murals on the walls are all deep reds and purples; nude jesters frolic across painted stages, and perverse clowns and masked men peer from behind curtains. I wonder if this is what we might be in for with the live show. It all seems very Eyes Wide Shut and I half expect the waitress to come around with a bowl and ask for our keys.
My senses are alert. I hear the tak, tak, tak of my salt shaker as it douses my plate of Voluptuous Tacos of camembert, peach and malbec reduction. The sweet and salty combination is surprisingly good and I devour the plate without sharing. I watch the flicker of the candles across the room, which gives everyone a flattering glow, and I smell the rich aroma of the melted chocolate from the volcano that is brought out to the couple beside us, who have been dating for a week and a half.
My wife orders vegetarian tagliatelle with radish and cherry confit. For main course I order the salmon - rare, as it is recommended - with lemon coulis, octopus tentacles, mint and orange slices, arugula and bouchon potatoes. Each course has an equally provocative name and, even when it is translated into English, it makes me blush a little. Let's just say there is something about a tongue and an unspeakable act in the title of my salmon. The food is silky and rich and I wash it down with a glass of malbec as my cheeks begin to flush.
For dessert I order the Lustful Stimulus - a crunchy orange brisee tulip with vanilla ice-cream and raspberry coulis - and my wife orders the "phallic chocolate cone", which looks remarkably like a Cornetto.
Our plates are whisked away and the lights dim. Tonight there is an oral performance. Get your minds out of the gutter - it is a spoken-word performance from two local actors who delight in all the innuendo they can muster.
The show is in Spanish; my wife is Argentinian so I've been well tutored, though even the most inept linguist could understand the back and forth between the two performers, who recount their recent conquests. During the week Te Matare Ramirez has erotic dances on stage that likewise require little interpretation.
As the show comes to an end I notice the "week and a half" couple are quite enamoured behind us. The show has obviously worked on some.
After the meal we meet the restaurant's PR representative, Carlos di Cesare.
He has worked here for 17 years and loves the unique experience the venue offers guests. "There are plenty of places for men and women to go separately - strip clubs, bars or hen's nights," he says. "This is intimacy and erotica for couples."
There is a more secluded restaurant upstairs and a fortune-teller in the corner. Ivan Rosenblat looks at me with fierce blue eyes and offers to tell my fortune. He reads my palm and ponders my future in the dregs of a cup of tea. Apparently I'm going to make lots of money in the future (this prognosis is helped,
I think, by the donation I give at the beginning of the reading), though only if I'm willing to open my chakras. Afterwards Carlos warns me not to open them too far with Ivan in the room.
Despite the couples, the menu and the show, Te Matare Ramirez maintains an edge and the quality of the food is up there with the best I've had in Buenos Aires. Maybe it's more bizarre than arousing, though judging from the amorousness around us, I think the clientele is more than happy with the service.
After a few drinks and a dinner of unrepeatable aphrodisiacs I notice I'm sweating a little. I look around at couples enjoying the most unusual restaurant in Buenos Aires, and
I ask my wife, "Is it hot in here, or is it just me?"
The writer travelled with assistance from Aerolineas Argentinas and Destination Argentina.
Aerolineas Argentinas has direct flights from Sydney to Buenos Aires from $1714. aerolineas.com.ar.
Hotel Club Frances is a refurbished boutique hotel in the exclusive Recoleta area that dates back to 1886. There are 28 luxury rooms and the hotel has a restaurant, bar, gymnasium, fencing arena, business centre and massage parlour. hotelclubfrances.com.ar.
Legado Mitico is a boutique hotel in Palermo. Each of the 11 rooms is devoted to an Argentinian cultural icon. There is a restaurant downstairs and rates start at $200 a night. legadomitico.com.
Te Matare Ramirez is on Gorriti 5054 in Palermo Soho. tematareramirez.com.
Other places to go
The sassy Portenos and Portenas (men and women of the city) are often keen to make a foreign friend. If you do score a date in Buenos Aires, here are a few of our suggestions, depending on your intentions:
1 Jack the Ripper For pre-dinner drinks with a touch of class; cocktails at this Recoleta bar are a great option for a second date. 011 4816 7508.
2 Club 69 Show your date that you know how to have a good time. Transvestites, dancers, international DJs and thousands of people ... and it's only a Thursday! club69.com.ar.
3 Los Jardines de Babilonia The famous Argentinian short-time hotels (known as telos) aren't all as seedy as you'd think. If you've proven your worth at Te Matare Ramirez, this might be your next step. hoteljardines.com.ar.
4 Algodon Mansion If you're getting a little serious with your Latin beau, spend a night in this boutique gem in Palermo with sunken baths, a wine bar and your own butler. algodonmansion.com.
5 Alvear Palace If you want to meet the parents and impress them, the classy Alvear Palace afternoon tea in Recoleta is the perfect option to show your style and restraint. alvearpalace.com.
6 El Ultimo Beso You've got to go home, you've met someone else or you're just not that into him. Whatever the excuse, "The Last Kiss" restaurant in Palermo has heard it all before. 011 4832 7711.
7 Rosa Negra This sleek and sexy restaurant in the upmarket suburb of San Isidro is one of the most romantic places in Buenos Aires. If you're preparing to pop the question, or waiting to be asked, we can't think of a better place. rosanegraargentina.com.ar.