February 18, 2005
I’ve just returned from a fantastic vacation in Buenos Aires! Two weeks of (mostly) good weather, an amazing city to explore, new friends met (including one quite special one), and all sorts of adventures to share. I’m going to try to encapsulate it, and include a proper dose of food and wine, in a few short paragraphs (which won’t remotely do it justice, but such is life).It’s a long flight from New York, a solid ten hours, but I’ve done worse and I had two seats to myself, so being the petite sort, I curled up and went to sleep for most of the time. Arrival in Argentina, and ready to go. My guesthouse (more about which later, as I highly recommend it), had arranged a taxi to meet me, and so I was quickly whisked off to the neighborhood of San Telmo. As we pulled into the area, all I could think of was, I’m back home! It could have been the East Village/Lower East Side…there wasn’t even that much of an increase in signage in Spanish (which says more about the East Village than about Buenos Aires). At the guesthouse, LugarGay (literally “gay place”), I was welcomed with open arms by Nestor (center in the pic) and Juan, the two owners, and the current temporary “houseboy”, Henry – about whom much more later! We stumbled along in my limited Spanish and Nestor’s somewhat better English, got me settled, and then I was promptly greeted by several of the current residents. LugarGay seems perfect for those who like to travel, comfortable rooms, a quiet atmosphere, and a relatively sophisticated clientele. I spent the afternoon on my own exploring the immediate neighborhood, and then found myself in the company of a charming man from Finland, Tuomas, on the right in the picture (who thankfully spoke impeccable English…and French…and Spanish…and Italian…and Dutch…and Finnish…), for dinner. We were joined by another man, originally from Canada, who had fallen in love with a local guy a few months earlier and decided to move, at least part-time, to “BA”. Dinner at a local, very gay friendly (as is most of Buenos Aires) restaurant, La Farmacia, and then a good night’s sleep. Breakfast with some of the guys in the house, at least those who had awakened, and I met yet another charmer, Pascal, from Paris. In fact, Pascal (left in the picture) and I spent a good portion of the next week exploring the city together. Like any big city, there are tons of things to do. Museums and galleries, parks, monuments, cemeteries (one has to pay homage to Evita’s tomb…), and loads of restaurants to sample. Argentinians, and especially porteños, as the denizens of BA refer to themselves, love to eat. And they eat a lot of red meat, especially beef. In fact, other than accompaniments of a bit of salad or the occasional sauteed green leaves, little shows up on plates other than slabs of beef. Argentinian beef is a bit leaner than what we see in the US, but I am still amazed that with the quantity (often a steak for both lunch and dinner) that is consumed, that porteños aren’t all a bit on the hefty side. Dinner at a parrilla can often consist of several courses of meat – what is referred to as an asado, or as we might call it, a barbecue. Innards are quite popular, and I tried several new things (seasoned and grilled intestines anyone?), and a lot of old faves. An afternoon lunch on the roof of La Farmacia. Meat is generally served with a sauce called chimichurri, a slightly spicy herb sauce, for which I’ve posted a recipe below. It’s quite delicious!
Porteños also eat late by our standards. Most restaurants, other than those catering to tourists, don’t open until 9 p.m. And no local would be caught in one before 10 – in fact, many folk go out to dinner at 11 or 12 at night, even on “school nights”. How they manage to eat so late, and often go out to a club or bar or coffeehouse afterwards, and still get up for work in the morning, is beyond me.
Argentinian wines are to be found everywhere, and there is little else to be had other than in some of the swankier wine shops. Some Chilean and the occasional Uruguayan wine (again, more later, as I spent a couple of days in Uruguay exploring as well), and maybe a high-end French or Italian wine. Prices, by the way, are extraordinarily low, mostly based on the current exchange rate – nearly 3:1 to the US dollar. But even with the exchange, markups just aren’t as ridiculous as they often are here. At fine restaurants, a bottle of a good reserve wine might go for 60-70 pesos, or about $25-30. The same bottle here might sell in a restaurant for $60-70, or more than double…trust me, import costs aren’t that high. And meals are also inexpensive – lunch is available fixed price at most restaurants and is almost always under 10 pesos – $3-4. Dinner might, in the finer restaurants, run you 60 pesos, but more than likely not. Generally we ate for about 40 pesos apiece, including wine.And last, for this column, but by no means least, I return to the aforementioned “houseboy”, Henry. We hit it off immediately, and within a day of flirting we had quickly become an “item” around the guesthouse. He hails from Trujillo, Peru, and is adorable and my heart remains with him! We spent my entire vacation together, when he wasn’t working, and who knows what the future will bring!?
½ cup oil
½ cup vinegar
½ cup white wine
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 scallion, chopped
1 small tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 small sweet pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon ground pepper (or chili powder if you want spicy)
½ teaspoon oregano leaves
2 bay leaves
Basically, mix all the ingredients together and let it steep for at least 12 hours before using. It should be used within a couple of days as the freshness of the flavors will fade quickly. This isn’t my recipe, but comes from a local chef, and I may play with it a bit and re-post a new one down the road…
I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.