February 2007, page 62
Argentina for beginners
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, romance is in the heart of the perceiver. For a teenage couple, a romantic dining experience might be the local hamburger shop, for a long term couple, perhaps that little neighborhood café where they first met. For me, I like a spot that makes me feel at home, casual, comfortable, but with good food and wine – there were places in New York, like the Beatrice Inn, or the Black Sheep Tavern, that were, for me, the epitome of romance. Here, in Buenos Aires, I’ve found a few, and at least from my perspective, they would be the perfect sorts of places to spend the evening on Valentine’s Day.
For those who don’t know the history of the day, it’s a Catholic reinterpretation, or adoption, of an ancient pagan holiday called Lupercalia, a day devoted to the celebration of fertility. It basically involved a bunch of young men chasing around a bunch of young women while playfully tagging them with goatskin whips. Though, no doubt, amusing to watch, I think I’m thankful that this tradition has passed into antiquity. Especially while I’m out to dinner.
Fitting into my ideal of dining in a homey atmosphere is the tranquil atmosphere of José’s house… Lo de José Slow Food, at Arenales 2659 in Palermo, 4823-8476 is a place where the pace slows to a casual stroll, food arrives when it’s ready, and not necessarily in any particular order, and somehow, you just know that you’re being taken care of. You’ll find yourself seated in José’s living room, where he’s setup a good number of small tables, decorated the room beautifully (though he has a somewhat overzealous penchant for angels…), and is back in the kitchen busy preparing whatever you may have ordered. He basically makes everything from scratch and to order, focusing on fresh pastas and filled crepes, one after the other delicious, and clearly prepared with care and passion. The tables are well-spaced, so you can have a quiet, romantic conversation without the eavesdropping of your neighbors, and the tab won’t put a strain on your wallet.
In a totally different vein, there are folks who find romance in a more active, busy atmosphere. In that style, I tend to like casual lounge settings, and easy to eat, casual food made for sharing. One of my favorites is Rubia y Negra, Libertad 1630, in Recoleta, 4313-1125. Here, you have your choice between four different seating arrangements – you can ensconce yourself at the long wooden bar, pick a “regular” table off to the side, dine at high, brushed steel communal tables, or relax on comfy sofas scattered around the room around low mesas ratones, or as we would call them, coffee tables. The food is a mix of Japanese, with a focus on quite good sushi, and other dishes, including some excellent risottos – there’s definitely a rice-driven theme to the menu. There’s a wonderfully creative cocktail list, a good wine selection, and friendly, casual service. The ambiance gives you the chance to be alone, or interact with others, to your heart’s content. Light jazz music plays in the background, everyone looks fabulous in the decor and lighting, and though it will cost you, for a nice evening out, it’s well worth the price.
February here is still the midst of summer, and can be, at times, brutally hot and humid. Since Valentine’s Day has a reputation for things pink, it’s a perfect time for something to drink in the rosé world. Argentina’s flagship red grape, the Malbec, makes wonderfully full flavored rosados that are often nearly equal in structure and body to the full-on reds. Leaning towards the lighter side, but still packed with flavor, is the delicious pink offering from rising star José Luis Mounier, of Salta. Formerly the winemaker at well-known Bodega Etchart, he’s now got his own line of wines out under his own name, and that of Finca Las Nubes. All of his wines are made from hand-selected grapes, in fact, all the vineyard work is done by hand, and with organic methods. The result, a perfectly balanced Malbec-based rosé, with just a touch of Cabernet, that is a spectacular value.
In a bigger, richer style, is the relatively new Alamos Malbec Maceración Atenuado, a short-term fermented Malbec that hovers somewhere between rosé and red. It can take a good chill, and the flavors brighten and sharpen as its temperature drops, so I recommend keeping it on ice. The wine shows all the plum, cinnamon, and candied violet flavors of a classic Malbec, in a completely refreshing package. Definitely a great “red” for fish or lighter meats, or when you find yourself somewhere where the temperature is high but you still want the strength of a rich red.
In October 2006, I started writing for this Spanish language magazine, covering their English language section for travellers. I wrote for them for about two years. The copy editor, apparently not fluent in English, used to put each paragraph in its own text box on a two column page, in what often seemed to be random order, making the thread of the column difficult to follow. I’ve restored the paragraphs to their original order.