May 2007, page 92
Argentina for beginners
We know you came to the Gran Manzana for some slabs of beef, pizza, and the café culture. If you’d have wanted a bagel with a schmear, you’d have headed to the Big Apple. But then, some of you are from the latter, and believe me, bagels are amongst the topics that expats here talk about missing more than almost any other foodstuff. You might just find yourself wandering around and thinking – “please, not one more milanesa a la napolitana, just give me a deli sandwich…”.
So for those of you looking for a taste of home norteamericano style, we’ve searched out and sampled what Buenos Aires has to offer. Leaving aside the fast food joints, there are, of course, the reliable staple chain places, like the Hard Rock Café, TGIF’s, or even a new Hooters (where, according to friends who scoped the place out, the food isn’t bad but they missed the raison d’etre that it exists when hiring the staff).
There’s the next step up that evolutionary chain as well – Kansas, which is a knockoff of the Houston’s chain (right down to menus that list “Houston’s Barbecue Ribs”), and Tucson, more of an Outback Steakhouse imposter (you can get a Bloomin’ Onion, should you desire) – both good in their own right, but I wanted something a little more specialized. The first spot is one that nearly every ex-patriot norteamericano male in Buenos Aires who is interested in the world of sports knows about. It’s a spot that when you walk into it, you could be in any bar in the East Village (or, come to think of it, the equivalent in any city in the U.S.)… Shoeless Joe’s Remember The Alamo, more commonly referred to here, as simply, Alamo, located at Uruguay 1175, in Recoleta. It’s the ur-bar – wood wainscotting, mirrors on the walls, a long bar, beer on tap, television screens showing football (not futbol), basketball, baseball, hockey, you name it, if it’s in season up north of the equator, it’s on display at Alamo – 24 hours a day. And, you can eat the food that goes with sports – a quite tasty hamburger, reasonably spicy buffalo wings, steak sandwiches, fries, onion rings, nachos, or for those with a bit more elegant taste in mind, club sandwiches, or even a steak or grilled chicken breast, and even a wine list that has some nice choices on it. Then, of course, just like any pub doing that “we’re not just your average bar” thing – they offer a couple of pastas and a couple of Thai dishes. Just to be different. Me? I’ll just take a platter of wings with extra hot sauce, a beer, and a Wolverine’s versus Buckeye’s game and enjoy the afternoon.
You can find bagels in Buenos Aires at nearly any café. I mean, a bagel is just a bread roll shaped in the form of a ring, right? Not. We all know the disappointment of one after another spot that seems to think that if they get the shape right, more or less, that’s all it takes. We want the texture, we want… the chew. So, we head out to Belgrano, to Big Mamma’s, at Juramento 2156, where, while no re-creation of the Second Avenue Deli, we can get a bagel that could actually pass for the real thing in, say, Chelsea, if not the Lower East Side. We can get it with lox (okay, smoked salmon, but they’re in the ballpark) and cream cheese. We can get a pastrami sandwich on house-made rye bread, with all the works – deli mustard, cole slaw – they even went for the names – The Big Fresser’s Hot Pastrami on Rye, it makes your mouth water just to think about it. We can get chopped liver, liverwurst, chicken soup, borscht… It may not be quite like back home, but it’s at least a reminder. Now, let’s face it, all of the above places pretty much cry out for a mug of beer, frosty cold, and on tap. And, that’d be my choice at any of the above.
This section was cut from the published page to stick in an advertisement.
At the same time, I wanted to think about what sorts of wines would remind me of “back home”. The obvious choice would be something like Zinfandel, and there are one or two producers experimenting with the grape, but not with impressive results yet. While not unique, by any stretch, to the U.S., in fact, pretty much scattered all over the globe, I’d have to say that a really good, big, bold, Cabernet Sauvignon would have to go at the top of my list. There are some truly outstanding Cabernets available here. For a style that’s very elegant, structured, and with a wide depth and breadth of flavor – or as some might put it, layers – I’d have to opt for La Celia’s Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s barrique aged for one year, in French oak, and comes out supple and velvety. Harder to find, and worth seeking out, I think my true favorite is probably the Chakana Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon. Bold, rich, and simply packed with intense flavors, it’s a delight to find it on a wine list here. Both of these are on the expensive side, but worth every centavo.
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.