Insider’s Guide 2009
Ramp up the drama and dine in spectacular surroundings
There’s no question that the food is of paramount importance to most people when dining out; but for many, even those who don’t stop to think about it, the ambiance is of equal value. It brings an added dimension to the dining experience when you’re seated in a beautiful room, be it opulent or simple, with good lighting, where not only is it attractive to view your surroundings, but you and your guests look just that little bit better. After all, even if we profess to like eating in little hole-in-the-walls, we do try to avoid looking around too much, or too closely.
At the truly opulent end of BA dining, there are a few standouts, and one well known to lovers of interior decor is El Bistro at the Faena Hotel + Universe, (Martha Salotti 445 in Puerto Madero Este, 4010-9200). This Phillipe Starck fantasy in white, gold and dashes of red, with unicorns gazing down from the walls, leaves you and yours to provide the color. Set against this backdrop, we all look good – and what better environment could there be for the chef’s presentations of that darling of the culinary vanguard, molecular gastronomy? Another, far less well-known dazzling dining room is at the century-old Club Español (Bernardo Irigyoyen 180, 4342-4380), and its restaurant, Palacio Español. Behind the building’s beautiful tiled facade is a highly ornate salon with vaulted ceiling, tall columns, gold filigree, beautiful lighting, stunning painting and statuary, and a balcony area for semi-private dining. Classic dishes of Spain are the main event in terms of food, including a don’t miss paella.
Not all opulence has to come with a high price-tag, and where Buenos Aires excels in this area are its cafés from a bygone era. While every guidebook out there will point you towards the center of town and the touristy atmosphere of the famed Café Tortoni, we’d like to recommend some more offbeat locales for sipping an espresso and watching the world walk by. The first, L’Orangerie, is the garden salon in the Alvear Palace Hotel in Recoleta, where white-gloved waiting staff still serve afternoon tea at 5pm, complete with tiers of dainty sandwiches, delicate pastries and custom blended teas, as they have for nearly 80 years. Another café well worth the trip is Las Violetas (Rivadavia 3899, 4958 7387), where you sit nursing your coffee in a three-story high café of white and gold that could easily be the fantasy setting for a Hollywood movie. Or if you truly want an ambiance from days gone by, a trip to the somewhat seedy Retiro Train Station offers up the chance to seek out the old Café Retiro at one end, a former ballroom and site of state events that still sports unexpectedly lovely interior architecture under a vaulted glass cupola built in the late 1800s. Several nights a week the café offers up live jazz and tango shows, cultural activities and art exhibitions in the soft glow of the elaborate chandeliers.
Paradoxically, many of the most beautiful ambiances in which to dine are hidden away behind plain façades, often with a bit of graffiti, or a touch of decay – perhaps to hide the fact that behind these simple walls are modern takes on spots to see and be seen in. Local star chef Germán Martitegui of Casa Cruz and Olsen fame has recently opened his own spot, Tegui (Costa Rica 5852, 5291-3333), in Palermo, with bold swathes of black, white, glass and chrome, a garden area, a gleaming open kitchen, and pinpoint perfect lighting that makes guests as much the stars as the exquisite food. Still upscale, but significantly less expensive, is Recoleta’s Teatriz (Riobamba 1220, 4811-1915), a relaxed, somewhat dreamy room, hidden behind gauzy curtains, reminiscent of an old Paris bistro where you can dine on elegantly presented, creative local cuisine. Taking a similar approach, but with a latin twist is the new PozoSanto (El Salvador 4968, Palermo, 4833-1611), with its soaring glass and brick architecture decked out with artifacts and handicrafts from southern Peru. From the outside, you’d never know that one of the city’s most handsome rooms is hidden behind a red-painted concrete wall. Likewise, behind a slightly rundown old façade is the understated yet elegant dining room at Pura Tierra (3 de Febrero 1167, in Belgrano, 4899-2007), where it’s well worth setting yourself down for dinner. In addition to chef Martín Molteni’s exquisite cuisine, the open wood-burning hearth, the pressed tin ceilings, and the gorgeous stained glass windows make for a memorable evening.
Last but by no means least, there’s the simple, minimalist style of several Asian dining spots. One of our favorites is BuddhaBA (Arribeños 2288, 4706-2382) in Belgrano’s Barrio Chino, with its vermillion walls, Buddha statues and beautiful floral arrangements, a separate tea garden, and small art gallery. We’re also quite fond of the traditional home style of the best (and hardest to get into) sushi bar in the city, Yuki (Pasco 740, 4942-7510). Right out of a movie set, the rice paper and bamboo walls, with sliding partitions, give a sense of both intimacy and community. Likewise the geisha house atmosphere of Nihonbashi (Moreno 2095, 4951-7381) with kimono-clad waitresses, constant pampering, and excellent Japanese food, particularly the shabu-shabu hot pot, never fails to remind us of one or another James Bond movies.
In mid-2006, I started writing for Time Out Buenos Aires. With changes in their way of conducting business, I decided to part company with them after my last article and set of reviews in mid-2009.