Cuisine & Vins

Food revolution

Cuisine & Vins
August 2008

cuisine insider tips
Food revolution

One of the things I like most about living in Buenos Aires is the opportunity to live through another revolution. Politics aside, I’m not talking about which government is the flavor of the month, but a food revolution. I went through one during the more than four decades of living in the U.S., as we went from the world of meat and potatoes to the world of tofu and sun-dried tomatoes, along with branching out into the world of what, at the time, seemed exotic. And it’s happening here in Argentina, though at a much accelerated pace – the advantage of both following a path that’s been trod before, the ease of travel, and the ubiquity of the internet. What sprawled over decades of development in places that have gone this route before is taking a mere few years here.

That’s not, by the way, to say that Argentina is “behind the times”, but with a fiercely nationalistic bent, and, admittedly a hefty dose of stubbornness at times, its citizens have clung to their tried and true cuisine with tenacity. It’s still not unusual to find locals who simply don’t eat anything but. However, times they are a changing as the saying goes, and with them, an influx of “ethnic” restaurants showcasing cuisine from all over the world. Closest to home, and easiest to swallow for many, are those from the rest of South America. With a dozen other countries to choose from, and some very different cuisines, the scene is growing.

Peruvian restaurants are here in spades. They’ve been here for awhile now, there’s a big Peruvian community. Until recently, they were mostly of the greasy spoon, home cooking variety. But a trio of very interesting options have opened up in Palermo over the last couple of years, each of which offers up its own charms. Moche, Nicaragua 5901, 4772-4160, originally opened up a bit over a year ago under the guiding hand of the newly ex-chef from the Peruvian embassy and now in the hands of his key apprentice. It’s a tranquil space on a quiet street, and offers up beautifully presented classic foods – while there’s an element of “novoandino” thrown into the mix, most of the dishes are those familiar from the home-style restaurants, refined for fine dining. Zadvarie D.O.C., Uriarte 1423, 4831-2719, puts a more trendy, Palermo-hip spin on things, with reworked and re-imagined dishes based on classic flavors from Peru and Bolivia served up in a grey-pink post-industrial space by friendly, efficient waiters. Even nicer, in good weather, a rooftop terrace on which to dine. And the new kid on the block, Ceviche, Costa Rica 5644, 4776-7373, is the newest offering from the former embassy chef. Specializing, not surprisingly, in a variety of ceviches, but also offering up a wide range of creative, new interpretations of Peruvian flavors with a touch of Asian influence thrown in. The space is, perhaps, over-designed, extraordinarily trendy and packed with works of contemporary art.

Until recently, Brazilian restaurants seemed to be making strong inroads in the local dining scene, but several closings have left slim pickings. In truth, only one real restaurant remains, and it falls into the casual dining category. It’s very popular (and even more so with the diminished options) among the Brazilian expat community – Me Leva Brasil, at Costa Rica 4488 in Palermo, 4832-4290 provides a wonderful glimpse into the traditional dishes of Brazil, with, perhaps a leaning towards those of the coastal regions. The food is delicious, presented simply, and the space is pleasant with reasonably attentive staff. The only other real option opens only three days a week and offers up dinner and a show for a set price. At Maluco Beleza, Sarmiento 1728 in Congreso, 4372-1737, the menu is limited to one meat and one fish dish, and while they’re both good, the focus here is the show – a mix of Brazilian dance and music, and plenty of drinks to go with them.

The newest community to spring forth with restaurants is the Colombian expat population. In the last year or so, a trio of restaurants have opened. Two of them are quite casual, offering up familiar comfort food to Colombians far from home – La Aromática, Bülnes 873 in Almagro, 4866-2300, is a tiny outpost of a dozen seats offering up simple home-cooked meals; and Antojito Colombiano, Córdoba 3883 in Palermo, 4867-6312, while it first appears to be some sort of cafeteria or coffee shop, offers up a good range of authentic, well cooked, deliciously spiced dishes. Colombia too, has its offering in the fine dining category with the recently opened Gabo, Honduras 5719, also in Palermo, 4778-1293, where a sleek, black and white interior that doubles as a photo art gallery provides a backdrop for some wonderfully reinterpreted Colombian food, and an imaginative cocktail menu.

Surprisingly, despite the size of their communities, the Bolivian and Paraguayan have little to offer in the way of restaurants outside of bare-bones casual spots located within their communities in, primarily, Flores and Liniers, and, while accepting, not particularly welcoming of outsiders. Neighbors Chile and Uruguay offer up a single entry apiece – both worth checking out; and the rest of South America comes up empty handed (there was a Venezuelan restaurant until recently, and there’s an occasional offering of Ecuadorian meals at a dance and art space in San Telmo). Los Chilenos at Suipacha 1024 in Retiro, 4328-3123, is a crowded, bustling spot with tables packed together closer than sardines in a can. Still, if you can jockey yourself into a seat, the food is delightful, focusing on the highly spiced seafood specialties of Argentina’s western neighbor. From the eastern side, the star is La Celeste, Medrano 1475 in Palermo, 4827-5997, with a cuisine similar to Argentine, but with subtle differences. Let the waiters, who are knowledgeable about the food and eager to help, be your guide to trying out “what’s different” – maybe a plate of bizarrely braided chotos… Uruguay’s version of the grilled chinchulines that are a staple of the parrilla here. One nice plus, La Celeste includes a small selection of Uruguayan wines on their list, one of the only spots in town where you can sample them.

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.


Flavours from France

Cuisine & Vins
June 2008

cuisine insider tips

cuisine & vins 200806
Buenos Aires offers up a wide variety of places where you can enjoy a French meal filled with the spirit of the wonderful haute cuisine.

There was a time when going out to dine pretty much meant going out for French food. It seemed to be ubiquitous in the Americas and throughout Europe that French food was automatically equated with fine, no, make that the finest dining. And, there’s no doubt that it’s true that the fancy end of French cooking is amongst the best of cuisines in the world – not the only, but one of. It should be remembered, as well, that French cuisine also tends to shine at the low end – rustic, simple, bistro or brasserie cooking is heartwarming and delicious.

Here in Buenos Aires there are not a huge number of places to eat in the Gallic tradition. There are certainly some high end places – most of them in hotels, and they are fine places to go, but tend in the direction that fancy French hotel dining rooms do – a bit stuffy. Better yet, hit one of the few independent French spots for white tablecloth fare – Les Anciens Combattants, Maat, maybe Nectarine, or, my personal favorite, Lola, at the corner of Junín and Guido, in Recoleta. There, you can start your evening with a classic steak tartare, prepared tableside to your own personal tastes, and move on to a variety of beautifully presented classic dishes – duck a l’orange, salmon with duxelles encased in pastry, or stuffed, roasted quail – all of which have been updated to fit modern sensibilities.

Another great choice is Rabelais, a fancied up bistro in the heart of the wealthy old section of Recoleta, at Libertad 1319, where you can feast on perfectly prepared coq au vin, boeuf bourguignonne, one of the best classic onion soups you’ll ever have outside of France, and a dead-on tarte tatin.

In the mid-range are the brasseries and bistros – the best known is probably Bar Petanque in San Telmo. Its sister restaurant Bouchon Bistro, at Tucumán 400, in the Microcentro far outshines it with friendly, helpful service and decent Lyonnaise style cooking. Nearby at Tucumán 775, you can find Brasserie Berry, as classic as they come with simple dishes of steak or roasted chicken served with a side of potato or salad, a glass of wine, and perhaps a chocolate mousse or Crepes Suzette for dessert.

For my tastes in the middle price range and style, there are two Recoleta spots that garner honors for best of show – Granda Bistro, along Junín, at 1281. A small, cozy spot, with a regularly changing menu, a great wine selection, and friendly, helpful service. They serve up wonderful country style pate, delicious hearty rabbit and lamb dishes, and wonderful traditional desserts like creme brulee and apple strudel. The other is La Olla de Félix, at Juncal 1693, with its menu of only four or five items that changes daily – especially their filled crepes. No appetizers other than, perhaps, a salad or soup, and perfect, but simple, desserts.

Speaking of crepes, at the simplest end is an unusual entry, a small, cafe-like spot called Finistere, at Montevideo 973, in the Centro area, that offers up the traditional buckwheat crepes of Brittany. Some have been updated for local tastes, but their best are filled with classic combinations, like morcilla (blood sausage) and apple, or another filled with wild mushrooms and vegetables. Desserts are typical of the Breton region, and worth trying. The wine selection is limited but goes with the food, and the prices are easy on the wallet.

In the French vein, it’s hard to find wines of France here. There are certainly the overpriced top end Bordeaux and Burgundies offered up by some of the big hotel chains or fancier restaurants, and a few of the better wine shops, like Terroir in Palermo or Grand Cru in Recoleta, stock a limited selection of the same. But keep in mind that many of the grapes grown here in Argentina are French imports, be they Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc, or the more popular, Malbec. Less well known would be the grape Tannat, which comes from the southwest of France in a region called Madirán, where it produces dense, tannic wines that often require a half dozen years or more of aging just to be smooth enough to consider drinking. While not Argentina’s star production, there are a couple of producers who have brought out excellent local versions. In particular, one producer stands out in my mind, Bodegas Quara, who produce both a light, simple, easy drinking basic Tannat, and also a earthy, medium tannic, hearty, oaked Tannat Reserva. Another good option would be the Bodegas Callia Magna Tannat, a rich, aromatic, and hearty bottle that goes great with red meat.

Rabelais, Libertad 1319 – Recoleta.
Bouchon Bistro, Tucumán 400 – Microcentro.
Brasserie Berry, Tucumán 775 – Microcentro.
Granda Bistro, Junín 1281 – Recoleta.
La Olla de Félix, Juncal 1693 – Recoleta.
Finistere, Montevideo 973 – Barrio Norte.
Les Anciens Combattants, Santiago del Estero 1435 – San Telmo.
Maat club privado gourmet, Sucre 2168 – Belgrano.
Nectarine, Vicente López 1661 – Recoleta.
Bar Petanque, Defensa 595 – San Telmo.
Lola, Roberto M. Ortiz y Guido – Recoleta.

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.


A walk on the gaucho side

Cuisine & Vins
May 2008

cuisine insider tips
A walk on the gaucho side

La Payuca - pastel de lomo y calabaza
Argentina offers one of the most delicious cooking in the world. Cocina de campo is a treasured secret that every tourist want to find out. [This was a copy editor’s addition, obviously not fluent in English.]

La Querencia - pastel de papas norteñas
Trying to define what “country style” cooking is depends not only on what country you’re from, but on what part of that country as well. Whether it’s a farmer’s breakfast from the Midwest of the U.S. stacked with pancakes, hash browns, eggs, bacon, sausage, and ham, all at once and on the plate or an English ploughman’s lunch with cheddar, Branston pickle, bread, butter, boiled egg, apple, and a green salad – the one thing you can bet on is it will be filling, nourishing, and hearty. After all, country living tends to be hard work, and you need something to keep you going. Here in Argentina, as in many places, stews and casseroles are the order of the day, and they are plentiful.

La Querencia - locro
In the stew category, a quartet make up the core of cocina de campo here. Locro starts with a base of dried white corn or hominy, with the addition, almost always, of potato, squash and sweet potato, which are often cooked until they’re literally fallen apart and become part of the liquid that surrounds the bits of diced meats and sausages. Depending on where its from it can range from mild to spicy, usually a simple matter of either green onions, chili flakes, or chili oil being added to or not; and from some regions, a bit of cheese is added atop and melted just enough to be able to stir it in. Carbonada can be, in some ways, similar to locro, though often a bit on the lighter side, and characterized in particular by the addition to the stewing mix of pieces of sun-dried peaches that give it its unique flavor; and using fresh corn rather than dried white corn, either loose kernels, or, more commonly, sliced rounds of corn on the cob. The next two are probably more widely known throughout the Americas, lenteja is a lentil stew, generally with bits of meat and sausage lurking within, and mondongo, a tripe stew flavored with tomatoes, onions, and herbs, and a generous addition of potatoes.

La Querencia - lentejas
It would not be out of place to look at Argentine country casseroles and find them familiar – one of the most common, the pastel de papas is little different from a classic shepherd’s pie, generally made with diced steak beneath its browned crust of mashed potato. Variations do occur, and the potatoes may be replaced with squash or sweet potato, respectively called by most, cacerola de lomo con calabaza or con batata. One unique dish is the humita casserole, a baked dish of sweet corn, often spiced with what we might think of as sweet spices – cinnamon, nutmeg – and sometimes even sweetened with a bit of sugar – and topped with cheese before baking. It’s a simple dish, but completely delicious, and is also often found, tamale style, in small portions steamed in corn husk, or as a filling for empanadas.

La Payuca
While a trip out to the countryside and a day, or weekend, at an estancia, or ranch, is a great way to get to try some of these dishes, or even spending the time at Buenos Aires’ nearby “gaucho town” of San Antonio de Areco, an easy bus or car trip of less than two hours, and which you can do on your own or with a guide. But for the short-time visitor or someone who simply prefers not to venture out to the countryside, the city abounds with options for rustic, campo cooking. One favorite spot at which to sample many of these dishes is La Payuca, with two locations, at Santa Fé 2587 in Recoleta and Arenales 3443 in Palermo, serves up piping hot bowls of all four of the above stews and a few variations of the casseroles, in traditional clay dishes, and right out of a wood-fired oven. La Payuca’s locations are big, bustling places, that might at first strike one as a sort of touristy spot, but listen up and you’ll realize you’re surrounded by locals just looking for good country fare. They’ve also got a reasonably extensive wine list, and a good selection of wines by the glass to accompany your meal.

Another favorite, of both the local and tourist sets, is La Querencia, with three locations, Chenault 1912 in Las Cañitas, Paraguay 434 in Retiro, and, probably its most popular locale, at the corner of Junín and Juncal in Recoleta. The versions served up here are, perhaps, slightly less rustic in style, with just a touch of city-refinement, but filling and delicious just the same. Their wine program is limited, but a simple flask of house wine actually fits the bill perfectly with this sort of food. Your choices are by no means limited to these two spots, and country fare is very popular, especially in colder weather, with the local populace – as the temperature drops, signs appear in restaurant windows like mushrooms after a storm – “Locro hoy!”, “Hay Mondongo!” – they won’t be hard to find.

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.


The perfect food

Cuisine & Vins
March 2008

cuisine insider tips
The perfect food

Io Te Amasso
It could be argued that Pizza is Nature’s most perfect food. After all, constructed properly, it’s virtually an illustration of one of those food pyramids – a grain based crust, plenty of vegetables, some meat, and a good helping of dairy in the form of cheeses. Of course, it just as easy to construct one that goes heavy on all the “wrong” things and turn it into a nutritional or gastronomic nightmare, but agreement on what that would be, especially gastronomically, would be hard to find.

Local rumors to the contrary, pizza was not invented in Argentina by Italian immigrants. It was brought with them. Many porteños might argue that it was “perfected” here, but I’d have to guess that they’ve simply never been to Italy and tried the pizza there, nor many of the versions to be found in other food capitals of the world with big Italian populations. Regardless, pizza is a mainstay of local cuisine and it’s definitely worth exploring.

Argentina does offer up some unique versions that I’d like to touch on. First, a general guideline – there are four main types of pizza here, differentiated by their crust. The first, and most common, is a la piedra – or cooked on a stone. It’s not always actually cooked on stone, in fact, often it’s just cooked in a straightforward deck oven, but the idea is that it’s cooked on a hot, flat surface at very high temperature. The crust tends to be a medium thickness. Where Argentines provide something truly unique is in their wood-fired ovens for this style of pizza – and it’s the wood that makes them unique – a local type of evergreen called quebracho, which gives a fascinatingly elusive pine sort of note to the crust. While locals might disagree, and tout one or another of various famous classic spots, my personal favorites for this style of pizza are Güerrin, Corrientes 1368, near to the Obelisco, and Tuñin, Rivadavia 3902, in Almagro.

The second type is al molde, or what we might call “pan pizza” – usually cooked up in a cast iron pan and with a thicker crust – rarely approaching what we might think of as Chicago or Sicilian style, but definitely in that direction – coal fired ovens seem to be popular for this style of pizza, given them a nice smokiness. For me, the hand’s down winner in this category is Las Cuartetas, at Corrientes 838, in the heart of the theater district.

Then, there are the two types of thin crust pizza – the first, and not particularly common, is the napolitana style – wood burning oven, extremely high temperatures, cooked fast, and with a crust that’s thin and lightly crispy. The places that offer these up tend to do a decent job of duplicating the style, but for those who eat pizza worldwide, it’s not unique, and is probably of more interest as a change of pace for those who live here. Io Te Amaso, at Malabia 1885 in Palermo, or Bakano, at Agüero 1669 in Recoleta (both with other branches) turn out the best versions of this style.

Up in Rhode Island, in the U.S., is the famed Al Forno restaurant, where they claim to have invented “grilled pizza”, more or less by mistake, back in 1980. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve eaten grilled pizza in Italy, and I’ve certainly eaten it here, where the style is called a la parrilla. And there are places here that have been in business far longer than those 28 years since 1980 – the question, I suppose, is what style of pizza they were serving back then – there’s one spot out in far western Liniers that claims they’ve been serving it for over 40 years. The style is a very thin, almost cracker-like crust, which is generally cooked on one side on the grill, then flipped, and the toppings added to warm while the other side cooks – it’s a very quickly cooked pizza, and becoming more and more popular here. The best is probably Morelia, at Humboldt 2005 in Palermo, though they get a very close run for the money from the quite creative (though pricey), Minna, Olga Cossetini 1691 corner of Rosario Peñaloza, in Puerto Madero Este (the other side of the docks).

Gata 2000
Last, but by no means least, is Buenos Aires’ unique contribution to the pizza world – the fainá, a flatbread made of chickpea flour, the crust baked and served up plain. Though fainá likely originated in Liguria, where it is known as farinata, (and there are similar breads from other spots around the Mediterranean – Gibralter’s calentita or Nice’s socca come to mind) – what makes it special here is that it is served as an adjunct to pizza – a “classic” porteño lunch is a slice or two of pizza and a slice of fainá – which is often laid atop of a slice of pizza as a top-crust, or eaten in alternating bites – and a glass of Moscato. Some visitors find it weird, others take to it like a duck to water, and, of course, there’s wide variation in quality – the worst being when it’s served refrigerator cold, which happens more than I like to think about. The best fainá I’ve found to date is at Gata 2000, Pichincha 810, in Boedo, and they turn out a darned good pizza a la piedra as well.

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.


The best parrillas

Cuisine & Vins
November 2007, page 118

cuisine insider tips
The best parrillas

This was an editing disaster – The introduction and several paragraphs that left it with no continuity were left off of the article, and then several of the reviews from the previous column were repeated here – somebody was clearly doing some sort of cut and paste on the page and no one checked the results. I’ve just reproduced it as written.

Here in Buenos Aires, when it’s time to celebrate a grand occasion, it’s time for an asado, what we might call a backyard barbecue or a cookout… It’s not that anyone really needs an excuse for an asado, simply being Saturday or Sunday is quite sufficient. But make it a special day and it’s time to pull out all the stops – which basically means, tons of meat, smoking hot, right off the parrilla. I thought this column would be a good chance to introduce you all to some of the basics.

You probably don’t need an introduction to asado etiquette – it’s pretty much the same as any grilling session on any patio anywhere in the world. It’s a guy thing. Everyone stands around, drinking beer or cheap wine, giving advice to the guy who’s doing the grilling, while he ignores all suggestions and does it his way, like it or not. Sound familiar?

But what is different here is what’s coming off the grill, or parrilla. First off, there’s a whole lot of innards. I know, I know – but here in Argentina, the innards, or achuras, are an absolutely integral part of the day, and you probably should know what you’re getting yourself into. First, a couple of glands, because you’re going to see them everywhere – mollejas and riñones – sweetbreads and kidneys. The former, here, come in two varieties – “de cuello”, or from the neck, which means the thymus gland, and “de corazon”, or from the heart, which really isn’t from there, but further below – the pancreas. Creamy and soft on the inside, lightly crispy on the outside, these are a special treat for those willing to sample. Riñones, the kidneys, and if they’re prepared right they have a just slightly chewy texture beneath their grilled exterior, and a rich, pungent flavor.

The other biggie, and it’ll be offered up to you as a test of your willingness to participate, are chinchulines. These are the grilled small intestine – the best coming from a very young animal that has only been fed on milk, with the milk having curdled inside from heat and enzymes. Yeah, I can hear you saying “ewww”. Go ahead and try one anyone, I’m amazed how many people become converts once they try one.

Follow up the innards with the sausages – there are usually three offered up – chorizos, morcillas, and salchichas parrilladas – the first, a slightly spicy pork sausage, different from the Spanish or Portuguese chorizos that you may have encountered elsewhere, and every butcher shop here has its own recipe. Morcillas – black pudding, black sausage, boudin noir – blood sausage – you didn’t want to think about it, but that’s what it is, and it’s oh so good. The last, usually a thin, coiled sausage, a touch on the smoky side.

Then on to heaping platters of meat – and while every family has their own choices, some of the most common are the tira de asado, which are cross-cut ribs, entraña, which is a skirt steak, bife de lomo which is more or less a sirloin, bife de chorizo, similar to a t-bone or porterhouse, without the bone, cuadril and which is rump steak.

El Yugo - ojo de bife
Now, here’s the thing – if you’re really lucky, and you have friends here with a parrilla, you’ll probably get invited, to celebrate one thing or another. But even if not, you can, of course, sample these all at a good restaurant style parrilla – and to get the whole experience, order yourself… or more likely selves, since it’s a whole lot of food, a parrillada, or mixed grill. One of my favorite spots to recommend for the grand experience is El Yugo, Ayacucho 1629, 4806-2009, in the heart of Recoleta, where they serve it up on a tabletop grill to keep things hot and smoking, offer some of the best french fries in the city, especially the thin papas pais, and a salad bar on the side, just in case you need something green.

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.


Places to see and be seen

Cuisine & Vins
October 2007, page 82

cuisine insider tips
To See and Be Seen

There’s no question that most of the time, when we set out to dine, the two key criteria are the quality of the food and level of service. Who wants to intentionally head somewhere with bad food, or where they know that the waitstaff are either incompetent or filled with self-important attitude? Okay, there are a few of you who thrive on the abuse or the ability to say, “I had a really terrible meal at Restaurant X…”. But not too many of you.

Some days, however, it’s all about the place. You just want to be surrounded by a fabulous setting, or a romantic air, or maybe just beautiful people. Sure, you still want tasty food and a waiter who remembers what you ordered and is polite about it, but what you’re really after is to see and be seen in just the right spot.

L'Orangerie at the Alvear Palace Hotel
For sheer old world elegance it’s probably impossible to beat the L’Orangerie in the Alvear Palace Hotel, Av. Alvear 1891, 4808-2100 ext.1643, one of the city’s most famous spots for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea – with soaring ceilings, arched windows overlooking an immaculately tended garden, and white gloved staff who attend to your every need.

Across town, in Belgrano, in a beautifully restored old palazzo, is the magnificent Maat, Sucre 2168, 4896-1818, officially a private club, but as long as they’re not full up with members, easily the most elegant dining spot in the city. Surrounded by rich fabrics, draperies, crystal, and a hushed setting, you can indulge in excellent food, far-reaching conversation, and secret business deals…

El Bistro
At the opposite extreme, there are moments when you want to find yourself in a locale that’s modern, chic, and, well, simply striking. Now, it’s not for everyone, but for some, being seated in the glowing white and gold of El Bistro, at the Hotel Faena + Universe, Martha Salotti 445, in Puerto Madero Este, 4010-9200, is an over the top trip to fantasy-land. Unicorn heads mounted on the walls peer down at you as you dine on sophisticated “international” cuisine.

Once again racing across town to Belgrano, you can’t do much better than to impress yourself with the massive modern industrial spot that is Sucre, Sucre 676, 4782-9082. Here, you’ll find yourself getting whiplash as you try to decide between settling your gaze on the massive concrete wine cellar in the center of the room, the colorful three-story high bottle stocked bar, or the huge open kitchen, gleaming with stainless steel and copper.

desde el alma
For shear romance, right down to a crackling log fire, cozy, warm, inviting… it’s pretty hard to top the ambiance at Desde el Alma, corner of Honduras and Godoy Cruz in Palermo, 4831-5812. Often recommended as the most romantic restaurant in the city, they’ve maintained that status in the face of the hype.

Also out in Palermo, the casually elegant room or garden at Thymus, Lerma 525 at the corner of Malabia, 4772-1936 is an ideal night out spot for a date. It might even be the best spot for a first date – it combines cozy little romantic touches with just enough relaxed modernism to take the pressure off. Service is friendly but never intrusive, and the food can be a true delight.

On a beautiful sunny day, there’s little better than to find yourself on a lovely outdoor patio, dining on great food and surrounded by the rich and famous. You almost expect Robin Leach to pop out from behind a nearby bush at Primafila, on the upper level of the Buenos Aires Design Center at Pueyrredón and Libertador, 4804-0055. Just relax, sit back on one of the lounge chairs, and raise a glass to toast your neighbors.

Cabernet restaurant
For those who just love dining al fresco, wend your way out to Palermo and settle in at a garden table at Cabernet, Jorge L. Borges 1757, 4831-3071, where you can sample through exceptional creative fusion cuisine, great wines, and watch the world on the street pass you by.

For complete tranquility, we tend to think some sort of Asian retreat, and out in our Chinatown, or Barrio Chino, is just such a spot – BuddhaBA, Arribeños 2288, 4706-2382, where you can tuck into pan-Asian cuisine, followed by tea service, or maybe just tea and pastries out in the calming atmosphere of the zen garden. You might not even need that massage you have scheduled for later in the day.

On the quiet corner of Charcas and Godoy Cruz in Palermo sits Almanza, 4771-2285. From the outside you might think it’s just a neighborhood coffee shop, but enter inside and find yourself in a soft white and chocolate brown room, surrounded by casually artsy photographs, and piles of culinary tomes. Elegant? No. But relaxing and calming like visiting your grandmother’s kitchen – only with far better food.

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.


Patagonian wines, Mítico Sur

Cuisine & Vins
September 2007, page 78

cuisine insider tips
Patagonia for beginners

Given the whole reversal of the magnetic poles, which direction it’s warmer and all that, one would think that here in Argentina we’d be looking for Northern charm, and Northern hospitality, and talking about the Deep North… but, it seems there’s just something about going south that brings all that out, even when south is a frozen glacier… Admittedly the glacier’s only a small part of Patagonia, which actually encompasses several provinces “down that-a-way”, and also offers up ingredients for cuisine that are unique in regard to the rest of the country – particularly in the world of game animals and seafood.

Mitico Sur - picada
Buenos Aires is home to a small, and growing number of restaurants that specialize in the cuisine of Patagonia, ranging from simple neighborhood hangouts to among the poshest of restaurants in the city. Easily the most fun to be had is at one of the former, Mítico Sur, hidden away at number 389 on the narrow cobblestone Pasaje San Lorenzo in the barrio of San Telmo. This rustic two-story converted home offers up a literal sampling of tidbits from the deep south in the form of what are called tablas. We might call them an antipasto if we were going Italian, but we’re not… Mítico Sur serves an array of different platters, ranging from vegetable and fruits, to cheeses, to seafood, to meat, and combinations of all four – smoked, pickled, cured, and fresh, ingredients that Patagonia is famous for are laid out in little dishes to be nibbled upon. Among the best, the smoked trout and the cured wild boar, or jabalí. You can order a tabla by yourself and have more than sufficient for a meal, or you can share with friends, the most fun – and wash it all down with a glass or bottle of one of the region’s excellent wines – and this spot offers up one of the best selections of Patagonian wine to be found in the city – and very well priced.

The following two reviews got left off the page, which, given the start of the column takling about a number of restaurants, made no sense. Reproduced here:

Divina Patagonia - venison
If you like a homey setting, but want something both a little less rustic and also more classically styled for dinner, head out to Palermo, at Honduras 5710, and grab a seat at Divina Patagonia (they also have a branch in San Telmo, at Balcarce 958), where you can treat yourself to a hearty and creative meal that again ranges the food world. Amongst the more interesting dishes, a roasted loin of wild venison served up with an elderberry and currant packed bitter chocolate sauce, a slow cooked breast of wild boar lacquered in a fresh raspberry puree, or crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside “meatballs” of smoked trout served with a Patagonian Dijon mustard sauce. The wine list carries a good selection of the major commercial brands from both Patagonia and other regions of the country and is fairly priced.

Aires de Patagonia - lamb chops
Possibly you’re in the mood to up the ante and head for one of the lugares de lujo, or ritzy, upscale spots. While everyone likes to make fun of the Puerto Madero refurbished warehouse district and its tourism oriented dining, one of the things to note is that that often means some pretty high quality food – lets face it, tourists can be pretty demanding. For a place that’ll live up to high standards, head on out into the Puerto and get yourself a table at Aires de Patagonia, Alicia M. de Justo 1798, a handsome room, done up in exotic woods from the south like lenga and rauli, that give the room a very classy feel. The food, likewise, with beautifully presented, creative dishes like a fresh crabmeat (centolla), zucchini, and apple salad stacked with phylo dough, or a rack of Patagonian lamb, cordero, leaning up against a slice of leg of lamb, and all juiced up with a reduction of Malbec and a delicious tomato confit. The wine list, strangely, focuses more on selections from Mendoza than Patagonia, but there are definitely some southern gems to be found – not surprisingly, given the locale, both food and wine here are expensive.

infinitus semillon chardonnayWhen it comes to wines, Patagonia isn’t the first spot that comes to most folks minds in regard to Argentina. It’s still a relatively new area for commercial wine-making, with three of the provinces, Rio Negro, Neuquen, and Chubut weighing in with selections. It’s a cool to cold climate for grape-growing, and so not surprisingly, grapes that do well in a chillier environment are showing up as some of the region’s best. On the white side, that has come to mean Semillon, bodega chacraeither on its own or blended, and the current reigning champ in that arena is the Infinitus Semillon-Chardonnay blend with its beautiful flavors of stone fruits, a touch of lanolin, minerals, and a mixed bag of spices. On the red side, unquestionably, Patagonia is producing Argentina’s best Pinot Noirs – in fact, the quality has been so superb that the owner of the famed Sassicaia super-Tuscan blend, NQN Picada 15Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, snapped up a vineyard planted to the grape and has started producing a small quantity of pricey but spectacular Pinot under the name Bodega Chacra. For those whose budget and searching patience doesn’t stretch that far, there are a wide range of lesser priced and more widely available Pinots and other grapes, including a personal favorite blend from NQN winery (Neuquen sans vowels), called Picada 15 – a ripe, fruity, spicy, and delicious blend of Pinot noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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.


Miranda, Moshi-Moshi, Wine Marketing, Rodas Colleción

Cuisine & Vins
August 2007, page 58

cuisine insider tips
Argentina for beginners

It may seem cliche, but let’s face it, younger travelers, e.g., those in their early 20s, are an under-appreciated market by most of the wine and restaurant world. It’s not that there’s not food and drink out there for them, nor that they’re not treated well, but that the focus of most of the hospitality industry’s public relations is aimed at either business travelers, retired travelers, or successful couples from their late 30s to early 50s. It’s just the way of the world, and a reality based look at where the money is.

It’s also, perhaps, that the younger generation, as a stereotype, tend towards a more limited palate when it comes to food and wine – burgers, pizza, and these days, sushi; and inexpensive wines that are fruity and easy to drink. That’s not to say there’s not a good sized group of “gen-x-ers” who aren’t out to try anything and everything, they’re just not the norm, and it’s one of the reasons they stand out.

There have been attempts in various places to market directly to this untapped market – the most famous, and unfortunately now passed on to other pastures, the magazine Wine-X. But the real spot to get to this market is, as might be intuitively sensed, the internet. The most common are blogs – and there are a lot of them when it comes to wine, and quite a few oriented towards the youth market. Almost every expat or traveling blogger in Buenos Aires writes at some point about the wines that they try, but there’s not a dedicated wine blog here, regardless of the age of its readers – a wide open market for someone who’s up for the task.

The newest use of the internet, however, is the world of videocasting, and for younger wine drinkers, the guru of that world is Gary Vaynerchuk and his Wine Library TV (, where he uses casual street slang, lots of energy, gadgets, and a “hey, I’m one of you” approach to educating younger consumers about just exactly what wine is all about. Having talked with some local wine experts here, his marketing skills are held up in awe, and I’d think it won’t be long before Argentina offers up its own version of this sort of online marketing.

These two reviews were left off the page, inadvertently, when an art editor left the bottom half of the page blank, and no one caught it.

So, assuming you’re one of the folks I’m talking about, where do you go to find yourself surrounded by locals, or even expats, but those “in the know” when it comes to food and wine. First off, we know, part of the reason you’re here is the steak. But the last thing you want to do is go hang out at a smoke filled parrilla packed with families with screaming kids, guidebook toting tourists who haven’t quite figured out they’re not in a country where English is the primary language, or surrounded by couples who’ve been coming in and having the same meal at the same place for the last thirty years. You want hip, hot, and happening, and you want good steak and good wine. Not surprisingly, head yourself out to Palermo Hollywood, and grab a table at Miranda, Costa Rica 5602, where the music rocks, the decor is casual, modern industrial, the staff speak your language (no matter what your native tongue is), the portions are decent, and the prices are fair. You can eat at the bar and chat with your neighbors, grab a low couch in the lounge, or hit that table right up by the open kitchen and make friends with the guy cooking your steak.

Moshi-Moshi - sushi
Now, if you’re here for any length of time, we know you’re going to want your sushi fix. Buenos Aires isn’t known for its sushi – there’s plenty of it here, and it’s decent quality, if a bit heavy on combinations with cream cheese. But, it tends to be limited to salmon, and possibly salmon. Yes, you’ll get the occasional white fish, or a shrimp, or canned tuna, but there’s simply nowhere here offering the variety of sushi that folks from most other food capitals are used to. However, for a decent variety, and a room with a trendy vibe, good cocktails, an actual selection of sakes and wines, and service with just the right dose of attitude, head out to the new restaurant district in Las Cañitas and pop upstairs to Moshi-Moshi, Ortega y Gasset 1707. You’ll shell out a few extra pesos over what you might spend at most sushi bars in the city, but the quality, variety, and the chance to find yourself in a crowd of local twenty-somethings makes it worth every centavo.

RodasOn the wine front, one of the most common things I get asked, is how to learn the differences between different grapes. Beyond the old adage of just try, try, try, until you get it, which can cost a fortune, is the opportunity to find someone producing wines that are designed with just this in mind. Well known producer Bodegas Esmeralda produces a line of wines called Rodas Colección 12 – a dozen different individual varietals, white, pink, and red, made without oak aging, so they emphasize the pure flavors of the individual grapes. Best of the lot, their Petite Verdot, but they’re all a great way to educate your palate.

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.