My second round with Fodor’s Buenos Aires: with Side Trips to Iguazú Falls, Gaucho Country & Uruguay (Full-color Travel Guide), completing an overhaul of the entire dining section that I started with the previous edition.
Tag Archive: Restaurants
It’s an ever changing thing to answer the question, “What’s your favorite… X?” It’s also probably the most common question I get asked both by e-mail and in person by guests at Casa S. Recently, luxury travel magazine The Address asked me the same and gave me a whole bunch of pages to answer the question. And so I did. Click here to read the article.
My first time working with Fodor’s Buenos Aires: With Side Trips to Gaucho Country, Iguazu, and Uruguay (Full-color Travel Guide), starting to revamp the entire dining section. Hopefully, I’ll get another round with them and get to complete the process, and take it on from there.
May 12, 2011
Noel Coward famously said, “Sunburn is very becoming, but only when it is even – one must be careful not to look like a mixed grill.” While we can all understand not wanting to look like one, most of us would be happy to look at one, and then chow down. Here in Buenos Aires, the mixed grill, or parrillada, is everywhere. You can take yourself, your significant other, and all your friends out and dig into a platters of innards and cuts of beef, chicken, pork, and perhaps other meats at any of seemingly thousands of parrillas. We set out to find some different options, hot off the grill.
The Mixed Veg
First to come to mind were vegetables. Sometimes, we’re just starved for the things, and the typical offering of an ensalada mixto with tomato, lettuce and onion, or the steakhouse staple of chard or spinach a la crema, just won’t cut it. We want a selection, and we want it grilled. The hands-down winner we found is the still trendy, modern style Miranda, a parrilla where it’s not just about what you’re eating, but who you’re eating with. For just over 50 pesos they serve up a good sized platter with half a grilled onion, slabs of potato and sweet potato, wedges of butternut squash, slices of zucchini, eggplant and red bell peppers. If we have any objection, it was to the unnecessary fluff of lettuce leaves garnishing the center of the plate. It’s pretty to look at, but it wasn’t grilled. Miranda, corner of Fitz Roy & Costa Rica, Palermo, 4771-4255.
Sometimes we want more surf than turf, and our thoughts turn to fish and shellfish. With the recent departure of our favorite river fish grill, Jangada, we had to start searching anew. Turns out there are a slew of great parrilladas del mar sailing the high seas of Buenos Aires and we’ve only begun to call in at port and check them out. So far, our favorite is Fervor, a pricey, special meal out kind of spot in the heart of old Recoleta. Coming in at over the 200 peso mark (with a half portion reaching 185, pictured), when you consider how pricey seafood tends to be in this city, and that the full portion will easily feed four while the half will, well, feed two, it’s not as hard to swallow. And the food certainly isn’t – two options, either del mar which contains two of the chef’s selections from the fish of the day (rotating between over a dozen options), scallops, calamarette, prawns, and octopus, while the de mariscos offers up more of the same shellfish and leaves aside the fillets. Perfectly cooked, well seasoned, and served up with a trio of housemade dipping sauces and wedges of lemon. Fervor: Brasas del Campo y del Mar, Posadas 1519, 4804-4944.
We know that pizza is nature’s most perfect food, properly encompassing the right balance of whichever set of food groups you choose to subscribe to. Though not as common as it ought to be, one of our favorite porteño contributions to the pizza world are some of the best grilled pizzas we’ve found, anywhere. Hidden away, almost like that slightly “off” aunt that every family has and only trots out at the occasional social gathering, pizza a la parrilla is a gem to behold. And eat. It’s a tough decision as to who offers up the best version, but certainly the easiest to find, and up there in the top couple, would be either branch of Morelia. Cracker thin crust, perfectly charred and delivering up that beautiful smoky grill flavor, and topped with a thin drizzle of olive oil, a whisper of sauce, and your choice of toppings (our favorite is the montecattini with prosciutto, arugula and olives), just barely warmed atop, the pizzas come in 4, 6, or 8 piece sizes (ranging, depending on size and toppings, from roughly 50 to 100 pesos). Morelia, Humboldt 2005 in Palermo, 4772-5979 and Báez 260 in Las Cañitas, 4772-0329, plus one out of town up in La Lucila at Av. Libertador 3499, 4799-7377.
Particularly for those of us from the U.S., there are moments when we miss a good old-fashioned backyard barbecue. Asados just aren’t the same thing. We want meat that’s cooked “low and slow” until it’s so tender it falls off the bone – come to think of it, we want that the meat was cooked on the bone in the first place, it adds flavor! And sometimes, we want barbecue sauce. And what better place to find something of that sort than Bar BQ, where an Argentine owner who spent time in the States licking his fingers in front more wood, charcoal and gas fired grills than you can shake a stick at, brings us his version. And no disappointments were had – with multiple visits under our belts and tasters from Michigan, Colorado, Texas and New York, only the last of those had anything less than glowing reviews, and what do New Yorkers know about barbecue? Hibachis on the fire escape? Beautiful pork baby back ribs or equally shining beef short ribs are lacquered in a tangy sweet sauce with what tastes to us like a tinge of coffee, either running about 70 pesos. The smoky pulled pork sandwich brought tears to our eyes though we did have a debate about pickles on the sandwich (Texas and Michigan vote yes, Colorado and New York vote no), coming in just under 50 pesos. Home sweet home. Bar BQ, El Salvador 5800 in Palermo, 4779-9124.
We can’t totally ignore Argentina’s meat laden famed asado, and there’s no reason we should. One of the things that many of us wish we could do is attend a few more of those backyard family versions, with all the social interactions attendant. And when friends come to visit, it’d be great to not just take them to the same old neighborhood steakhouse or tourist trap version they read about in every guidebook out there. Brand spanking new to the scene is an option to create your own family for the night at the shared table of Adentro Dinner Club. Here, hosts Gabriel and Kelly, respectively Argentine and norteamericana, welcome you to their home in one of the latest of the burgeoning puertas cerradas movement. From mom’s empanada recipe to platters of achurras, the “parts is parts” round, plump prawns, amazing vegetables, and thick, juicy, perfectly cooked slabs of meat, accompanied by wine and followed by exquisite desserts, you get to join a table of strangers, who, by the end of the night will be fast friends. Coming in at 220 pesos a person it seems a bit steep, but it’s all you can eat, and a social experience that can’t be beat. Adentro Dinner Club, in Palermo (address provided with reservation).
Special WUBA guest Dan Perlman opens his home to visitors in one of Buenos Aires’ premier puertas cerradas, Casa Saltshaker.
Insiders Guide 2009
Just a quick trio of new reviews for the guide
Astrid & Gastón
The onslaught of Peruvian-Asian fusion restaurants is new to Buenos Aires, but not to star chef Gastón Arcurio, who has been experimenting with these flavors for years throughout his global empire of 38 restaurants. The question on everyone’s lips when his chef protege Roberto Grau took the reins here in Buenos Aires was, will locals eat this food? Very smartly, Roberto toned down the heat levels during the first few weeks and inched them up to find the right balance between the restaurant’s notable style and the tolerance level of porteño palates. The food is beautifully presented and complexly flavored and is accompanied by a smartly chosen wine and selection of pisco cocktails. Desserts are impeccable as is the service. The one downside, perhaps, is the decor of the dining rooms whose near glowing vermilion and off-green walls are reminiscent of being sat down in the middle of a cocktail olive. A&G is up there on the price scale, so be prepared to stretch your credit limit.
Astrid & Gastón, Lafinur 3222, Palermo chico, 4802-2991
While all the rage seems to be Peruvian-Asian fusion, chef Rafael Rivera Danila has struck out along the path of Peruvian fused with Mediterranean, an idea whose time was probably long overdue. Danila turns out inspired combinations like lasagna filled with one of our favorite Peruvian dishes, ají de gallina and one of the best causas we’ve ever had – a room temp mashed potato dish topped with seafood, paired not only with its perfectly cooked prawns atop, but deliciously juicy breaded fish gougeres on the side. In addition, the restaurant has one of the most handsome rooms in the city, beautifully decked out in a mix of Peruvian artifacts and handicrafts set against expanses of neat brick, panes of glass, and a waiting lounge that doubles as a small garden. Service is beyond reproach. While expensive, PozoSanto is not outrageous, and the food is well worth it.
PozoSanto, El Salvador 4968, Palermo, 4833-1611
Pan y Arte
The new hot spot for the food cognoscenti is the up and coming barrio of Boedo. While no one has yet opened up (thankfully) a bastion of haute cuisine, it is home to small parrillas and cafés that serve up some of the city’s better Argentine cuisine. This spot stands out as, perhaps the sole producer in town of Mendocino cooking. Among the best of the offerings is Pizza al campo mendocino, a smoky-crusted version with fresh tomatoes, herbs, and a wonderfully tangy fresh-made farmer’s cheese. There’s a changing roster of local artwork on display, a terrace for special events, and outdoor seating where you can sit and watch the local nightlife pass by. Service is friendly and casual, prices are easy on the wallet, and you can proudly proclaim your food-insider status having eaten in a neighborhood other than Recoleta, Palermo or San Telmo.
Pan y Arte, Av. Boedo 878, Boedo, 4957-6702
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.
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.
This exciting and inexpensive South American city is well known for its historic landmarks, beautiful parks, and excellent art museums. It is also an easy-going culture, where stopping to chat with friends, lingering over a coffee in a sidewalk café, or enjoying a glass of one of the country’s great wines at a local bar, all take precedence over any business appointment or preplanned event. Despite being located in a very conservative, Catholic with a capital C, country, the city of Buenos Aires itself is a bastion of liberality. Same-sex domestic partnerships have been legal since 2003, with a proposed full marriage ill up for debate. Gay bars abound, and restaurants that cater to our set are scattered throughout the various neighborhoods. Meanwhile, curious travelers will discover a plethora of entertainment, shopping, and nightlife options to rival any of the world’s great cities.
RESTING YOUR HEAD
Among the most popular spots for gay travelers are the gay owned bed and breakfasts. the two principal ones are Lugar Gay in the historic San Telmo neighborhood, and Bayres in Palermo, the former being men-only, the latter mixed gender. Another favorite, Posada de Palermo, in Palermo, has wonderfully comfortable rooms, great prices, and one of the best breakfast spreads in the city. For those on a budget, the End of the World Gay Hostel, on the border of San Telmo and La Boca, is a relatively new option. It’s a somewhat seedy neighborhood, but the place is clean and well kept, and transportation is easily available to other parts of town.
Celebrating its first anniversary this year, the self-proclaimed “five-star” Axel Hotel, located just outside of San Telmo in Monserrat, is becoming the new in-spot for the upscale gay traveler. A gleaming architectural triumph of glass and steel, it houses four dozen rooms, two pools (including a completely glass one located on the roof, hovering over a six story open lobby). The Axel’s one drawback is its location on a deserted (at night) industrial street, but then, anyone staying at the Axel is likely to have no problem springing for a taxi to more interesting zones.
Other gay-friendly options include the Art Hotel in Recoleta, which offers up quite nice, if slightly small, rooms at a very reasonable price, and boasts an excellent multilingual staff. On the fancier side is the Faena + Universe, situated on the far side of the refurbished warehouse and dock area known as Puerto Madero. It’s a fair hike from the rest of town, and sort of like taking a room at the South Street Seaport in New York or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. It’s one of the finest hotels in the city and it features two excellent restaurants, a couple of delightful bars, and its own art galleries.
Meanwhile, the new Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt is attracting jet setters to its converted mansion packed with amazing artwork, several restaurants, and one of the few true wine bars in the city. Smaller boutique hotels that offer more personalized service are springing around the city as well. The two most well known, and among the best options, are the Home Hotel and the Bobo, both located in the heart of Palermo’s trendy design district.
EAT, DRINK, & BE MERRY
Porteños (port dwellers), as the local citizens call themselves, seem to spend more time in restuarants and cafés than they do at home or work. It does help that the North American/European penchant for “turning tables” is non-existent in Buenos aires; once seated, the table is yours until you care to leave, whether you order anything past your first coffee, cocktail, or appetizer…or not. It would be unthinkable of a restaurant to even suggest that you might order more, or free up the space for a more spendthrift customer – it’s just not done. With free Wi-Fi access in most of the central part of town, whiling away the day at a table is de rigeur.
Among the spots in the city where you can enjoy a quiet dinner, Desde el Alma in Palermo is considered by many to be the most romantic in town. A converted home with small tables and comfortable chairs stuck in various nooks and crannies, this hot spot offers creative takes on Argentine cuisine, and you can count on virtually every customer being paired up for date night.
On the gay front, the petite La Olla de Felix, located in the heart of Recoleta, can’t be beat. Here you will find simple, classic French food at a great price from the former chef of the Ritz-Carlton in Paris. Empire Thai, located in the heart of downtown, is home to some of the better Asian food in the city. Owner Kevin Rodriguez, a former banker, fell in love with this restaurant while visiting Buenos Aires on a business trip. When he heard the owners were selling it, he quit his bank job and bought the place.
For those who want truly exquisite culinary experiences, the modern Argentine stylings of various chefs await your discovery. These include: Germán Martitegui’s trendy and expensive Casa Cruz in Palermo where an ever present bevy of cute youngsters brings some of the best food in town to your table; Martin Molteni’s amazing cuisine at Pura Tierra is served up in a beautiful old home in Blegrano; Rodrigo Ginzuk’s stunning French-Argentine fusion cuisine at Maat, a gorgeously restored palacio in Bellgrano – officially a private club, but open to the public when not filled with members; and Fernando Mayoral’s borderline “molecular gastronomy”style served up at Thymus, in Palermo. All are don’t miss spots.
If you find yourself in need of English-speaking company, Amaranta Bistro in Recoleta prepares an odd mix of US, Mexican, and Italian cooking in a café environment with virtually all customers speaking English in one form or another. They also offer one of the better brunches in town.
THE NIGHT IS YOUNG
There’s no one district in the city that is particularly gay, though there’s been a push to declare historic San Telmo as the heart of the gay community. This is an odd choice, given that outside of one B&B (and the nearbynew hostel and hotel, both mentioned above) and the odd business here and there, there’s no gay nightlife to speak of here.
Most nightlife, gay or straight, begins late in Buenos Aires. It’s not unusual for a club to open around midnight, with bars opening not much earlier. Drag and stripper shows are popular in many venues. One of the few places open for an earlier drink is Flux Bar, located in Retiro near to downtown, where an after-work crowd gathers in an underground space hosted by owners Jamie Taylor and Ilia Konon.
A hotspot for gathering (locally called a punta de encuentro) is the area in Recoleta near to the intersection of avenues Pueyrredón and Santa Fé. Here you’ll find the casual café El Olmo, a spot to meet with friends before heading out for a night of drinking and dancing, as well as a place to pickup local taxi-boys, or hustlers. Within a few block radius are several gay bars, including the ever popular Search for its late night shows, Km Zero for its dancers, and Angel’s Disco for its transvestite and rough-trade crowd. On the far side of Recoleta, bordering on Palermo, the city’s largest barrio, are the large clubs Amerika and Glam. These p;laces are generally packed with boys who want to dance the night away, and/or disappear into the “dark rooms.” Just a few blocks away is the new kid in town called Sitges, with a mix of young gay, lesbian, and straight folk in a large lounge-style space that rivals Amerika in size, though with a focus on drag shows and lots of drinking.
FIRMING AND TONING
After a few late nights of drinking, dining, and dancing (not to mention sightseeing packed days) you’ll probably need to relax and rejuvenate a bit. Full spa treatments are available at almost all the luxury hotels, regardless of whether you’re a guest of the hotel or not. A few hours spent at the popular Markus Day Spa in Recoleta will set you feeling right as well. Inexpensive massages are available throughout the city: most hotels have someone on call or at least someone to recommend. If you’re in or near Recoleta, the Centro Cultural Chino along Santa Fé doles out deep-tissue acupressure-style massages. The same is available at any of several locations in Belgrano’s small Chinatown neighborhood.
When it comes to working out, porteños, for the most part, aren’t into the whole muscle building world. Gyms are social spots, and working out is more for simply keeping healthy and looking good rather than developing large biceps. Most gyms, and they’re all over the city, offer up daily or weekly rates that are quite inexpensive. Amongst the gay set, the friendly and fairly “hot” gym is the American Hot Gym in Recoleta. The one real “chain” gym in the city is called Megatlon, a very sleek, modern group with spaces in multiple locations. They cater to the expat and wealthy crowd, with a large number of gay men in attendance, and their prices are pretty much the same as you’d pay in the States.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
While most travel guides will send you off to the famed pedestrian mall that is Calle Florida, the truth is, you won’t find anything there that you can’t find back home, including the same brands, and probably at the same price. Where Buenos Aires stands out is with its legion of young, hip designers.
For the designer set, head off into the aptly named Palermo SoHo. Here, you’ll find the streets lined with one shop after another, interspersed with enough restaurants and cafes to give you a spot to rest while you shop. For the guys, start off along Gurruchaga, in the 1700 block (near Costa Rica Street) at the well known El Cid, the best spot for anyone into the preppy look. Some of the hottest sweater designs, sport jackets, and classic style shirts line the racks here. For the gals, the neighboring Vietnam: Moda offers up some trendy local takes on Asian design.
If you’re a bit more informal than the preppy type, visit the completely hip and casual Antique Denim shop just a block away, where new takes on old jeans and vintage clothing makeovers are the order of the day. A mere block further on you’ll find yourself at Bolivia, which somehow manages to combine gay style and equally intriguing designs for women as well.
Moving over to the parallel Armenia Street, women discover trendy suburban and country style looks at Awada, or edgy, urban designs at Janet Wise . For those missing out on their high end skin care products, Kiehl’s of New York has just opened up a Buenos Aires branch on the same block, bringing in their whole range of products direct from the Big Apple.
There are plenty of other shops to poke your head into along the way, but there are two musts to end your neighborhood stroll. For the obys, there’s simply no gayer design shop than Garçon García. Here the clothes are beyond trendy and you may need to use a fire extinguisher on the staff just to cut back on their flaming.
Meanwhile, the lesbian set, especially those with a true shoe fetish, have to end their walk at Lucila Iotti where some of the hottest designs in multi-textural footwear are on display in the teensiest of shops.
Outside of designer clothes, Buenos Aires is, of course, famous for its leather. The heart of the leather world, offering everything from clutch purses to full length dusters, is the three block wholesale leather district along Murillo Street. This is where you’ll find not only the best designs, but the best prices. Probably the best known shop for visitors is 666, conveniently located along the street at that same address.
If you’re looking for home furnishings and décor, by far the best spot to head is the Buenos Aires Design Center, located in the heart of old Recoleta. The design center is a two story complex containing a couple dozen shops, each specializing in one form or another of objets d’art for the home. If you reach the end of the shop till you drop day here, the upper level has a selection of restaurants, from the very casual Hard Rock Café to Primafila, one of the better Italian spots int eh city and a renowned spot for celebrity watching.
ART = LIFE
Buenos Aires is known for its art and architecture, and there are wonderful museums and galleries throughout the city to explore. For those who simply want a taste of what the city has to offer, there’s a convenient strip of museums, sort our own Museum Mile, that begins at the Palais de Glace with its photo and plastic arts exhibits, generally with a historical and political bent; the Recoleta Cultural Center, a free multi-space museum cum gallery that hosts a regularly changing array of works by contemporary and classic Argentine artists; the Bellas Artes, or fine arts museum, with its stunning collection of 17th- to 19th-century European art; the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo, a beautifully restored palace with each room decked out from a different colonial period, showing off the changing fashions of home design over the last two centuries; and MALBA, one of the finest private collections of modern and contemporary Latin American art. If you only have time to visit one museum, I highly recommend the Xul Solar museum – they say there’s a fine line between genius and madness, and this artist’s work may be one of the most amazing demonstrations of that truism.
Of course, you may prefer art that will end up on your walls at home. While there are galleries throughout the city, there is also one spot where some of the best are concentrated, the short, two-block Arroyo street on the edge of hte downtown area. Centered around the Sofitel hotel, this duo of blocks hosts galleries that contain everything from centuries’ old classic European art at places like Santo Stefano and Renoir, to contemporary galleries such as Palatina, Aldo de Souza, and the Holz that showcase local artists.
If antiquing and flea market wandering is more your style, you can’t miss the weekly Sunday afternoon outdoor market in San Telmo, centered around the Plaza Dorrego and stretching out along the main street of Defensa. During the week, the same Defensa street is home to some of the finest antique shops in the city, and an afternoon of browsing will likely net you something for your collection.
Passport magazine is a relatively new, ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay travel magazine. My friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who have owned and run QSF magazine for many years, launched this publication recently. It has received industry accolades. They asked me to come along and write the occasional article for this venture as well.
Buenos Aires for Visitors
We salute the emergence of a new wave of chefs unafraid of mixing tradition with innovation.
With a focus on new uses for local and regional ingredients, Martín Molteni, chef at Pura Tierra, is experimenting with feverish intensity to find the best ways to use those products that Argentinians have forgotten are part of their heritage – quinoa, amaranth, herbs, wild game and fish. In his view, ‘Argentina is a nation in search of a culinary identity… it is the responsibility of chefs to not just help someone get their certification but to develop their future, their palates and their curiosity.’
Chef Molteni takes classic regional dishes – primarily fish and game dishes, and others which utilzie these lost ingredients – carefully deconstructs them, and puts them back together as spectacularly presented plates that would not be out of place in a top dining establishment in any food capital of the world.
One of the things he focuses on is the lack of inspiration and drive among young chefs to get themselves out there and learn, experience and grow. His approach with both staff and customers is to guide them through tasting the purity of individual ingredients, each prepared in a variety of ways that show off, say, a tomato, at its best. a recent visit showcased them at their best: cured bondiola, one of Argentina’s favorite cold-cuts, alongside amazingly small cubes of fresh tomato; an intense tomato compote served beneath a locally made artesanal burrata cheese; and moments later a cut of ocean-fresh corvina atop roasted tomatoes. He is working to generate in others the same curiosity that he discovered in himself as he spent 16 years working in other chefs’ kitchens in Argentina, Australia and France.
For his part, chef Javier Urondo, of Urondo Bar in Parque Chacabuco, takes as his creative starting point what the average visitor or local might consider the ‘cuisine of Buenos Aires’ – tablas, milanesas, steak, french fries, and so on. His plates are easily recognizable as Argentinian. As he puts it, ‘I like to serve everyday dishes with something simple and different that makes them surprising.’ A perfect example would be a beautifully seared steak served with a spicy garlic puree and accompanied by a risotto flavored with his home-made horseradish mustard; or his signature copetín, a classic collection of vegetables and meat hors d’oeuvres that any Argentinian would recognize – until they bite in and experience the influence of exotic herbs and spices, a different technique applied to each one. He sees hope for the future of local cuisine, with new sources of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and dairy emerging – all things that Argentina excels at producing, but historically has exported rather than offered to its own citizens. However, as more locals travel, and more foreigners arrive, the interest and demand for ‘something more’ has arisen.
Some of this demand is being satisfied by ‘ethnic’ restaurants serving cuisine from Asia or other Latin American countries. Some is being addressed by the culinary vanguard, with modern techniques and presentations and a strong European or North American base. More recently, there’s been a quietly growing movement of ‘modern Argentinian’ cooking, with chefs like the two profiled above and others like Diego Félix at Casa Félix and Martín Baquero at Almanza, taking the lead. Local dining is already looking more interesting.
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.
Buenos Aires for Visitors
Brush up your skills in the fine art of grazing
Whether you want to call it grazing, small plate food, dim sum, meze, tapas or a chef’s tasting menu, what we’re talking about is gettin gthe chance to sample a lot of small bites of different, interesting food at one sitting. It’s a different way of eating from the traditional three-course dinner, and it tantalizes your palate in a different manner – and makes choosing a dish less of an all-or-nothing situation. It’s also, with the exception of buffet-style eating, fairly new for Buenos Aires.
While many Argentinian restaurants offer what’s called a tabla, it’s often little more than a platter of cold-cuts, cheese and olives. One exception is Breoghan in San Telmo, where you can choose from an array of tablas that offer up exquisite delicacies from Patagonia – fish, game, cheese, vegetables and fruits, in any combination your heart desires – or go for it all with the grand Quimey, a little bite of everything on the menu.
On the tapas side, there’s really only one choice, and thankfully, it’s a good one. Tancat (Paraguay 645, 4312 5442) in the Microcentro offers up a large array of tasty grilled and fried dishes and specializes in seafood and vegetables. While you can grab a table with friends and hang out and order a bit of this and a bit of that, the best thing to do here is to seat yourself at the long bar and start pointing.
When it comes to a chef’s tasting menu, there are three standout places, all of them offering up creatives twists on Argentinian fare and bringing in dishes and flavors from other parts of the world. In the cozy, inviting setting of Thymus you can din on seared duck breast, melt-on-your-tongue lamb’s tongue, or gorgeous roast quail. Or, get yourself into the funky and creative fare at De Olivas i Lustres (Gorriti 3972, Palermo Viejo, 4867 3388), where you’ll find your tastebuds tantalized by plate after plate of little one-bite hors d’oeuvres like ceviche sandwiches, passionfruit alphabet ‘soup’, or the strange sounding but delicious melted cheese with poppyseed caramel. If you really want to put your palate through its paces, you’ll be pleased to know that BA is now home to one of the disciples of Ferran Adrià of Spain’s El Bulli: At La Vinería de Gaulterio Bolivar in San Telmo, you can sample your way through 11 plates of ever-changing, creative cocina de vanguardia, each dish expertly paired with a local wine.
For those who want to step outside traditional or modern Argentinian cuisine, it’s worht nothing that there are two spots that offer up Chinese dim sum (not the classic cart service, but menus that list dozens of options for small plates that you can spread over your table and sample). They are Shi Yuan (Tagle 2531, 4804 0607) in Recoleta, which is also one of the better Chinese restaurants in town, and a few blocks away, Cinco Corderos (Avenida Las Heras 2920, 4806 9466). BA is also home to a very large Armenian community, as well as substantial Syrian and Lebanese ones, and two spots where you can sample lots of such specialties are Sarkis, where you shouldn’t miss the hummus or tabouleh salad, and Cheff Iusef (Malabia 1378, 4773 0450), with its spectacular kebbe de levanie, Both are in Palermo.
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.