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Eating My Way Through Buenos Aires


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[...] after my first lunch at Café Tortoni, I stopped by Piola for a second lunch [...]

That's my boy!

BTW, if the pizza in the foreground is the margherita, to me that is way too much cheese. But it's too bad the cheese's excess salt didn't at least make up for the sauce's lack of it. Sounds like the crust was good, though. By far the most important part of pizza, in my book.

(Take all these comments with a grain of salt. I thought the Piola in NYC was pretty mediocre, so maybe I'm a little biased. I still remember them cracking black pepper on my pizza. Black pepper...)

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BTW, if the pizza in the foreground is the margherita...

haha! it's hilarious that there is any kind of doubt, considering the other pizzas are green and rainbow colored. definitely -- the cheese-sauce ratio was waaaay off.

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La Caballeriza

Alicia Moreau de Justo 580

I discovered this upscale parilla by chance while waiting for a table at the restaurant next door, Cabaña Las Lilas. I decided to take a little trip next door to glance at the menu -- no harm in looking, I say. On my approach to the menu, I briefly laughed at the flock of people hovering around the doors to the restaurant waiting for a table, sticking together to stay warm. The menu looked enticingly carnivorous with most of the entrees being different cuts of meat. I knew I’d be taking a trip back here at some point to do more than window shopping.

We arrived around 10:30pm on a Wednesday night to find that this weeknight was no exception to me becoming part of the crowd of people I once laughed hovering outside and waiting for a table. The wait, we were told, would be nearly an hour. For a brief moment my friends considered walking down the strip of Puerto Madero restaurants to find another place. Never a good idea with a group of people, in my book, to start thinking about a new restaurant when the wait is only an hour -- by the time you figure out where you want to go there’re only twenty minutes left anyway. We walked around for a little, thinking of another place to go, and by the time we reached a consensus, it’d already been fourty minutes. So, we headed back to the restaurant and decided to wait it out. It was possible to wait inside, we discovered, so long as we ordered a drink at the bar. Great excuse for a Capiairinas. The time started to pass much faster once inside with our Brazilian national cocktails until we were seated around midnight.

The restaurant, like every other restaurant in Puerto Madero, had that new restaurant smell. Or, a surprising lack of smell, that is. Everything was impeccably clean, well-lit and, it was clear that on my departure from this restaurant, I would not be smelling like a grilled sirloin. The warm space was impressively large; but low ceilings and wooden tables with gaucho artifacts broke up the space into more approachable areas. The interior was very similar to Cabaña Las Lilas; but something, hard to pinpoint exactly what, just seemed more genuine. Perhaps it was because the restaurant wasn’t trying to trick me into thinking I was eating on cattle farm ... as in, there were no lassos hanging from the ceiling. And, while all were completely packed, everyone appeared to be speaking spanish. Nice.

When the waitress came over to introduce herself, she didn’t proceed to explain how things were done in the restaurant, nor did she bring over plates of “traditional” appetizers to feast on as one would imagine being done somewhere in Argentina-land, Epcot Center. She pointed out the meat section of the menu, took our drink orders, and left the decision process up to us. And a tough decision we faced -- why can't we try all the cuts? We decided to split two simple vegetable salads to start, and I opted with the bife de lomo, juicy, for a main course.

There was nothing particularly memorable about the salads except that one of them used canned corn, which is never good. The aluminum flavor was masked by the strength of the vinaigrette; but the telling chewy texture and dull yellow gradient said everything. To be fair, it’s pretty common for Argentine restaurants to use canned corn in salads, even relatively nice places. Vegetables just aren’t taken very seriously. But still, there's no excuse -- it tastes terrible.

Then came the good stuff. The bife de lomo was served a la carte, just a great cut of meat on a fresh white plate. A really nice smell, one of the firsts of the evening, came my way as the plate was set in front of me: the smokiness of the parilla. They honored my request for rare, which I appreciated, as my plate soon filled with nature’s natural sauce. While a little leaner than I would have hoped for bife de lomo, it was incredibly succulent, tender, and earthy -- more thumbs up for grass-fed cows.

None of the desserts on the menu looked particularly interesting in this steak-centric restaurant; but, I wanted something sweet. So, I asked for vanilla ice cream with dulce de leche and fresh rasberries on the side. I was brought a mountain of ice cream (4 scoops), a second bowl of dulce de leche, and a third bowl of raspberries in syrup. Very kind, my waitress was. My bowl of DDL likely had twice the caloric intake of my appetizer and main course combined. While it was satisfying and was more than I had asked for, I ultimately could have taken a trip to Freddo or Persico for more variety of flavor.

At first being disappointed by the salad, I was immediately cheered up by the tender steak, kind service, and abundance of porteños eating beside me until 2am. The steak was certainly the highlight of the night, which is what one would hope for, as this is a parilla. I would recommend this place as an alternative to Cabaña Las Lilas, both for quality of service, authenticity, quality of food, and price. Just don’t set your expectations sky high for food other than steak.

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Yeah, I'd agree that Piola is just sort of average pizza. They are an international chain after all, and certainly not representative of local Argentine pizza. While certainly of better quality than something like Pizza Hut, for me, going to Piola is sort of the equivalent here - they've imported their menu, style, etc., from another country to try to "show the locals" how it's done...

El Trapiche is a great choice for an inexpensive parrilla, one of our favorites and regular spots to dine out when in that neighborhood.

SaltShaker - Casting a little flavor (and a few aspersions) on the world of food, drink, and life

Casa SaltShaker - Restaurant de Puertas Cerradas

Spanish-English-Spanish Food & Wine Dictionary - a must for any traveler!

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By the way, I bought my copy of SaltShaker, Spanish - English - Spanish Food & Wine Dictionary, by Dan Pearlman (Saltshaker). I made the mistake of not getting it before I came down here; but I finally got a copy, thanks Dan!

The book is an absolute must for anyone traveling to a Spanish-speaking country who has an interest in food. Frankly, it's the only one of its kind that I've seen -- try to get it before traveling, it'll save you a hassle. The book not only contains essential food translations; but, it also has useful verbs like tasquear (to go on a bar crawl).

http://www.lulu.com/content/987508

Edited by ajgnet (log)
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Hi there! Being in BA for a month as well and definitely intending to test out many of these restaurants, I'll try to contribute here a bit as soon as I understand how to add pictures and so on.... In the meanwhile some pictures, mixed in with tourist shots, sorry, are available under: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12249870@N07/...57602050682484/. I'll try to make a food only collection soon promised.

By the way, I bought my copy of SaltShaker, Spanish - English - Spanish Food & Wine Dictionary, by Dan Pearlman (Saltshaker).  I made the mistake of not getting it before I came down here; but I finally got a copy, thanks Dan!

did you find it in BA ? I would be interested in getting one.

Still unsure of what exactly it was, there was a distinct taste of both rubber and soap. The aftertaste of this was so strong...

haha. are you sure it wasn't Argentina's signature drink, namely Fernet Branca + Coke? I have both read in my guide and heard from my friends that it tasted like ... mouthwash. In spite of this I think I'll have to try it to satisfy my curiosity ...

On a more gastronomic note:

I went to Dashi yesterday ... very disappointed. Most sushi rolls were either filled with philadelphia cheese (which I otherwise like, but not in every roll please) or somehow fried. It was quite expensive and nowhere such a positive experience as Osaka, which I can strongly recommend! More on this once I get the pictures sorted.

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Bar Uriarte

Uriarte 1572

My friend wanted to take a small group out for her birthday to a relatively “cool” restaurant that also had “cool” food to match. After an experience at Uriarte with my sister two weeks ago where I did not bring my camera (what a shame), I suggested repeating it … both because I thought it fit what my friend was looking for (hip/trendy but also good food), and because I wanted to take some pictures to share.

Like many restaurants in Palermo Viejo, Bar Uriarte is long and narrow. The open kitchen is in the front of the restaurant, right next to the door, and it’s the first thing people see (and smell) when they walk in. On the edge of the kitchen is a counter where the well-presented dishes await table service under bright halogen spots. This meant that, while talking to the Maitre’d, my eyes and attention were elsewhere. I arrived on time, which apparently meant way too early, because I was the first one there. I decided to sit down at the bar to wait for everyone else to arrive. I ordered a Caipirinha and started talking with the person next to me who was also waiting for her friends. Shortly after, I found my friends walking down from the second floor staircase … they had been waiting for me upstairs! After a few minutes of “you should have checked upstairs/downstairs” we were led down the long hallway of a restaurant to our table. Dark and comfortable couches line the front of the restaurant opposite the bar and kitchen, while the dining tables are in the back and on the second floor. Most of the diners seemed to be foreign, as they were either speaking in english or reading english menus. But don’t be too concerned about the touristy vibes of the restaurant; your opinion will change very quickly once the food arrives.

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We started off with some bread and a bottle of red wine. The bread was of three varieties: whole wheat, white, and country, none of which were baked on the premises. We decided we’d be ordering mostly meat, and since we only wanted one bottle of wine, we went with a Malbec, Tapiz 2005. Tasted somewhat like cherries. For appetizers, we decided to order 3 dishes and split them: Calamari Marinated in Thyme, Garlic, and Lime Juice, Veal Carpaccio with Capers, Almonds, Arugula, and Parmesan Cheese, and finally Sautéed Mushrooms in Olive Oil, with Pecorino Cheese and Toasted Pine Nuts. Of these three, the highlight for me were the mushrooms lightly cooked in olive oil which really brought out the earthy flavors. The calamari was close behind, with a firm texture and simple fresh flavor. The veal carpaccio seemed a little texturally imbalanced, as if the dish were half salad (arugula) and half crispy hors d’oeuvre. While I was not quite sure what the lemon was doing on that plate, the meat itself was indeed very soft and clean tasting, and could have easily stood on its own.

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Main courses were equally satisfying: Braised Lamb with Roasted Potatoes and “Green Sauce,” Fresh White Fish Griddled, with Pumpkin Cream, Sweet Fennel, and Tapenade, Herb Stuffed Chicken with Barley, Bacon, and Leeks, and finally Veal Ravioli with Roast Juice, Oyster Mushrooms, Olives and Spinach. Despite the apparent absence of a mysterious green sauce, the highlight of these four courses was the braised lamb. The lamb was served with whole baby carrots, skin and all, which preserved much the raw carrot flavor, despite being tender from a moderate amount of cooking. I also really liked the griddled white fish; I’ve found it difficult to get a fresh cut of fish here and this certainly fit the bill. The pumpkin cream was well-spiced, and the nutty flavors complimented the sweet fennel very nicely. The lamb ravioli was way too watery, which can be seen from the picture. I felt like it was more like a lamb dumpling thin chinese soup than ravioli. Indeed, the flavor was earthy and pleasant; but, I would have liked something heartier with a thicker sauce that did not require a spoon.

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No dessert this night; but we left that evening very full, and very happy. Despite the restaurant’s swanky decor and intimidatingly attractive wait staff, the service was very warm and professional. This restaurant was a fantastic balance of innovative cuisine with well-balanced traditional flavors. I look forward to the next chance to return.

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Little Rose

Armenia 1672, Palermo Soho

Located on the second floor in one of BA’s (or BsAs as the really cool people say) trendiest areas, Palermo Soho, Little Rose offers Japanese cuisine catered toward the Argentine palate. To gain entrance to this restaurant, I had to ring a buzzer and be escorted up a staircase by the Maitre’d. I explained that I did not have a reservation and even though the restaurant was almost completely empty, my lack of reservation seemed to stir up confusion. Not sure why this always happens in this city. After an available table was “located,” the confusion stopped, and we head to the mesa. Quite frankly, this might be the single sexiest dining room I have seen so far in Buenos Aires. Everything is black: the walls, molding, ceilings, and carpet. The walls are decorated by eerie pictures of vampire-esque children with bright red lips and eyes that seem to follow yours everywhere. The lighting was focused such that while the restaurant was incredibly dark, the food on the table could be easily seen. Each table was wrapped in an intimate curtain of darkness which at times, made me feel like I was the only person eating, even when the restaurant was completely full, even when I could practically touch the table next to mine. It was very romantic, and very sleek at the same time. Even though people seemed to be talking loudly, the restaurant was quiet … must have been the vampire children on the walls working their magic. In the back of the restaurant lies the sushi bar illuminated by a cool blue glow. Very cool space. However, this is certainly not a place for diners seeking an authentic sushi experience; if that’s the case you will leave extremely unfulfilled. But, if salmon is all you seek, be prepared for a special dining experience.

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The menu was pretty much salmon, salmon and cream cheese, smoked salmon, red salmon, and other combinations of salmon and different vegetables. This was a little different from what I had anticipated after taking a recommendation under the “sushi” section of my guidebook. But hey, this is Argentina, and fish (let alone all the varieties found in traditional Japanese sushi) is not very popular. Instead of comparing this “inauthentic” experience to Japan and complaining about how they didn’t have マグロの山掛け(maguro no yamakake — slices of lean tuna with grated japanese mountain potato, perhaps my favorite Japanese sashimi dish of all time), I accepted the restaurant for what it was: a fashionable Argentine sushi house. And for what it was, it was a very cool experience.

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I ordered a pre-selected sushi combo, which came with 8 pieces of salmon sushi, 2 pieces of a salmon and avocado roll, 2 pieces of cooked salmon and cucumber, artificial crab and salmon, and salmon and “philadelphia” (cream cheese). Thankfully, the salmon was very fresh, soft, and lean, or this would have been an unpleasant meal. Admittedly, palate fatigue did begin to set in near the last bite of salmon; but, it was so clean tasting, I found it hard to complain. We skipped formal dessert and, instead, opted for some tea from their extensive collection of teas served in a a cast-iron pot.

If an authentic sushi experience is what you seek, this probably isn’t the right place. But, if you really enjoy salmon, want to see an incredibly unique dining room, and happen to be walking down Armenia after a day of shopping, stop by Little Rose for some sushi and tea. Though, I wouldn’t recommend coming here during daylight — or anytime before 9pm for that matter — it would ruin the lighting effect, something I think that makes the space really special.

Edited by ajgnet (log)
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My sister came down to visit me for a week (how nice of her!). And, since one of her favorite things to do is take afternoon tea, I decided to take her to one of the most well-known places in the city: L’Orangerie at the Alvear Palace Hotel. For most tourists, this hotel restaurant would probably never be on the todo list. It would likely be intentionally excluded because it’s so “not Argentine.” Sure, it is true L’Orangerie is not known for its yerba mate nor for its authentic parilla grill. But, because it’s often so avoided by tourists for the precise reason that it’s not Argentine, the restaurant was full of local Argentine families and couples looking to get dressed up for an afternoon and dine in European style. Ironically, of all the restaurants in the city, this hotel restaurant might be one of the most authentic windows into well-to-do Argentine society.

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Afternoon tea is prix-fixe, which includes unfettered access to the table of french pastries: fruit tortes, mille feuille, dark chocolate cherry and passionfruit cakes, flan, pistachio cookies, tiramisu, pot de creme, and more. Certainly not the place for dieters, people who lack self-control, or those who have a “one of everything … just to try” policy (me).

It was explained to me that the types of pastries change daily and seasonally; but that warning aisde, the dark chocolate cherry cake was phenomanal. Made with rich dark chocolate and black cherries with just a pinch of fleur de sel, this cake was moist and incredibly balanced. The selection of international teas was also equally impressive.

While this afternoon splurge certainly left a hole in my wallet (70 pesos, $23 U$D), I’d recommend it for anyone who wants an afternoon break from traditional Argentine food. Just be sure to dress up a little, or you might get stares as I did in my jeans and hoodie.

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La Cabrera

Cabrera 5099, Palermo Viejo

After hearing much about the famous Argentine meat, especially how all the cows are grass-fed without hormones etc …, my sister wanted to try some. I could have brought her to Cabaña Las Lilas, as would probably be on the top of most people’s “best steak in BA” list; but after my lukewarm experience there, I decided to try another popular parilla: La Cabrera in Palermo Viejo. And I’m glad I did, because this experience was well-worth it: it’s the best steak I’ve had in Buenos Aires.

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so if you arrive during peak hours like we did (11:30pm), expect to wait for awhile. The restaurant was loud and busy, with tables practically on top of each other. After hanging out for 30 minutes, we were seated, and the fun began. The menu was nearly entirely meat, which is what I hoped to see. Definitely not vegetarian-friendly. The waiter emphasized the need to share, since each steak comes with a unique variety of side dishes. Between my sister and I, we ordered the bife de lomo (rare) and sirloin (rare). We decided to skip appetizers, since our surrounding tables looked intimidatingly full.

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The steaks came, and my stomach rumbled. Each steak was served on a wooden palette colored by an incredible diversity of vegetarian accompaniments. Perhaps this is why there weren’t any side dishes to be found on the menu. Of all the sides, one that particularly stood out was the creamed butternut squash puree: it had a perfect nutty flavor to accompany the grilled flavor of the meat. Despite the 19 side dishes, however, each steak could have easily stood up on its own. I found the sirloin to be the juiciest of the two, round earthy flavors with just a hint of char from the parilla. The lomo was incredibly tender as well.

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The entire experience was incredibly unpretentious, down to earth, and downright delicious. While the diversity of side dishes was certainly excessive, and not at all necessary to highlight the natural flavors of these perfect cuts of meat, they were so much fun. They also confirmed our initial hesitation to avoid ordering appetizers or additional sides. If I could do this meal over, I probably would have avoided that bread roll at the beginning … such is life. This has been my highlight Buenos Aires steak experience, and if I could recommend a visit to just one parilla in the city, it would be La Cabrera.

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Bereber

Armenia 1880, Palermo Soho

Despite being located in one of Buenos Aires’s chicest areas, Bereber was very laid back. Walking inside was like taking a deep breath and counting to ten. The first thing I noticed was the pile of pillows off to the right of the restaurant — there was a large area for dining while seated on the floor. Unsure of how adventurous my friends were feeling I veered to the left, the more traditional seating area. The menu was Moroccan with a large selection of vegetarian options. Lots of cous cous. It seemed like this food was conducive for sharing, so we tried to pick a few dishes to share amongst the four of us. The we noticed the cous cous royal, variedad de todos los cous cous con merguez y degustación de acompañamientos tipicos (assorted cous cous with merguez sausage and moroccan side dishes) designed to be shared between four people. Perfect, no?

We started with a plate of hummus and pita, a plate of fresh tomato and cous cous with sliced lemon, and a third plate of eggplant dip and pita. The texture of the pita was very memorable — it was crispy but still maliable. It was really functional: it was both delicious, and served as a spoon to scoop the dips and bites of cous cous. The flavors were very clean and simple. So far so good.

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Next came the remainder of the included courses: cous cous badingian - ternera con cebollas confitadas y berenjenjas (veal with onion confit and eggplants), cous cous ray - cordero patagónico confitado con miel pasas de uva y garbanzos (confit of patagonian lamb and honey with raisins and chicpeas), and cous cous el aadi - variedad de vegetales y legumbres especialiaded al estilo tradicional (traditional spiced vegetable cous cous). Of these three, the lamb was the most memorable — the mildly sweet raisins and honey nicely contrasted against the lamb’s inherent saltiness. The veal was bland, especially when it came to eating some of the vegetables in the accompanying sauce — the onions, for example, were flavorless. The spiced vegetable cous cous had a sauce very similar to the veal, also bland. It was a little ironic how all these dishes were called “cous cous” and, technically, the only cous cous was in a bowl as a side. These dishes were served with dried fig, dates, and walnuts which, while delicious, seemed misplaced.

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For dessert, despite our extreme fullness, we chose the degustación de masas marrioquíes (tasting of moroccan pastries). There’s always a little extra room for dessert. Of the two different pastries, one was like a chocolate baklava which I really liked, the other similar to an ultra-dense chocolate brownie without the brownie flavor, which I didn’t particularly like. Nothing memorable.

All in all, Bereber served average food. What was above average, however, was the type of food served. Not all meat and a lot of vegetables! I’d recommend Bereber if you’re in the area and are looking for a non-traditional alternative to Argentine cuisine. Other than that, there are better places.

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La Bourgogne

Ayacucho 2027, Recoleta (Hotel Alvear)

After months of eating Argentine cuisine, imagine my enthusiasm towards trying Buenos Aires’s only Relais & Châteaux, La Bourgogne, the restaurant of chef Jean Paul Bondoux. The restaurant is located inside the Hotel Alvear, the same hotel that has the place well-reputed for its afternoon high tea , L’Orangerie. I arrived with my friend for a 9:30pm reservation, only, the restaurant wasn’t able to find my name. Despite the fact that the dining room was fairly crowded, the hostess did not even hesitate and found a table for us immediately. The restaurant does have a cocktail lounge; but since we did not chose to sit there for an apéritif, the hostess casually converted the first few moments of our eating experience into a table-side slow-down with a glass of sparkling wine. While feeling rushed is not something I’ve commonly felt here in Buenos Aires, there was something about the initial pacing that really set the tone as extra-calm: perhaps it was the relaxed, but incredibly attentive and observant wait staff, who seemed to just know when we were ready to get started.

About half-way through our champagne, we were brought a small plate of warm welcome pastries to accompany the champagne: three different puff pastries and one mini-torte. Of the puff pastries, one was of black and white sesame, another had a thin layer of a local cheese (seemed like cow milk), and one much like “pigs in a blanket.” The mushroom mini-torte was the most dense, and most tasty, with earthy highlights. Nothing particularly special, and all were somewhat reminiscent of frozen cocktail party hors d’oeuvres; although, they did remind me remember how hungary I was.

Finishing up our champagne, our waiter handed us our menus. One of the first things that struck me was the special section on the second page titled, service et cuisine d’autre fois Jean Paul Bondoux (service and food from the old times). While I did briefly wonder what exactly old time service meant, it seemed like these dishes were much heavier with rich sauces and much more classical in style than the rest of the menu: carré de veau, filet de boeuf, and poisson en coûte de sel to name a few. One dish sounded particularly tasty: suprême de volaille, beurre de noisettes, écume de lait (chicken breast, hazelnut butter, and milk foam). I was pretty determined to give this a try, as well as huîtres chaudes et pétoncles en citron vert et lait de coco (cooked oysters and scallops with coconut milk and lime), especially since I wanted some variety other than steak. But then, my eyes found what they always find: menu dégustation. Done.

After seeing the oysters on the menu, albeit they were cooked, I really began to miss fresh raw oysters. My friend and I discussed this briefly, and concluded that we would ask if, before our tasting got started, we could have just two raw oysters each to get things going. There was a bit of confusion as to why we wanted this; but, the waitress assured us it would not be a problem. And since it was before the tasting itself, I felt comfortable that it would not interfere with the progression of the meal.

We were brought a basket of paper-thin white bread accompanied by salmon butter and salted butter. Since the bread was so thin, it seemed to me like the slices served mainly as a vehicle to taste the smokey flavor of the salmon butter. I actually thought the idea of thin and light bread was fantastic — something to much on in-between conversation without getting too full.

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The amuse bouche followed: a sauteed scallop encrusted in a thin layer of semolina. The scallop was a little firm, and any sort of ocean flavor was overwhelmed by the sharp lemon lurking in the sauce. Nothing particularly special here.

Next came something rather interesting: instead of four simple oysters, we were brought a platter of twelve. When we asked why we were brought 12 instead of 4, the waitress said that the chef “could not do just four,” and that we shouldn’t worry about it. Believe me, I wasn’t worrying. The oysters came in all different shapes and sizes: some were very meaty while others were fairly small and thin. Despite being Argentina, these oysters were very fresh. The sommelier paired this with a Finca Domingo Torrontes 2006 from Cafayate Salta, because it would go nicely with the first official course of the tasting. The Torrontes was incredibly fragrant: I felt as if I had stuck my head in a rose garden. As we were finishing up our oysters we were offered a selection of fine bread, the highlights being the milk roll and the raisin loaf. Probably a bad sign that I was starting to feel a little full, and the tasting had yet to begin.

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Next was the first official course of the tasting, and I was very happy to see that it was something that I was going to order anyway: huîtres chaudes et pétoncles, citron vert et lait de coco. We were presented with two sauced scallops and an oyster served in shell, sitting atop a beautiful bed of sea-salt with bits of seaweed for color differentiation. Unlike the amuse, the lime and coconut flavor were in perfect harmony and this was absolutely delicious. If I had any bread left, I would have been soaking up the last drops of this coconut lime sauce. Impressively, the lime flavor was light enough to allow for me to taste the natural flavors of both the scallops and the oyster. This was the strongest course of the night.

The momentum kept going with the following course, buisson de cuisses de grenouilles au persil aillé a handful of sautéed frog legs in a parsley and basil butter, surrounding a pile of shoestring fried potatoes. Aside from this attractively colorful presentation, the flavor of the rich and lightly salted butter sauce was just enough to compliment the frog legs without distracting. The frog was texturally appealing, with something in-between chicken and a firm white fish. With this we had a Chardonnay from Mendoza, a Rutini 2006.

Unfortunately, the two strongest courses were followed by the weakest: abadejo en croûte de semoule a la poudre d’amande beurre d’agrumes served with an Escorihuela Gascon Viognier 2006 from Mendoza. This was a generous portion of abadejo encrusted in almond and semolina with a citrus sauce. The bitterness of the sauce was overpowering, and since the crust was super absorbent it acted as a lemon sponge. I also found the almond and semolina crust to be way too dry, making too stark of a textural contrast against the moisture of the fish. That being said, it was served with a dried pumpkin ring that had an incredibly fun texture — grainy and crisp, much like pear skin. The texture, combined with the fact that each piece would double in size in my mouth, made this really interesting.

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Next up was some meat, filet de cerf au beurre de genièvre. Nothing like some game in Buenos Aires. This deer filet was served in juniper butter with an accompainment of puréed sweet potatoes and some leek and celery a l’étuvé. Another hit. Nicely cooked and portioned, this meat was so incredibly flavorful. The texture was very gamey: a cross between calf liver and rare filet mignon. This course was paired with Infinitus Merlot Gran Reserva 2003 from Rio Negro, a merlot with a fairly high alcohol concentration (14%!).

From behind me, I began to hear the light clanking of a wheeled cart, which made me smile: here comes the cheese. Most of the cheeses were native to Argentina, which was good since we are in Argentina. There were some general french cheeses like bleu d’Auvergne; but it seemed pretty clear to me that the highlights were in Argentina. Two of the most memorable cheeses, unfortunately, were unnamed. The first stole the show: a semi-firm earthy sheep milk cheese that tasted of mushroom. I wish this cheese had some kind of name; but then again, it wouldn’t be very accessible anyway. The second memorable cheese was a white clementine-sized tomme of soft sheep milk. The soft core began to spill as I sliced it in half. Unfortunately, this intriguing little cheese tasted terrible — my nose burned from the strong ammonia flavor. The cheese was served with a bowl of iced grapes, walnut and raisin breads.

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Dessert came, and it was very pretty: dacquoise de cacao avec sorbet de chocolat au lait. This chocolate dacquoise was served on a bed of mango with a chocolate passionfruit sorbet. The ratio of chocolate tarte to fruit was off — it seemed like the only purpose of the tarte was to support the sorbet. I would have liked to see a little more tarte or a lot less fruit. The sorbet was very nice, and had an interestingly grainy texture. At first the combination of chocolate and passion-fruit scared me a little; but, he balanced these flavors very nicely. With each bite, I first tasted chocolate and then a tart passion-fruit finish. It was very interesting. This course was also paired with what I thought was the highlight wine for the night, a Château Roustit 2003 from Bordeaux. The wine smelled just like fresh blueberries.

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The petits fours were last, the most interesting of which was a simple sugared grape. The almond tuiles were also particularly delicious; but I could only eat half of mine, that’s how full I was. The bill came, and we were shocked: it was exactly what the menu said! We were not charged for our extra course of oysters (let alone the extra eight they brought us), the glasses of champagne, the extra refills of wine — all of this, for an honest 360 pesos (120 U$D). While outrageously expensive for Buenos Aires, from a New York perspective, this was a steal.

Overall, I was happy with my dinner. For someone without access to haute French cuisine, like a resident of Buenos Aires, this satisfied my craving. The food was very good. However, for someone coming from Europe or New York, while satisfying, these dishes may be a little dull to the palate and too heavily based in classical methods without modern inspiration. But if you’re in this city for a few weeks, and desire a high French dining experience, this is the (only) place to go.

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Siga La Vaca

Alicia Moreau de Justo 1714, Puerto Madero

Several friends and I were in search of a somewhat authentic parilla that was both inexpensive and conducive to groups. Our guidebooks pointed us to Siga la Vaca, a “tenedor libre” (free fork, e.g. all you can eat) restaurant frequented by groups of young porteños, usually to celebrate a special occasion. The phrase “all you can eat,” let alone the notion that the restaurant was geared toward “young” people, should have tipped me off that this would not be an enjoyable meal.

We showed up at 9:30 without a reservation and sat amongst children with their parents, and groups of overly touchy high school couples, before being seated half an hour later. Our small group of five was brought to a table in-between a group of 14 and a group of 10. Our waitress explained that everything was included (salad, appetizer, meats, drinks, and dessert) for 40 pesos (13 U$D). We started off at the salad bar to warm up, before making our way over to the parilla where the real action happened.

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At the parilla, there was a lot to choose from. A chalkboard on the wall broke the menu down as follows:

Embutidos: chorizo y morcilla

Achuras: molleja, riñón, rueda, chinchulín, tripa gorda.

Carne vacuna: asado, vacío, colita de cuadril, matambre.

Cerdo: carré, pechito con manta.

Pollo: con o sin huesos.

Especialidades: bife de chorizo o de lomo, entraña, brochettes, carré de cerdo a la ciruela o a la mostaza, solomillo y matambrito de cerdo. Pídalas al parriillero.

I started with some cordero (lamb) because it looked the rarest and most tender of the selection. After tasting it, my suspicious were confirmed: it was overcooked, dry, and tough. Since this was a tenedor libre, I cut my losses and went up for another round. This time I helped myself to some Morcilla (blood sausage) and pork ribs. The morcilla was surprisingly bland, and the ribs had nearly no meat. Another disappointment. The waitress offered us some bowls of french fries which, ironically, became my dinner. For dessert, I selected the puff pastry. It was engulfed in dulce de leche. Kind of hard to dislike dulce de leche; but there was nothing particularly exciting about this. After the tenth bite, I started feeling a little queasy.

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Despite the impressive amount of meat, and the cheap bill, I would skip this place. There are better restaurants for the same price if not cheaper.

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This has been my highlight Buenos Aires steak experience, and if I could recommend a visit to just one parilla in the city, it would be La Cabrera.
La Cabrera is my kind of place - great presentation and a clear respect for their food.

Spectacular journal, ajgnet. Outstanding photography as well. I am pining for a plane ticket to BA, believe me, and should one materialize, I would spend my time following the trail you haved mapped so diligently and professionally. Bravo!

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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Casa Saltshaker

Private Apartment, Barrio Norte

It’s not frequent that someone runs a restaurant out of his apartment. But Dan Pearlman, former chef and food writer from New York, has opened a “puertas cerradas,” a closed-door restaurant with no public listing or phone number, out of his apartment in Buenos Aires. Guests sign up for one of twelve spots every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each week, Dan chooses a different quirky theme inspired usually, but not always, by dates loosely related to the weekend. Of the several times I’ve eaten at Casa Saltshaker, I’ll be discussing the two most recent: Transnistrian Independence Day and Mexican Independence day.

The address of Casa Saltshaker is only revealed via e-mail once a guest’s spot is confirmed. Guests are asked to arrive at 9pm so that dinner service can begin around 9:15pm. The guests tend to be a mix of expatriates, tourists, and even some Argentine locals. The crowd seems split between those who come with another guest, and those who come alone. Depending on the crowd of people for the night, mingling usually occurs in a mix of both Spanish and English.

The first time I arrived I came alone, and I wasn’t sure what the sentiment would feel like: would this be like a restaurant, or more like eating in someone’s apartment for dinner? Once I was brought into the apartment after ringing the doorbell, the latter seemed more accurate. And this was very positive; because the atmosphere was very relaxed and comfortable. I had arrived a little early, so I spent time talking with the spanish-speaking guests until everyone arrived and we were seated.

The group naturally segmented itself in two — spanish speakers, and english speakers. I opted for the spanish table, since it would be good to practice and since all the other seats at the english table were quickly taken. The mood was very calm, and I began to feel like an old friend had invited me to his apartment for dinner.

On Transnistrian independence day, we started with a small tart of 5 peppers served at room temperature. I would have preferred the tart to be served hot but; despite my distaste for cooked red peppers, the flavor was very nice. Next came the highlight of the savory courses, a mushroom strudel. The shell’s texture was beautifully thin and crispy and had a flavor that really enhanced the delicate earthy taste of the mushrooms. I probably could have eaten forty to fifty of these. Following the delicious strudel was a soup of white kidney beans. This meal, so far, was having a very nice progression in terms of weight — each dish gradually building up to the meat course. The soup was a little bland; but, a little salt did wonders. This was my least favorite course of the evening.

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Next up was the pork chop with a garlic sauce. The pork chop was very good; but for me the best part of this course was the harina de maíz, a type of cornmeal with a grain size a bit smaller than polenta, making it extremely light and fluffy. the harina de maíz had quite a bit of butter, making the flavor very rich. Finishing off the meal was, quite frankly, some of the best chocolate cheesecake I’d ever had. The cheesecake consisted of bittersweet chocolate with a sifting of confectioner’s sugar for added sweetness and decoration. I’d never been so fond of Transnistrian before!

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On my most recent visit to Casa Saltshaker, we celebrated Mexican Independence day. We started off with a summer squash pastry and roasted tomato sauce. The pastry shell was thin and light, and very nicely made. But, I found the summer squash filling to be somewhat flavorless. Most of the flavor, for me, came from the roasted tomato sauce which had a nice smoky essence to it. Next up was the persian onion soup with lemon and mint. This was no good. Way too strong on the lemon, it was the only thing I could taste. The texture was also very thin. Granted, these qualities are native for the type of soup it is; I just didn’t like it. And, to be fair, it was the only course at Casa Saltshaker that I ever disliked entirely. Things picked up, and the next course was white tuna wrapped in oak lettuce with an almond caper sauce, fresh tomatoes, and green olives. While a little bit of the lettuce leaf’s beauty was lost to the steaming in the oven, the flavor didn’t go anywhere. I generally find capers to be too strong, let alone when served with diced olives; but, the oven steaming seemed to ease the strength of these ingredients which, ultimately, complimented the fish very nicely. This was the highlight dish of the night.

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Last of the savories was a chicken breast cooked with dried fruit. I really liked the concept of balancing sweet with savory; but, I felt like the saltiness of the chicken really made it difficult to taste the sweetness of the fruit. I would have liked this balance to be shifted more in the sweet direction. I also found the chicken to be a little firm. Something seemed missing from this plate, perhaps a starch like rice would have went nicely. Last up I was, once again, blown away with the cheesecake. This time, it was of sweet potato with freshly whipped cream. Why can’t all cheesecakes taste like this?

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When factoring in uniqueness, comfort, atmosphere, and overall experience, Casa Saltshaker has the honor of being my favorite place for dinner in Buenos Aires. It’s difficult to compare this place to other restaurants in Buenos Aires because, quite simply, it’s not a restaurant. I would place Casa Saltshaker somewhere in-between a restaurant and a chef friend’s personal dinner party. And with that in mind, I highly recommend visiting this place at least once during a trip to Buenos Aires. And, if you can, try to go during a night with Cheesecake!

Edited by ajgnet (log)
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Restaurant Duhau

Avenida Alvear 1661, Park Hyatt Hotel, Recoleta

I’d spent the last few nights eating at local parillas, so tonight, I decided to head for something a little more upscale. Tonight’s destination was Restaurant Duhau, the restaurant of the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. The restaurant describes itself as a contemporary restaurant focusing on fresh and seasonal ingredients which frankly, sounded pretty good to me. The restaurant is also known for its walk-in cheese room which highlights Argentine cheeses. I can’t say that I’ve had very much cheese in BA, something I enjoy very much. So naturally, this was appealing.

I decided to eat a little earlier than normal, 9pm; somehow, I’ve become desensitized to the concept of eating late. It was a bit of a maze to get to the restaurant once inside the hotel — down a flight of stairs, through an underground tunnel, and up another flight of stairs. What a workout … thankfully, I don’t smoke! Only later did I find out there was a “back entrance” to the restaurant. Oh well, I made it. I was greeted by the maître’d who stood just outside the dining room awaiting guests. She pointed out the cheese room (mmm) and the tasting bar for the extensive wine selection. The room was fairly dark and covered in dark woods, and the walls were decorated with bottles of red wine. We entered the dining room, and she showed me to my table — one look at the menu, “menú degustación,” and my mind was set.

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I started with the Salmón rosado del Pacífico marinado con hinojo, crema fresca de eneldo y lima, sashimi-style slices of pacific pink salmon marinated with fennel, dill cream, and lime. I always imagined fennel being a summer vegetable, which didn’t seem too seasonal for me, given it was the middle of winter. This dish was fairly simple. That being said, the salmon was indeed fresh and not at all salty. But I couldn’t help to think that this was something I could have prepared at home.

For the second appetizer, I had langostinos ecuatoriales salteados con reducción de bouillabaisse, croûton de salsa rouille, sautéed king prawns with a bouillabaisse reduction and a rouille croûton sauce. The highlight of this dish was the texture of the prawns: firm; but also, slightly milky. I understand that the slice of bread was served to soak up some of the bouillabaisse; but the bread was a little firm which made tearing difficult, and also left behind unattractive crumbs in the pure sauce. The bouillabaisse was also a little salty. But, this was a step up from the previous course.

It was now time for mains, and to start was a fish course, Filete de lenguado grillado a la parrilla, zapallo ancho, salsa al vino Malbec, a fillet of sole with pumpkin and Malbec wine sauce. Mm, pumpkin. It seemed like things were about to pick up. It’s incredible to me how much more flavorful fish is when the skin is left on. The grilled skin added a slight crisp against the soft and tender meat. The contrast between the slightly aggressive Malbec wine sauce and the more mild pumpkin sauce made this dish have interesting diversity.

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The final main course came straight from Patagonia, un gigot de cordero Patagónico confitado cinco horas al tomillo y hongos de pino, leg of lam confited with thyme and pine mushrooms. This was without a doubt the highlight of the evening so far, with the lamb delicately breaking apart with only my fork. Very moist and not overly salty with a gentle taste of mushrooms.

Instead of dessert, I requested to have a cheese tasting since this was one of the main reasons I chose the restaurant. I was shown the cheese menu, and quickly realized that there were way to many cheeses, all of Argentine variety, that I hadn’t tried before. All the cheeses were prefaced with “Variety of …” implying that they were an Argentine variety of a popular European cheese. That, combined with the fact that there was a fromager on staff, led me to ask her to put together a selection of her 7 favorite cheeses. I was feeling open-minded. She responded with such enthusiasm, as if I was the first person to have ever asked her to do this. She promptly came back, with a beautiful plate: Oveja Manchega de 1984, Pecorino Sardo, Serrano, Crottin, Fresco de Cabra, Cabrambert, and Saint-Maure decorated with dried fruits and nuts, also something I hadn’t had in a few months. What made this plate for me was the Argentine Cabrambert, a soft cheese very similar to Taleggio, an earthy cheese loaded with hints of mushroom.

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I think it says something when the best part of a meal is something the restaurant isn’t directly responsible for. Sure, they do have a fancy cheese refrigerator. But seriously now. Overall, this was a very average meal, not at all justified by the prices. But the cheese was fantastic, and the Patagonian lamb was pretty good. While I would not suggest coming here for dinner (unless you’re staying in the hotel), I would definitely recommend stopping by for a “light” afternoon lunch of Argentine cheese and wine.

Edited by ajgnet (log)
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Casa Saltshaker

Private Apartment, Barrio Norte

It’s not frequent that someone runs a restaurant out of his apartment. But Dan Pearlman, former chef and food writer from New York, has opened a “puertas cerradas,” a closed-door restaurant with no public listing or phone number, out of his apartment in Buenos Aires. Guests sign up for one of twelve spots every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each week, Dan chooses a different quirky theme inspired usually, but not always, by dates loosely related to the weekend. Of the several times I’ve eaten at Casa Saltshaker, I’ll be discussing the two most recent: Transnistrian Independence Day and Mexican Independence day.

The address of Casa Saltshaker is only revealed via e-mail once a guest’s spot is confirmed. Guests are asked to arrive at 9pm so that dinner service can begin around 9:15pm. The guests tend to be a mix of expatriates, tourists, and even some Argentine locals. The crowd seems split between those who come with another guest, and those who come alone. Depending on the crowd of people for the night, mingling usually occurs in a mix of both Spanish and English.

The first time I arrived I came alone, and I wasn’t sure what the sentiment would feel like: would this be like a restaurant, or more like eating in someone’s apartment for dinner? Once I was brought into the apartment after ringing the doorbell, the latter seemed more accurate. And this was very positive; because the atmosphere was very relaxed and comfortable. I had arrived a little early, so I spent time talking with the spanish-speaking guests until everyone arrived and we were seated.

The group naturally segmented itself in two — spanish speakers, and english speakers. I opted for the spanish table, since it would be good to practice and since all the other seats at the english table were quickly taken. The mood was very calm, and I began to feel like an old friend had invited me to his apartment for dinner.

On Transnistrian independence day, we started with a small tart of 5 peppers served at room temperature. I would have preferred the tart to be served hot but; despite my distaste for cooked red peppers, the flavor was very nice. Next came the highlight of the savory courses, a mushroom strudel. The shell’s texture was beautifully thin and crispy and had a flavor that really enhanced the delicate earthy taste of the mushrooms. I probably could have eaten forty to fifty of these. Following the delicious strudel was a soup of white kidney beans. This meal, so far, was having a very nice progression in terms of weight — each dish gradually building up to the meat course. The soup was a little bland; but, a little salt did wonders. This was my least favorite course of the evening.

gallery_47019_5058_9363.jpggallery_47019_5058_6574.jpggallery_47019_5058_5492.jpg

Next up was the pork chop with a garlic sauce. The pork chop was very good; but for me the best part of this course was the harina de maíz, a type of cornmeal with a grain size a bit smaller than polenta, making it extremely light and fluffy. the harina de maíz had quite a bit of butter, making the flavor very rich. Finishing off the meal was, quite frankly, some of the best chocolate cheesecake I’d ever had. The cheesecake consisted of bittersweet chocolate with a sifting of confectioner’s sugar for added sweetness and decoration. I’d never been so fond of Transnistrian before!

gallery_47019_5058_9120.jpggallery_47019_5058_7691.jpggallery_47019_5058_10675.jpg

On my most recent visit to Casa Saltshaker, we celebrated Mexican Independence day. We started off with a summer squash pastry and roasted tomato sauce. The pastry shell was thin and light, and very nicely made. But, I found the summer squash filling to be somewhat flavorless. Most of the flavor, for me, came from the roasted tomato sauce which had a nice smoky essence to it. Next up was the persian onion soup with lemon and mint. This was no good. Way too strong on the lemon, it was the only thing I could taste. The texture was also very thin. Granted, these qualities are native for the type of soup it is; I just didn’t like it. And, to be fair, it was the only course at Casa Saltshaker that I ever disliked entirely. Things picked up, and the next course was white tuna wrapped in oak lettuce with an almond caper sauce, fresh tomatoes, and green olives. While a little bit of the lettuce leaf’s beauty was lost to the steaming in the oven, the flavor didn’t go anywhere. I generally find capers to be too strong, let alone when served with diced olives; but, the oven steaming seemed to ease the strength of these ingredients which, ultimately, complimented the fish very nicely. This was the highlight dish of the night.

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Last of the savories was a chicken breast cooked with dried fruit. I really liked the concept of balancing sweet with savory; but, I felt like the saltiness of the chicken really made it difficult to taste the sweetness of the fruit. I would have liked this balance to be shifted more in the sweet direction. I also found the chicken to be a little firm. Something seemed missing from this plate, perhaps a starch like rice would have went nicely. Last up I was, once again, blown away with the cheesecake. This time, it was of sweet potato with freshly whipped cream. Why can’t all cheesecakes taste like this?

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When factoring in uniqueness, comfort, atmosphere, and overall experience, Casa Saltshaker has the honor of being my favorite place for dinner in Buenos Aires. It’s difficult to compare this place to other restaurants in Buenos Aires because, quite simply, it’s not a restaurant. I would place Casa Saltshaker somewhere in-between a restaurant and a chef friend’s personal dinner party. And with that in mind, I highly recommend visiting this place at least once during a trip to Buenos Aires. And, if you can, try to go during a night with Cheesecake!

Thanks so much for your exhaustive reviews from BA. I was there last Thanksgiving and it's been great re-visiting some of my favorite restaurants by reading your posts. Although, my biggest regret was not finding out about Casa Saltshaker until I was back in the states - I was so disappointed. Fortunately, this gives me an excuse to go back!

If you haven't already, I would consider taking a trip to one of the many estancias out in the country. It was one of the highlights of my trip. I met some amazing people, ate wonderful food and got to horseback ride to my heart's content. There are also some estancias where you can learn to play polo!

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Guerrín

Corrientes, Av. 1368, Tribunales

Several guide books had suggested Guerrín as having the “best pizza” in Buenos Aires. Granted, pizza style is something very personal with many different varieties: thin crust, thick crust, brick oven, and even a la parilla (grilled!) to name a few. Coming from New York, a place which in my humble opinion has the best pizza outside of Italy, I had high standards. And frankly, I was disappointed.

The restaurant itself is fairly large with several seating areas. Near the entrance are two long and parallel counters where lunch-break employees grab slices and eat while standing. Towards the back is a sit-down restaurant with tables, and upstairs is a seating area for larger groups. For those who opt against sit-down service, the line at the counter can get quite long so be prepared to wait. Ironically, it might be faster to just grab a seat during busy lunch and dinner hours.

The pizza at Guerrín was cooked in a standard gas-fired pizza oven with a crust of medium thickness. I ordered three slices: mozzarella, the “house special” (mozzarella with red pepper and an olive), and mozzarella with a slice faina. The latter slice seemed to be the most popular. The crust of all three slices was too dense, with a consistency somewhat similar to focaccia. I would have liked the crust to be a little lighter with more air rather than heavy and compacted. The texture was also slightly wet with minimal browning — my guess is the Argentine palate would send anything cooked further back as “burnt.” My biggest concern, however, was the apparent lack of tomato sauce with way too much cheese. On all of my slices, the tomato sauce was not even visible. No good.

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The cooked pepper added nothing to the house special slice and, as for the olive, I just couldn’t do it … off it came. The pizza had been sitting out for awhile: not long enough to warrant a re-heat and so, the cheese began to solidify. Next up was the mozzarella slice with faina. What would possess anyone to throw a slab of focaccia made from chickpea flour on top of a slice of pizza? This weighed everything down, literally. Locals say the faina acts as a sort of flavor sponge, absorbing the flavors from the cheese and sauce. I suppose I am no local; to me, this seemed more like a distraction — isn’t the crust supposed to be a flavor sponge? Why two? Even on its own, however, the faina tasted somewhat like fish. This was startling.

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I’m not sure why Guerrín gets such praising reviews. There are better places.

Edited by ajgnet (log)
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El Bistró

Martha Salotti 445, Puerto Madero

There aren’t many restaurants in Buenos Aires that are experimenting with molecular techniques. One of which, El Bistró, is located in the Faena hotel and universe — a shiny new hotel with which I have a love-hate relationship. One the one hand, the hotel is incredibly tacky and somewhat obnxious. This is apparent even before entering the hotel as the entire facade is flooded with deep red lights. Each restaurant and bar within the hotel’s main floor has a theme ranging from a dimly lit cocktail “library” with oversized gaucho leather couches, to an all white restaurant whose walls are lined with unicorns having bright red eyes. We ate in the later, a place that made me think if Snow White were to live in transylvania, she would probably decorate her house something like this. But, while the decor is so blatently and intentionally tacky, it’s comical. And the staff seems to realize this, by not taking themselves so seriously. Despite the air of being one of the trendiest hotels in the city, I found everyone I dealt with surprisingly friendly and helpful. The food was pretty good, too.

The restaurant is all white, with accents of red: the bouquet of roses on each table, the rug that covers most of the tile floor, and the eyes of the white unicorns that line each side of the restaurant. The only other color in the room comes from the table of cognacs and dessert wines in the middle of the room, and from the slicked back hair of the 30-something yuppies eating here, too. We arrived for a 9:30pm reservation and were promptly sat. Although we had pre-requested the chef’s tasting, we were shown the menu just to have a look.

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We wanted some wine to go along with our 7-course tasting. But unlike La Bourgogne, which included wine pairings in its menú degustación, we had to arrange for a separate pairing with each course. It took a little time to explain that we didn’t want to purchase seven separate bottles, but the sommelier said she could arrange by-the-glass pairings. Our ordering was finalized, our menus collected, and some welcome pastries were delivered to the table to kick things off. What a nice way to say hello, if you ask me.

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We were presented with three different welcome snacks, the highlight of which was a lukewarm wasabi cream wrapped in nori, crispy rice cracker, and topped with what seemed like crispy bits of caramelized onion. I was surprised at the slight hint of spice the wasabi cream had — what a bold thing to do in a country that hates spice of any kind! The bread was quick to follow, with a selection of four types: baked flat sheets, white, wheat, and blue cheese. The blue cheese was very tasty — just salty enough that I didn’t have to re-salt after applying butter. Our first wine was a Pulenta Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2007, which very floral — I literally felt like I stuck my head in a rose garden. I almost wanted to smell it with the next course instead of drinking it.

The first amuse came, a “deconstructed tortilla,” or more officially, deconstrucción de la tortilla de papas española (papa, aceite de oliva, cebollas caramelizadas y yema de huevo), which was essentially caramelized onions topped with a “tortilla foam,” a dense slightly potato-flavored off-white froth. The texture of the foam was very dense, which made it more like a light soup. While I didn’t taste the potato in the tortilla foam, the onions were very flavorful and texturally interesting when combined with the foam. The temperature was noticably cooler than I would have liked, but overall this was a nice start.

The second amuse was next to come: an oyster served in a soup spoon, topped with a lettuce foam and a lime purée (ostra con puré de limón y aire de lechuga). The lemon purée had a little bit of a sweet bitterness to it, which makes me think it was keylime. The strength of the lemon was a little too strong which made it hard to taste the delicate flavor of the oyster. The temperature was also a little colder than lukewarm, which makes me think it had been sitting around for a bit. I hope this is the last of the cooler than desired dishes.

Our first official dish came, titled “relleno criollo,” lomo curado a la sal, papa, olivas esféricas, huevo y cebolla de verdeo (a deconstructed empanada of cured loin, egg yolk, potato, and chili sauce). Yes, that’s right, chili sauce. And, we had some molecular gastronomy in the form of spherical olives. This chef was taking risks! While this was the third consecutive course that was served just a bit too cool, this authentically tasted like an empanada without the encasing. Despite its authenticity, the loin was a little too salty — with a regular empanada, salt helps to flavor dough; but without the bread component to absorbe the salty flavor of the cured loin, it’s a little too much. The saltiness of the loin; however, went nicely with the Tapiz Chardonay Reserva 2005, a fruity white wine with notes of grapefruit.

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Next up was my second favorite course of the evening: spider crab wrapped in avocado with sour whipped cream (canelón de palta y centolla con espuma de yogur natural). The mild flavor of the avocado served more as a textural vehicle to contrast against the stringy slices of king crab. The sour whipped cream was mild and light enough not to interfere with the avocado and crab, both in terms of flavor and texture. And since this was a dish served cold, it seems like the temperature troubles that affected the previous courses would be circumvented.

These last two courses marked the end of the appetizers, and we were ready to move on to mains. Our first main were slices silverside served on an olive brioche with pistachios and tomatoes (Ppjerrey marinado con verduras al carbón sobre biscuit de olivas, ensalada de rúcula y vinagreta de pistachos y tomates). This dish seemed to lack focus, both texturally and in terms of flavor. The olive flavor of the brioche was way too strong for this dish, I could not taste the fish. I also disliked the apparently random scattering of pistashios — regarding flavor, what purpose did they serve in this dish? If they were a textural addition, they needed to be broken down a little more … whole raw pistashios are too hard and crude to be paired with the softness of silverside — this contrast was too much. This was the low point of the dinner and, fortunately, things picked up from here. Our sommelier chose to pair this with a Palo Alto Pino Noir 2006, an incredibly light red that did not compete with the fish, at all.

Following the silverside came another fish course, trillas con verduras, queso de cabra ahumado y romesco (red mullet stuffed with zuchini and onion with a peanut paste). This fish was served hot, which was very much appreciated. The skin was left on both sides of the fish, which was slightly crisped to make the texture more interesting. The skin also added tremendous flavor to the dish. The Thai-inspired peanut sauce was very rich and even a little spicy, just enough to enhance but not distract, from the natural flavor of the mullet. This was the highlight course of the night. Very, very good.

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We finished our two fish courses and now it was time for meat. We started with “lamb capelleti,” two giant capelleti stuffed with braised lamb in a leek consumée with mint foam, dijon mustard, and pickled carrot (capelletis rellenos con estofado de cordero en consomé de puerros, aire de menta, mostaza de dijón y encurtido de zanahoria) . The capelleti was cooked very nicely, a little firm but not dry or chewy; unfortunately, this dish was again, too cold. But the flavor of the meat and capelleti was very tasty. The sauce was fairly mild and bland, with the exception of the pickled carrot landmines scattered around.

For our last main course, we had roasted duck served on hijiki seaweed with spinach, white raddish, and black sesame (pechuga de pato asada, nabo crujiente y ensalada tibia de algas y pencas). Looking at this dish, the duck seemed like an interesting twist and I wasn’t sure if it would work. I would have imagined some kind of white fish. But it worked. This japanese-inspired creation was delicious, and was surprisingly original. The sesame-duck combination was fantastic. The duck was paired with an Azul Reserva 2003, a Cabernet-Malbec-Merlot Mix from Mendoza. While this was by far the most impressive wine of the evening, the pairing was a little off — it was way too heavy for the duck. As such, I ate the duck first, then enjoyed the wine. The hints of blackberry and slight oak smell were very pleasant. Ironically, this wine had a 14% alcohol content … what is it with these Argentine wines?

Just before dessert, we were served a “red passion” palate cleanser - nube de frambuesa, sorbete de Campari y arándanos, pomelo rosado vivo, aire de pomelo, reducción de remolacha, granita de tomate y frutillas. This was essentially a dense raspberry foam with with Campari sorbet, bilberries, pink grapefruit, beet reduction, and tomato and strawberries. This was certainly refreshing. The bitterness of the Campari sorbet overtook most of the other elements of this dish and, frankly, was not appetizing by itself. It definitely added “balance” to the sweeter elements of this dish.

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Dessert came, and it was excellent. It was called chocolate 5-ways (crema, helado, sopa, marquisse y crocante), mainly for the 5 different types of chocolate: milk chocolate sorbert, orange dark chocolate sorbet, a brownie-like portion of cake, crispychocolate tuile, and a bit of milk chocolate sauce at the bottom. The orange flavored chocolate sorbet was a beautiful balance between citrus and chocolate, a combination I rarely like. Dessert was served with Rutini - Vino dulce encabezado de Malbec 2004, a sweet, but strong, wine that tasted like fresh oranges. While I liked this wine by itself, I thought the pairing was too straightforward: it complimented the chocolate-orange sorbet too much rather than adding depth by contrasting against it.

The petits fours came, one being a chocolate covered tree with pieces of dark chocolate with a mint leaf in the middle. The second plate contained white chocolate rasberry truffles.

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This was the most adventurous restaurant experience I’ve had in Buenos Aires — the chef was not afraid to take risks and it showed. As such, the highs and lows of this meal were much more extreme than some of the other haute restaurants I’ve tried in the city. And I appreciated that. The bill came, and it was also the most expensive restaurant I’d visited in BA — nearly twice the price of the city’s Relais & Châteaux, which seemed somewhat ironic. Factoring in price, this place was way too expensive for the food it offered. It was a refreshing and fun experience, and some of the courses were quite good; but, I don’t think I’ll be repeating El Bistró for awhile.

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Yuki

Pasco 740, Congresso

Tonight I visited Yuki, a sushi restaurant reputed for being the most “authentic” in Buenos Aires. A group of friends and I tried to go last Friday night without a reservation and were told they were completely full — this was the first time a reservation appears to have been actually necessary. This time, however, I was more prepared. I made a reservation and went by myself. The restaurant is very understated: nothing sleek or fancy, just clean, tidy, and functional. After being buzzed in, I was met by the host who had remembered me from the week before. I sat at the sushi bar, where I was hoping to speak with the chef to learn more about the sushi scene in BA. As I sat down at the bar, I initiated a conversation with him in Japanese, something I find usually either gets me free stuff or more honest recommendations. The chef was completely unphased by this, which I think speaks somewhat of the restaurant’s authenticity: no gimmicks here. This attitude is also confirmed by the menu which has no california rolls, no flying dragon handrolls, no Buenos Aires happy maki, just traditional Japanese cuisine. I was really in the mood for some sashimi, so I decided to leave it up to chef Kazuo, and asked for sashimi omakase. He smiled, and got to work.

The first course was a small plate of three fish: diced salmon with mayonaise, tamago (sweet egg), and sliced ika (squid) with scallions. The diced salmon was the most notable of the three, with a very fatty texture. The tamago was a bit dense but had a nice sweet flavor, even though there was some mild greying, which suggests that the egg was overcooked. The ika had been flown in from Spain, which was apparent from the lack of firmness — it was not at the peak of freshness.

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While I was working on the appetizers, Kazuo-san got to work on my sashimi. I identified some of the fish he was cutting: saba (mackerel), tako (octopus), hamachi (yellowtail), and sake (salmon); but, there were two fish I’d never seen before. I asked him what they were, and he explained that they were local fish: pejerrey (silverside) and lenguado (dover sole). He also noted that all the fish he was serving tonight came from either Argentina or Chile, with the exception of the ika which came from Spain. Just as I finished my last bite of tamago, a waiter came from around the corner to remove my plate and to place the wooden board of sashimi from the sushi counter to in front of me. This was one of those places where the interaction between the sushi chef and people at the sushi bar still has to pass through a waiter, though I was able to order through the chef.

The platter was very colorful and served with powdered wasabi and white radish — no ginger. Going clockwise from the octopus in the front: tako, saba, sake, pejerry with lenguado in the middle. The highlight of the selection was the pejerrey which I’d never tried before: a very lean white fish with a texture similar to kurodai (snapper) only a bit more firm with a very clean taste. The sake was also spectacular which, Kazuosan explained, is what makes up 90% of his orders from Argentine customers. I was let down by the tako which was slightly runny and lacked the fresh crisp that I love when it’s very fresh. I snapped a picture of a platter he was preparing for the Argentine couple seated at the table across the room — note the abundance of salmon and shrimp, much tamer sushi for the Argentine palate. I glanced in the refrigerator in front of me and it seems as though he cut me a slice of all the fish that was available that night, except for one. As I got a close look, I realized it was fuke (baby shark)! I was very tempted to try some; but he warned me that it was for tourists and since the muscles of the fish are quite firm for agressive swimming, the fish lacks flavor. But, I got him to hold it up for a picture.

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After my selection of sashimi, I was still hungry, so I requested one of my favorite dishes that I pretty much always order at any sushi bar: maguro yamakake which consists of lean tuna sashimi, yamaimo (japanese mountain potato) grated, strips of nori, and a raw quail egg. Kazuosan seemed disappointed that he did not have maguro due to its recent scarcity; but, he would be happy to make it with pejerrey since it was a firm fish that would not fall apart in the liquified potato, and since I liked it so much. He went into the back to bring forward yamaimo for peeling, soaked it in water for 5 minutes, and began grating. Delicious and fresh it was, even without the maguro. Shortly after, I ordered nato temake (fermented soybean hand roll) which I’d been craving — it did not disappoint. Realizing the time-sensitivity of the nori, instead of waiting for the waiter to come from around the corner to hand it to me, he rolled it up and placed it right into my hands. Crunch. Dessert consisted of sliced apple, the perfect clean and refreshing end to an authentic sushi dinner.

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I enjoyed this meal very much, partly because I hadn’t had a variety of colorful raw fish, crispy hand rolls, quail egg, or yamaimo for the two months I’ve been down here. This is undoubtedly the most authentic sushi experience I’ve had here. However, at times, I felt like Kazuosan was limited by the availability of fresh ingredients: no ikura, uni, maguro, hotate, and many other fish that would be abundant in nearly all sushi restaurants in both New York and Japan.

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Does Argentina have a similar population of ethnic Japanese as, for example, Peru or Brazil? I would have thought the chef would have been more surprised at a customer speaking Japanese with him, as I never imagined Argentina would have a lot of Japanese (except perhaps Japanese ex-pat workers).

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Does Argentina have a similar population of ethnic Japanese as, for example, Peru or Brazil?  I would have thought the chef would have been more surprised at a customer speaking Japanese with him, as I never imagined Argentina would have a lot of Japanese (except perhaps Japanese ex-pat workers).

That's a good question. The chef mentioned something about 40,000 Japanese in Buenos Aires (this is not scientifically supported by any means), mostly from Okinawa. I was surprised myself at the chef's unexcitable reaction. Maybe it was just a long day? Maybe my Japanese is so awful it doesn't warrant recognition? Who knows! But he was a very serious chef; in general, it was hard to make him laugh or smile.

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There's a pretty big Japanese population here, so I wouldn't be surprised if his estimate is correct, especially if he's speaking in terms of what we call "Gran Buenos Aires", which includes both the capital and the surrounding metropolitan area of 28 suburban communities. Escobar, one of those to the north, I've been told has a very large Japanese community, and even a sort of "Japan town" area for shopping. Here in town, there are numerous Japanese restaurants and a few specialized groceries, concentrated in the Congreso area. There's even a good size Japanese cultural center that hosts social events, a clinic with Japanese speaking doctors, and a quite good restaurant.

SaltShaker - Casting a little flavor (and a few aspersions) on the world of food, drink, and life

Casa SaltShaker - Restaurant de Puertas Cerradas

Spanish-English-Spanish Food & Wine Dictionary - a must for any traveler!

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