Hola Buenos Aires: A Delicious Culinary Adventure
Let’s just call it a big birthday with a “0” in it. I knew it was coming up and wanted to travel somewhere I had never been. I heard that Argentina was enjoying a tourism boom and that the once almighty dollar was still fairly strong there so my husband and I settled on Buenos Aires (abbreviated “Bs As”). I was excited to try the local Argentine food and wine. Stepping off the plane I asked my husband “….do you think they have an open pit barbecue right in the airport?” It seemed perfectly plausible to me— always thinking about food. It was very smoky and we soon learned that there were grassland fires right outside of the city. Already, I was thinking about my first steak in Argentina. We arrived at the Alvear Palace Hotel, the grande dame of Recoleta (a neighborhood reminiscent of Paris) and immediately fell into the rhythm of Argentina. Demitasse cups of espresso with steamed milk on top (cortado) and tiny cookies were served in the bar as we tried to revive ourselves for the day ahead. Old- fashioned service and hospitality were in abundance at this historic hotel. I decided that this was the ultimate bed and breakfast because, included in the room rate, is the most lavish breakfast buffet you can imagine. I was intrigued with the morning sweet breads that featured dulce de leche— that famous Argentine caramel. On our first day, we took a private guided tour to get an overview of the city. We relied heavily on Time Out Buenos Aires, both the book and the magazine, as our go-to information resource. The closest must-see neighborhoods for this outing were Recoleta, Palermo, Retiro and Centro. We started out at the Recoleta Cemetery where the opulent tombs are more ornate and distinctive than the average residence. We took in the Sant Martin RECOLETA CEMETERY Plaza in Retiro, viewed the Oblelisk nearby and finished our tour at the Casa Rosada in Centro. One of the oldest cafes in Bs As (opened in 1858), Café Tortoni, was the perfect spot to rest our weary feet. Charming and authentic, some call it the La Coupole of Bs As. The café features beautiful décor of marble, wood and stained glass of the era. We tried the “submarine” which was hot milk with a bar of chocolate on the side that you slowly melt into the milk and a churro that is dipped in hot chocolate. Yum. Since it was my birthday we chose La Bourgone for dinner at the Alvear Palace Hotel. This is most definitely a special occasion restaurant. It offers a modern French contrast to the Argentine Parillas. I felt transported from Argentina to a 3 star Parisian restaurant. Modern red leather chairs with silver arms welcomed us to settle in. Each dish was masterfully conceived and executed. One of my favorites was black hake, similar to a Chilean sea bass—the flaky Western Atlantic fish was served with an orange butter sauce and embellished with a thin candied orange slice. Perfect. The petit fours were a dessert on their own. For a little sampling of their fare without breaking the bank you can stop by Chef Jean Paul’s tiny takeout next door to purchase some of the breads and pastries that are featured in the restaurant. In quest of the ultimate empanada we slid into El Sanjuanino to taste a variety of those tiny pastry turnovers stuffed with savory fillings of meat, chicken or vegetables. I particularly liked the corn empanada — also the tomato and cheese. It’s a scene where scores of locals come in and either socialize while dining at the tables or leave with their bundles of empanadas to go. Late afternoons found us back at the hotel reviewing our day and preparing for a dinner, that in Argentina, doesn’t start until 9 pm. Often as we left a restaurant there were still many new arrivals, even after midnight. Bs As is a night time city. We took a side trip to the beautiful Igauzu Falls, a couple of hours by air from Bs As. These falls are ubiquitous, truly a wonder of the world that I highly recommend for a life experience. We dined at El Tio Querido, an authentic parilla, where a charcoal or wood-fired barbecue is the centerpiece. Almost every interior part of the cow is available on a parilla menu, thus things like kidney, blood sausage and sweetbreads that we might consider exotic are commonplace. A bowl of chimichurri sauce (garlic, herbs and oil – another Argentine specialty) was always close by to spoon over the steaks. This place also specializes in preparation of local fish from the gigantic rivers that converge at Iguazu and the many lesser streams and lakes of the region. Upon our return to Bs As we were welcomed at the Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau. Imagine a 19th century stately mansion, former residence of several branches of the Duhau family, perched on a gentle slope with a beautiful terraced garden and fountains in the backyard. The lot extends a full city block. At the bottom of the garden is the new tower that connects to the old mansion via a subterranean tunnel. The hotel provides an extensive list of unusual activities. They offer private tango lessons with professional dancers, but if you are shy (or slightly inept on the dance floor like us) you can just watch. Included is a light cold buffet and cocktails. There is also a well-equipped gym and spa with an indoor lap pool. We enjoyed a couples massage in a large room with music that we personally selected. If you are a serious shopper they offer a shopping guide to take you to reliable stores. The Park Hyatt has a unique wine and cheese bar featuring over 25 Argentine cheeses and a large variety of wines sold by the glass. The cheeses are kept in a refrigerated room that has a viewing window. I noticed that ordering wine by the glass was not an option in most Argentine restaurants, but the Vinoteca here gives you a chance to sample any number of wonderful Argentine varieties. We enjoyed some amazing Malbecs. We also discovered the Torrontes white grape, originally from Italy but apparently cultivated for production only in Argentina (see http://www.torrontes.com/) that embodies the bouquet of a Gewurtztramanier without the sweetness—a wonderful accompaniment to the goat cheese selections. Artisan cheese-making in the provinces is thriving and there’s also an upstart olive oil industry blooming. Individual shops for bakery goods, cheese, pasta, seafood, empanadas, meat, poultry and produce, much like in Europe, can be found in neighborhoods throughout the city. Rodriquez Pena in Recoleta has an entire city block dotted with food and wine stores, all featuring the freshest products.
We dined in many other spots that merited high recommendation. This required frequent trips by taxi. Be aware that there are no subway stops in Recoleta. However, not only were the taxi drivers incredibly friendly but a 20 minute trip was a bargain costing about $4 to $5. A few times I had to close my eyes to avoid a panic attack but it’s no worse than Italy. It was so hard to leave the country. The smoke had cleared but I no longer needed it to stir my delight at being in the land of the parilla, an experience I will surely not forget. Adios Argentina… I’ll be back. Places to EatOur favorite places ranged from low priced authentic and inexpensive neighborhood joints to more chic restaurants that were also inexpensive by our standards. We figured restaurant dining costs 1/3 to ½ less than US equivalent, and overall travel in Argentina is far less expensive than Europe nowadays. A few of our most memorable meals were:
Where an ojo (ribeye) costs $20 (our total meal $100). It is a chic, hip spot that has fun energy, a great cocktail lounge and fabulous waiters and hosting (one hostess hand wrote a list of shopping venues in Palermo especially for us). Palermo Soho;, Uriarte 1658; phone 4833-1112
We loved going to this out of the way spot that is also a wine shop. They have Argentine and Cuban cigars as well. We enjoyed a Saturday lunch. Most of the tables were filled with large multi-generational families. We had a large plate of cold cuts and olives, a green salad and the most delicious tortilla, which is not a tortilla as we know it but rather a very thick frittata filled with diced potatoes and salami. Including a bottle of wine and water the bill came to $35.: Av San Juan 1999; phone 4304-4261
El Pobre Luis
This traditional Argentine steak house offered half portions that were perfect for the two of us. We enjoyed steaks, salad, spinach, French fries, gratineed pumpkin, ½ bottle wine and dessert for less than $50; Arribenos 2393; phone 4780-5847
Located in a basement in Retiro, Juana M is known for its extensive, fresh salad bar but the pastas were also good. Lunch with salad, pasta and wine was under $30. I liked this spot because it was filled with locals and had a cozy ambiance. Carlos Pellegrini 1535; phone 4326-0462
We enjoyed a lavish lunch with some of the finest pasta I have ever tasted. The lasagna was unbelievable. The crispy stuffed olives were worth the lunch. Not inexpensive but worth the splurge. $65. Sophisticated ,yet relaxed ambiance; Av. Del Libertador 1098; phone 4807-6691
Charming and elegant Recoleta venue that specializes in seafood with a Spanish flair. It captured my rating for the best apple pancake which was paper thin; with a crispy crust and a caramelized topping. Dinner with wine $100 ; Beruti 2602; phone 4821-3741/4822-5415
Sifones & Dragones
There are only 17 seats in this tiny room. The cook and the stove are in the same room as the tables (I don’t think this layout would pass health inspection in the USA) You can watch as the chef cooks each dish to order. It’s the ultimate dinner show in Bs As. Dinner with wine under $40; Ciudad de la Paz 174; phone 4413-9871
Aleksandro Ferreira de Sousa
Where to Stay
Expensive – Recoleta District
Palacio Duhai-Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
Avenida Alvear 1661
Moderate- Palermo District
Bed and Breakfasts
Home Honduras 5860
Charming boutique hotel
1555 Malabia House
This converted convent has all the modern conviences with an old-world feel.
Most recently remodeled and opened of those we checked. Clean and comfortable.
Cracking The Meat Code
Argentine meat cuts are decidedly different than American beef cuts. One big difference is that Argentine beef is grass fed which means the beef is leaner but still highly flavorful. Here are some translations:
- Bife de Chorizo: New York strip steak. Don’t confuse this with chorizo, or spicy sausage. They, they have nothing in common besides the name.
- Bife de Ojo: This is my favorite cut and can best be described as a center cut rib-eye.
- Lomo: tenderloin or filet mignon
- Bife de Costilla or Angosto: T-Bone or Porterhouse
- Matambre: rolled, stuffed and served sliced.
- Vacío: Flap Meat
- Asado: Short Ribs
- Entrana: Skirt steak
- Chorizo: pork sausage not beef